And what better way to prove it than by a public confession?
You can see the moment he suddenly decided to confess himself; it seems completely spontaneous. Again, all you can say is that this is a brilliant example of “preaching the Gospel” while saying nothing. How can you better show that the Bishop of Rome is just like you and me, a sinner in need of reconciliation with others and with God than seeking the sacrament yourself? How can you better encourage use of this sacrament than revealing yourself in need of it?
The knots that kept us from the essentials of faith are being untied. And yes, that music in the background is Allegri’s Miserere.
Barbie Latza Nadeau is optimistic about Pope Francis’ appointees to a new commission designed to deal with sex abuse in the Catholic Church:
The more surprising members of the group are the female members. Marie Collins is a married Irish woman who was raped at the age of 13 by a priest. She is an activist for child safety within the Catholic Church and has been vocal about how she was snubbed by her local parish and told to “protect the priest’s good name” when she accused him.
The eight-person commission includes four women and five lay people, a development Collins described as “encouraging.” Still, the committee’s mandate remains unclear: its first responsibilities are “determining the commission’s structure, outlining its duties, and putting forward names of other candidates who might join its work.” John Allen has a cautious analysis:
[N]aming people to a commission is not, in itself, reform. It remains to be seen if this group can successfully ride herd on forces in the church still in denial, or help the pope hold bishops and other Catholic leaders accountable if they drop the ball.
If the commission turns out to be a dud, Saturday’s announcement won’t be enough to save the pope from the disillusionment that will ensure. For now, however, the lineup card revealed by the pope not only amounts to a clear statement of seriousness about the abuse issue, but it also shows a deft political touch.
Speaking about the horrific abuse of children by priests, Francis said “the cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds”. Benedict XVI “was very courageous and opened a road, and the Church has done a lot on this route, perhaps more than all others”, he stated. He noted that the statistics reveal the tremendous violence against children, but also that the vast majority of abuse takes place in the milieu of the family and those close to them. The Church is the only public institution to have moved “with transparency and responsibility”, he said; no one else has done as much as it, “but the Church is the only one to be attacked”.
This is more of the institutional defensiveness that has proven so devastating to the church’s moral authority and a bad omen for more thoroughgoing accountability and reform. Here’s hoping that he will leave this attitude behind and lead further down the road of “transparency and responsibility” he believes Benedict opened.
On the question of marriage and civil unions, the Pope reaffirmed that “marriage is between a man and a woman”. States seek to justify civil unions “to regularize different situations of living together”, pushed by the need to regularize the economic aspects between people, such as, for example, to ensure health care, he said. “We have to look at the different cases and evaluate them in their variety”.
On this, as on contraception, the Pope is not calling for a change in doctrine about the sacrament of marriage. What he is clearly saying, I think, is that you don’t have to change doctrine to respect the civil society’s and secular state’s decision to accommodate gay couples and families within its existing arrangements for heterosexual households. This was his position in the internal church struggle in Argentina, reflecting his understandable concern that a Benedict-style counter-revolution against gay couples would not only be counter to the spirit of the Gospels, but deeply divisive for the church as a whole and damaging to its broader goal of evangelization. A 21st Century bishop of Rome might well accede to civil unions for gay couples and “not judge” the sincere consciences of gay couples seeking civil protections and rights under the law. That would end a misguided cultural war against an entire younger generation in the West, while not abandoning core doctrinal teachings on the family.
It’s a pragmatic and humane position – whereas Benedict’s was both a loser among most Western Catholics and clearly inhumane, and even callous, at times. I expect to see it nudged forward at the Synods this year and next.
In a nearly 3,000-word text to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, Francis tells the office they should not look for bishops based on any “preferences, likes, or trends” and likewise should not seek prelates who are mainly concerned with doctrinal matters.
The church, writes Francis, does not need “guardians of doctrine” but those who “appeal to the world to charm it with the beauty of love [and] to seduce it with the freedom bestowed by the Gospel … The church does not need apologists of its causes nor crusaders of its battles, but sowers humble and confident of the truth, who … trust of its power,” the pontiff continues.
Who did Francis succeed? A theologian who policed orthodoxy as meticulously as he chose his slippers.
(Photo: The hand of Pope Francis is pictured as he waves during his general audience in St Peter’s square at the Vatican on February 26, 2014 . By Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images.)
“Pope Francis has described gay people as ‘socially wounded’ because ‘they feel like the church has always condemned them.’ Catholics must examine how we contribute, perhaps even inadvertently, to a culture of fear and shame. In a field hospital after battle, a basic responsibility of the caregivers is to ‘do no harm.’ The church must oppose violence against gay persons and should strongly advocate for the decriminalization of homosexuality. No one should be subject to a criminal penalty simply for being gay. If laws like these do not constitute the ‘unjust discrimination’ against gay people that the church rightly denounces, then what possibly could?” – America, the Jesuit magazine, on the wave of legislation in Africa, re-criminalizing homosexuality and anything to do with it.
Around the anniversary of Pope Benedict’s almost unprecedented resignation as Pope, there has been a predictable uptick in speculation about what actually happened and why. If he was forced out by scandal, then his resignation would not have been valid. So in response to some pointed questions from La Stampa, Benedict has gone public. Money quote:
There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry. The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd.
His rationale was declining health and energy in the face of huge problems – from the Vatican Bank to factionalism in the Curia to the resilient stain of the child-abuse scandal. We may never know the full story – but if we were able to read the report of three cardinals on corruption in the Church, we might get a better sense. It says something about the church’s dysfunction that such critical details about its governance are deemed too sensitive to be revealed to the people of God in the pews, who largely finance it. Maybe Francis might contemplate some sunlight there. It might presumably strengthen his hand against the Curia – or prompt sabotage and revenge.
I’m inclined to believe Benedict on this. It’s plausible, if not completely convincing. But here’s a statement in the letter I do find a little odd:
I continue to wear the white cassock and kept the name Benedict for purely practical reasons. At the moment of my resignation there were no other clothes available. In any case, I wear the white cassock in a visibly different way to how the Pope wears it. This is another case of completely unfounded speculations being made.
So your vestments are like musical chairs: you have to keep the ones you’re wearing at the time of your resignation?
“The pastoral practice of the Church must begin from the premise that cohabitation and civil marriage outside the church have become the norm. In developing a pastoral orientation, it is perhaps important to recall that the only time in the gospels that Jesus clearly encounters someone in a situation of cohabitation outside of marriage (the Samaritan woman at the well) he does not focus on it. Instead, he respectfully deals with the woman and turns her into a missionary,” – part of the response of Japan’s Catholics to Pope Francis’ questionnaire on family life.
According to the Japanese bishops, Humanae Vitae, the encyclical barring artificial contraception, is barely known among Japanese Catholics, let alone followed.
It’s one of those things only acute Vatican-watchers notice, but Francis’ demotion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office for ensuring doctrinal orthodoxy that Joseph Ratzinger ran with an iron fist under John Paul II, is a big departure from the recent past:
Today’s the anniversary of Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement. I will down a Jager in honor of the occasion, even though we still don’t fully know why he did what he did. Mathew Schmalz credits the pope emeritus with paving the way for his successor’s humility:
It’s easy to see how Pope Francis’s simplicity stands in stark contrast and how this would be a welcome change for some. And Francis has emphasized different themes — the church is more of a community and less of a hierarchical institution; Jesus is less of a priest and more of an itinerant preacher close to the poor.
But Benedict XVI did one thing that allowed everything new that we’ve seen from Pope Francis: he resigned the papacy. Benedict believed the papacy, “the Petrine ministry,” was important, but that he himself was dispensable: when the time came, Benedict had no problem letting go. As he promised, Benedict XVI has remained quiet and out of public view. Benedict’s acts of humility, more than anything else, have given Francis the opportunity to be pope in a new kind of way.
But Marcus O’Donnell points out that Francis still has Benedict’s decades of reactionary appointments to overcome:
The main factor mitigating against change in the church is that nearly all its current Bishops were appointed during the reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who, between them, had 35 years to install like-minded conservative leaders throughout the church. Virtually no progressive leaders from the Vatican II reform generation remain. While there are still small pockets of progressive resistance it has been hard to sustain against an active Vatican campaign to stamp out dissent.
And Dennis Coday reminds readers of the chaotic state in which he left the church:
The UN Report on the Vatican’s role as a global conspiracy to enable, abet and cover up crimes against humanity is a vital reminder of just how hideous the Catholic Church has been in violating the souls and bodies of so many innocents. Sometimes, the sheer scale of the abuse renders one mute. But it shouldn’t. Nor should the emergence of a truly Christian – as opposed to Christianist – Pope blind us to the taint that still corrupts Catholicism.
The scale of the criminality is important to keep in mind:
Last month, the Vatican acknowledged that close to 400 priests left the priesthood in 2011 and 2012 because of accusations that they had sexually abused children.
The number of victims is in the tens of thousands. And their agony never ends. Now it should be said that the Church has made some serious changes to prevent child abuse in the future, and Benedict deserves some credit for that. But the institution itself has never held itself fully accountable. And the crimes it presided over were legion and horrifying. Only today, for example, we read of the apology issued by the Legion of Christ – a neo-fascist, theocon cult – for the grotesque abuses of its founder, protected for years by Pope John Paul II:
The Legionaries of Christ, which former members said was run like a secretive cult, accused the founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008, of “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior” as head of the order from its founding in 1941 until Pope Benedict XVI removed him in 2006.
The Dish’s long coverage of this scandal – well before the hierarchy began finally to take it seriously – can be found here. And when you absorb just how evil this cult was, just how depraved its leader was, and the psychic and spiritual toll it took on so many human beings, you come to one conclusion: there is no way this organization should still exist. The Vatican should shut it down. Period. Instead we have the former cronies and favorites of Maciel still calling the shots:
The order’s newly elected general director, the Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, has a long history with the group himself. According to its website, he helped establish the Legion in Brazil, and in 2011 he was named to a commission created to work with the victims of Father Maciel. The Rev. John Stegnicki, a former Legion priest now working in the archdiocese of Brasília, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that the outcome of the election was “disappointing” but predictable, given that the priests voting were by and large Maciel confidants or their protégés. “Who else could they choose from?” he said. “All of them are entrenched in Legion-think.”
So why does the church tolerate the continuation of such an organization? And yet it does. Similarly, why on earth is the Pope who presided over the sex abuse crisis – and protected Maciel to his death – even faintly considered for sainthood, far sooner than has ever been the case before? Sanctifying a Pope who presided over such crimes against humanity is an obscenity.
So the churches in Germany and Switzerland have just completed their questionnaires for the upcoming Synod on some social issues called by Pope Francis. And whaddya know:
This week, German and Swiss bishops reported the results. They were surprising in the near-uniformity of responses: that the church’s teachings on sexuality, morality and marriage are rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics who nevertheless are active in parish life and consider their faith vitally important. Also surprising was the eagerness with which the bishops publicized the results.
I have a feeling that Francis created those questionnaires for a reason …
In a deep-dive profile of the Bishop of Rome in Rolling Stone, Mark Binelli has some choice new details about Francis’ mindset and leadership stye. There were some nuggets that were new to me. On the famous “Who am I to judge?” interview, Binelli explains what Bergoglio specifically said:
What he actually says is, “Mah, who am I to judge?” In Italian, mah is an interjection with no exact English parallel, sort of the verbal equivalent of an emphatic shrug. My dad’s use of mah most often precedes his resignedly pouring another splash of grappa into his coffee. The closest translation I can come up with is “Look, who the hell knows?” If you watch the video, Francis even pinches his fingers together for extra Italian emphasis. Then he flashes a knowing smirk.
His sense of humor also comes through more potently in this profile. It has an appreciation of the absurd – and a propensity to self-mockery:
An interviewer once asked if he was a good cook, to which Bergoglio responded, “Well, no one ever died.” …
And this struck me as something you cannot imagine Benedict XVI or John Paul II ever doing: after the bruising fight over marriage equality in Argentina,
a private letter [Bergoglio] wrote describing gay marriage as “the total rejection of the law of God” leaked, bruising his image, though Vallely argues he wrote the letter as a strategic means of currying favor with the conservatives. Marcelo Márquez, a gay-rights leader in Buenos Aires, delivered Bergoglio an angry note – and received a call an hour later. “He listened to my views with a great deal of respect,” Márquez told The New York Times. They met on two occasions. Márquez told the future pope about his marriage plans, and departed with a gift: a copy of Bergoglio’s biography.
Francis has also developed ways to evade the Curia’s meddling and to keep the old (mainly Italian) guard off-balance:
The protests at Eastside Catholic High School, sparked by a gay vice principal being fired for getting married, have caused the school’s president to resign. Dreher reflects on the news:
This is big, it seems to me. Notice that the school is private, not archdiocesan; it’s interesting to think of how the archdiocese would have handled the situation. Still, the school identifies itself as Catholic, and it’s a big deal that protests by students, parents, and alumni drove the principal to resign. She probably did the right thing, inasmuch as she had apparently lost the ability to lead. This is an unambiguous victory for gay-rights supporters among Catholics. Catholic schools nationwide are going to be seeing a lot more of this. There has been a lot of “don’t ask, don’t tell” related to gay teachers and administrators in Catholic schools (hypocrisy is the necessary lubricant for much social life), but the legalization of same-sex marriage forces the issue.
So we now have two resignations – the chair of the board and the president. Mary Elizabeth Williams chimes in: