Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Readers Write: Pope Francis, Fox News, and Image Management; Humanae Vitae and Catholic Left's Sell-Out; Following Christ as Screaming the Catechism

Here are four valuable comments from conversations on Bilgrimage in the past week or so (conversations about different topics) — comments that continue to ring in my head after I've read them, so that I want to lift them into a posting where more readers can discover them and benefit from them:

1. In response to my posting about how jarring (and disillusioning) it is to hear Pope Francis decry throwing people away while Catholic institutions in the U.S. keep doing precisely that by firing gay* employees right and left, Alexandra writes

I don't know why Francis says what he does, but I believe that he does so, because he believes that by wrapping up awful reality in pretty paper, we will all start making believe that all is OK. 
Apparently that seems to be working in certain quarters, since the Pope seems to continue to have admirers. 
The thing is that even toddlers stop believing people who are constantly saying one thing when they mean something else.....

2. Then when I respond to Alexandra by telling her that a cynical part of me thinks Francis is adroit at image management and was placed on the throne of Peter precisely to prettify the image of the church at a time in which its image has been horribly besmirched by the abuse crisis, Colleen Baker writes,  

I think it's interesting that the very toxic Fox news culture is behind both Trump and Francis. Lipstick on a pig comes to mind.

[I'm pretty sure Colleen's referring to Francis' choice to give a very high profile to former Fox News journalist (and Opus Dei member) Greg Burke, who has now been appointed director of the press office of the Holy See, and whose work in helping Francis craft a benign image is widely recognized.]

3. In response to my discussion of the questions now being raised about where all the Christian intellectuals have gone, Michael Boyle notes the following in back-to-back stellar comments (here and here): 

(a) I keep coming back to Humanae Vitae as the definitive moment where the Catholic left lost its soul. Once it became clear that the hierarchy was going to endorse HV in public and ignore it in private, the Catholic left had a fundamental choice--accept this (fundamentally dishonest) trade off in which they agreed to give up any public protest on sexual questions in return for a "hear no evil, see no evil" approach from the institutional Church toward their own lives, or speak out and fight back. The decision was clearly to take the trade off, and I am sure they justified that decision on the basis that economic justice issues are the "real concerns" of the Catholic left, as well as a feeling that they were strengthening the hand of "progressive" bishops. 
But once they did that, they were forever compromised, because they internalized the notion that they had to "defend the shield" of the institution in order to protect their own protected space. So, when other sorts of sexual issues cropped up (the sex abuse crisis, women's equality, LGBT questions, etc.), they had fallen into a posture of reflexive silence. Because they knew if the Catholic Church really wanted to crack down and enforce every jot and tittle of HV, they would find themselves on the outside along with the gays and the feminists. That was the unspoken threat--don't rock the boat, or you will find yourself out there with Mary Daly and Leonardo Boff. 
In many ways, it shows the power of scapegoating. Scapegoating is not only about getting rid of the truly problematic folks, but also as an object lesson to the next slice to keep them in line. And the Catholic left learned that lesson well.  
(b) James Alison, who has been incredibly formative on my thinking on many questions, suggests that one of the reasons Paul VI rejected the Birth Control Commission was that he was afraid that if they cut the link between sex and procreation, it would undermine the opposition to gay sex, which in turn would collapse the whole house of cards that is the Catholic clergy edifice. Alison suggests that this logic is sound, in the sense that many lay people who came to reject HV eventually came to see that the position on gay folks was unsound (which is why polls suggest that lay Catholics are close to 2-to-1 in support of gay marriage). 
But I think he is right in another way, in that the whole point of HV is to protect the ground upon which you can oppose gay sexuality. Seen in that light, HV did exactly what it was really there to do, which was to clamp off the obvious road to changing the perspective on gay issues. It doesn't really matter if straight folks are actually following HV in their personal lives, so long as they endorse the underlying premise that sex has to be about procreation, which then allows them to continue to reject gay folks. 

4. Finally, as the new commenting policy at National Catholic Reporter implemented to deal with increased trolling of that site was being discussed here, Matt Connolly wrote

[H]ow does following Christ become following a 2000 page catechism and screaming  at those around you? I just wrote about this on NCR, so I copied it for this discussion: 
I continue to see this denial of our church history (meaning the perfect and unchanging church) as a hypnosis, and as a faithlessness we as the Body of Christ should repent from. Ultimately, it's the fallout of a theology that insists on humans as born evil, rather than born in a poverty of love which must be supplied. Evil people need to be fooled into belief, hypnotized, coerced, corralled into that pen which allows God to see beyond their terribleness. Seeing people as good allows them to be loved into being, growing from receiver to giver and back to receiver, finding God by participating in the redemption the world craves. But for those who consecrate fear, we've let the devil in by our acceptance of that which God offers (!), and arguing with that hypnosis is tiring, to say the least.

The depth of conversations here — the depth of theological conversations — never ceases to amaze me. I benefit tremendously from reading your reflections, and hope others do the same. Thank you, good readers, for all you contribute to making this blog an enterprise worth working at.

*Gay = shorthand for the acronym LGBTQI.

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