Monday, October 6, 2014

Pope Francis and What He Represents: Ten Reasons Why I Keep Listening Widely and Maintaining Hope

As I just stated in my previous posting, as I read commentary about Pope Francis and what's happening in my church today, I commit msyelf to listen widely, and I intend to keep doing that, for a variety of reasons. I do also, believe or not, commit myself to continue trying in every way possible to keep hope for a better church alive, even as I take seriously the testimony of many Catholics living on the margins of the institution, or those who have been so savaged by the institution that they want nothing more to do with it — especially survivors of childhood clerical sexual abuse — as a reality-check against hope that is grounded in nothing more than fantasy and media spin.

Here's where I come from as I continue listening to testimony about these issues:

1. As an historian of Christian thought (this was my area of specialization in my doctoral work in theology), I have never seen it as self-evident that the church revolves around the bishop of Rome. I'm very much aware that the claims of the bishop of Rome to primacy among bishops is an historically developed and historically mutable claim. And so I've never been inclined to build my faith as a Catholic around what happens with any pope. 

2. Popes come. Popes go. What remains constant, which is to say, the gospel proclaimed by the church, remains constant as popes come and go, because it's foundational to the church — and popes are not. 

3. The cult of the papacy, the intense and even obsessive focus on watching every move a pope makes, is something that has peaked in the modern period, in direct reaction to modernity, as the rulers of the Catholic church keep stepping up their claims about the church's infallibility and indefectibility to counter modernity (and, now, postmodernity) and their erosion of those claims.

4. That cult has grown more intense in my lifetime, especially with the rock-star pope John Paul II, who deliberately cultivated the cult, and who was actively assisted in this project by his right-hand man and successor, Cardinal Ratzinger, who shamefully created pseudo-theological arguments for pretending that almost any utterance of the papal mouth is quasi-infallible.

5. As a Catholic who has found all of this more than a little repulsive — since I know that my faith should revolve around Christ and Him crucified and risen — I'm simply not predisposed to buy into the media cult of Francis. 

6. As a gay Catholic, I have very strong reasons not to buy into that cult, especially when, at the very same time that the media inform me things are getting better for gay Catholics, I can pick up any newspaper on any given day and read about more attacks on gay Catholics by Catholic institutions in the U.S.

7. I also do not intend to stop listening to survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and so I pay particular attention to what this group of important witnesses says in response to each new action or utterance of the pope, and to the media spin about those actions and utterances. As a gay Catholic, I know what it feels like to be abused, lied to, treated as a despised object, and for that reason, I intend to keep standing in solidarity with abuse survivors and taking their testimony seriously. 

8. I think that abuse survivors may well have more to teach us about our church than any other group within the church today, and that, as Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has stated, if the church is to find healing for its many ailments at this point in its history, that healing will begin with abuse survivors.

9. I feel a serious obligation to listen widely to interpretations of Pope Francis and what he represents, precisely because I care about the future of my church. I do not want that future to be built on illusions and half-truths, on media spin. It can't be built on any of that, not if it's to be a viable future.

10. I listen widely, and I continue to do my best to cultivate hope, because without hope, we become dehumanized. Hope is the virtue with which I struggle most keenly, but, as hard as the struggle can be at times, I intend to keep on with it, because I don't want to find myself losing humanity.

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