In reply to persistent charges that the young Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was complicit in Argentina’s infamous “dirty war” from 1976 to 1983, when roughly 30,000 people disappeared, Scavo asserts that Bergoglio was actually a Jesuit version of Oskar Schindler – quietly saving lives rather than engaging in noisy public protest.
The future pope, Scavo writes, saved as many as a thousand targets of the military dictatorship by providing shelter in a Jesuit college, passing them off as seminarians or laity on retreat, then helping them move out of Argentina.
In one case, according to Scavo, Bergoglio gave a man who bore him a passing resemblance his own passport and priest’s clothing to make his escape.
Archives For: Pope Francis
Taking stock of Pope Francis’s three recent headline-grabbing interviews, William L. Portier argues that the new pontiff is pioneering “a new genre of papal pronouncement, minimally authoritative, but unprecedented in its reach”:
Long before his election, Pope Francis urged his people in Buenos Aires not to focus on the internal life of the church but to take the church out into the streets. In response to a journalist on the flight back from Brazil, he described himself as “a street priest” who feels somewhat “caged” in the Vatican. With the papal news media interview, Pope Francis has found a way to pop the bubble that seemed to isolate his predecessor during his last days in office. He has, in a real sense, made it back to the streets. This new genre of papal pronouncement dodges grasping handlers and bureaucrats who would brand the pope restrictively, frustrate his wishes, and control his access. Pope Francis is now an anticipated part of the news cycle. The papal news media interview takes him directly to the people, all the people.
Amid fresh discussion over the nature of Catholicism sparked by the new Pope, Adam Gopnik spots a chance to revive appreciation for J.F. Powers, a Catholic author who “accepted the necessity of the divine institution, without unduly sanctifying its officials”:
The [new] collection of letters reveals that he spent the war years as a conscientious objector, and as a sympathizer with the Detachers—a Catholic movement, never officially approved, but apparently tolerated, that insisted that American materialism and militarism were both evils to be avoided at all costs by good Catholics. The idea of an American Catholicism whose central purpose was to stop the national-security state and the supermarket—in those days, supermarkets were seen as Wal-Mart is now—is alien to us, and Powers’s immersion in the often self-defeating politics of left-Catholic activism, with its glamorized poverty, is fascinating to follow from letter to letter.
He responded to a letter from an Italian gay group, the first time they have ever received a response from anyone in the Catholic hierarchy. A Dish reader translated the story. Can you imagine Benedict doing such a thing? Money quote:
Pope Francis wrote that “he appreciated very much what we had written to him, calling it a gesture of ‘spontaneous confidence’, as well as ‘the way in which we had written it.’”
The full translated story is here. Know hope.
At least that’s what I think this report from the Italian media says. Could a reader translate and I’ll post the whole thing? Update:
Gay Catholics amazed at the Pope: “He answered our letter”
The Kairos group: “We wrote to him, and he blessed us.” Even Don Santoro will write to Bergoglio: “I want to ask him what he thinks of our condemnation”
by Maria Cristina Carratu
Last week, as the House Republicans held a gun to the country’s head, I failed to address yet another remarkable interview by Pope Francis, this time to the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, who is an atheist, in La Repubblica. Like his America interview, I urge you to read it, whether you are an atheist, an agnostic, a believer or anything in between. I tried to absorb it all this weekend, and found it difficult. Difficult because it was so overwhelming in its power, and because I need time to pray and think some more about what he said. I mean, what can one say immediately about a Pope who can say:
Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.
Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.
A religion without mystics is a philosophy.
I say that politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres.
It is as if the Catholicism that has been forming and re-forming in my own mind and soul for years suddenly became clearer, calmer, simpler. This Catholicism, like Saint Francis’, is about abandoning power and all the trappings of power; it is about leaving politics alone in an independent sphere, in stark contrast to Christianism which is primarily politics and ultimately about power; it is a faith rooted in mystery and mystics; about love and mercy; about the core teachings of Jesus again – made fresh.
I would say that it is a miracle. Francis’ emergence as Francis is a miracle. Literally:
Before I accepted I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the ‘”Habemus Papam”.
Made every thought disappear. And what appears when thought has been left aside? Light!
God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us. In the letter I wrote to you, you will remember I said that our species will end but the light of God will not end and at that point it will invade all souls and it will all be in everyone… Transcendence remains because that light, all in everything, transcends the universe and the species it inhabits at that stage.
This is a Pope speaking to an atheist as an equal and in love. Which is where the church must begin again. It’s sad to me that so many orthodox Christians in America cannot yet see this. Here’s Dreher, in an otherwise positive response to the interview, finding the remarks “incoherent from a Christian perspective”:
I don’t get the universalism behind encouraging people to “move towards what they think is Good.” What the Wahhabist thinks is Good is not the same thing as what the secular materialist thinks is Good, and is not the same thing as what the Amish farm woman thinks is Good. I mean, obviously there will be some overlap, but if the Pope believes there is no reason to insist on Christian particularity, if Jesus is true for him, but not for everyone, then why evangelize at all?
Was Rod reading? “Proselytism is solemn nonsense.” No wonder Russell Moore, a conservative Southern Baptist, calls the interview “a theological wreck. No wonder, at First Things, Mark Movsesian argues that
Some things he said in the interview are a frankly a little shocking.
[F]or those deeply immersed in the spirituality of Ignatius, being a “sinner” does not mean “having done things wrong” (although that is true). It doesn’t even mean that we will always do things wrong in the future (also true). It means that humans are – at root, ontologically – always in need of the living mercy of God. Michael Ives, author of Understanding the Spiritual Exercises, puts it this way: “sin is always considered in the Exercises in the light of mercy … The essential grace [ ] is that of a conversion arising out of the literally heart-breaking experience of being loved and forgiven.”
The literally heart-breaking experience. This is the reason Pope Francis calls himself a sinner. It is the reason he speaks so relentlessly about mercy. It is because he knows what all women and men who live deeply an Ignatian life know, that God’s mercy reframes our interpretation of everything, institutions included. It does so because, having understood the joy of being wrong, we have learned to hold our own plans loosely so as to be better lead by God. This is what St. Ignatius means by another of his famous spiritual terms, “indifference,” he means the ability to be lead by God into the previously unimaginable. The ability to do a new thing. The ability to let mercy be more fundamental than any plans or theo-political categories.
A reader writes:
I’m a grateful subscriber, so I thought you might enjoy a copy (pdf) of the first Annual Report issued by the Vatican Bank (IOR) in its 126-year history. This is a direct result of Pope Francis’s call for oversight and transparency. In June 2013, Pope Francis appointed a Papal commission to conduct an “exhaustive report” into the IOR’s juridical standing and activities. The goal of this Commission is “to better harmonize the work of the IOR with the mission of the Church and Apostolic See.” Of note is how small and profitable the IOR actually is: “total assets are approximately EUR 5 billion, while fiscal year 2012 registered a profit of EUR 87 million. Of this, EUR 50 million was given back to the Church for operating purposes.”
One of my Wall Street wizard brothers is working with the Commission. He confirms that even Rome is infused with startled enthusiasm for this Pope. Many of us have been more homesick for the Church than we realized. So thanks for your ongoing coverage. I’m sure you take some heat for it, and not only from Hitch’s spirit.
Oddly, not so much heat. The spirit of this Pope is so obviously sincere and so disarmingly Christ-like I find myself a Catholic cheered on by many atheists right now. Just not the theocons. Or Hitch, I’ll bet you a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black.
At first, we got denial. Theocon Matthew Schmitz at First Things even tried to argue that there is no difference between the vestments of the Liberace pope and his modest successor. A Vatican source relayed to me, in contrast, the words that Francis spoke as he was presented with Benedict’s wardrobe before going out for the first time on the balcony of St Peter’s: “Il carnevale è finito.” Then there was the attempt to argue that because Francis excommunicated a rogue Australian priest for violating the eucharist, heresy and misrepresenting the faith, he is no different than Benedict! You can read the details here. Money quote:
The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case.
I don’t know anyone who believed that Francis had just junked canon law, or had somehow come to believe that violating the Eucharist was something the Church should ever tolerate. I have never written or believed that. What I have written is that it is impossible to read the America interview without seeing it as a blunt repudiation of the last thirty reactionary, legalistic, and failed years of the church hierarchy.
And after the initial denial, some theocons are adjusting. Their adjustment is a form of revolt. In a splenetic tirade against today’s Jesuits, George Neumayr argues that Francis must be corrected:
For the good of the faith, laity, clergy, bishops, and particularly powerful cardinals should start playing Paul to Francis’s Peter, as his culturally conditioned liberalism threatens to undermine the unity and orthodoxy of the faith.
Sister Simone Campbell hopes so:
I must confess that I am a little nervous about what will happen. Currently there are no women in significant decisionmaking positions in the Vatican. There are few in dioceses around the world. Our church has lagged in the acknowledgment of the role of women in shaping faith traditions and as leaders of prayer. In that institutional lag, many of us in religious life and our nonvowed sisters have found ways of supporting each other. The fact is that women are leading by example and witness to the Gospel in their lives and not within the formalized power structure, and that power structure has lost out from not having significant contributions of women. It is difficult for me to believe that women in significant leadership roles would have tolerated the sexual-abuse cover-up.
The question becomes, Will Pope Francis follow through by actually including women in the decision-making as he moves ahead with reforms?
Of course I devoutly hope so, if Francis’s view of the “genius of women” reflects the actions of Jesus who, radically for his time, treated women as equals, outrageously consorted with women such as Mary Magdalen, former prostitute, sided with an adulteress over an all-male stoning squad, and even stayed overnight as a single man with his dear friends, Mary and Martha.
Women, remember, were the most loyal of all his followers. Women, not men, were at the foot of the Cross, as he died. The men were too afraid or too cowardly to be there. Women, not men, were the first to witness the resurrection. One woman, his mother, represents the apex of human acceptance of the divine in Catholic theology. No man comes close to her example.
It therefore pains me deeply that this half of humanity is still treated as some kind of second-class group in the church of Jesus. For me, the ban on female priests is simply absurd, as well as antithetical to the message of the Gospels.
Ezra Fieser finds that the current Pope, who was ordained as a priest “in 1969, during the height of the Latin American-born church movement,” has had a complex relationship with the school of thought:
While liberation theology influenced generations of Catholic clergy, especially Jesuit priests, Pope Francis never adopted the most left-leaning strands of the movement, according to Argentine Jesuit priest Juan Carlos Scannone, one of Pope Francis’s teachers. In [the] recently published book, Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend, Mr. Scannone wrote, “social Marxists analysis is not used” in Argentine liberation theology. Father [Father José María Cantó, who holds Francis’ former position as rector of the Faculty of Philosophy and Theology at Colegio Máximo in Buenos Aires], says Pope Francis was more influenced by a current within liberation theology based on popular concerns, culture, and historical context. “It is more in line with what the Southern Cone of South America preferred,” he says.
However, Pope Francis has shown an openness to liberation theology, despite years of criticism from the Vatican toward the movement. Earlier this month, he held an audience with [founder of liberation theology Gustavo] Gutiérrez himself, who [historian of religion Jennifer] Hughes calls “one of the most important theological figures of the 20th century.” It remains unclear as to how much the pope is willing to open the Vatican to reconciliation with liberation theologians.
The people in the hierarchy and the hard-right of the American Catholic church have put their best face forward after Pope Francis’ categorical rejection of their entire project. So allow me a big bucket of cold history and fact to show just how over they are.
For the last couple of years, their overwhelming theme has been that basic freedom of Catholic conscience has been denied by a small rule in Obamacare that makes public Catholic institutions, like hospitals and colleges that employ non-Catholics, provide contraception if women want it. The Catholic institutions do not pay for it; there’s a work-around. In the face of this and civil marriage for gay couples, the American hierarchy, backed by rightist Catholic entities such as National Review, launched a veritable crusade. Last summer, the Bishops even launched a Fortnight of Freedom, two weeks in which the hierarchy devoted itself almost entirely to the questions of contraception, homosexuality, marriage and abortion in the context of religious liberty. These themes were deafening and clearly designed to affect the presidential election. So let’s recall Francis’ words of last week:
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
In that context, remember something that wounded me more deeply than any other in recent years, when, in 2009, my own then-archdiocese went to rhetorical war against gay people, using the homeless and sick as pawns:
The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.
In the end, the archdiocese, mercifully, relented. But do you not hear the fresh relevance of Francis’ words:
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules?
One of those whose writings have been almost obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and contraception is Kathryn-Jean Lopez. She’s still spinning as if nothing just happened:
As for [Pope Francis], Church teaching on sexual morality is about fruitfulness and surrender. That won’t be understood if catechetical fundamentals aren’t — and none of it will make any sense if Christ’s love isn’t encountered.
But that latter point got lost, did it not, in the recent past as an authoritarian Pope demanded “catechetical fundamentals” on everything all the time, often with more dictatorial fear than Christ’s love. Nothing better illustrated this in recent years than Benedict’s disciplining of America’s off-message nuns – even as orthodox child-rapist priests were routinely allowed to retire in peace. The final report on the nuns was as brutal as it was insensitively delivered:
The assessment accused the sisters of “corporate dissent” on homosexuality and failure to speak out on abortion.
Watching the theocons respond to the rebirth of Christianity in the Catholic church was bound to be a bewildering experience. For thirty years, the Ratzingerian dynamic held sway – an era in which papal authority was elevated far above the faith of the people of God, in which doctrinal orthodoxy in every single particular was the highest virtue and the one by which all other virtues were judged, in which a pure, orthodox, doubt-free and smaller church was supposed to somehow convert all of Europe back to Christianity, in which liturgical esoterica became neurotic fixations, and outreach meant finding ways to bring opponents of the Second Vatican Council, including even Holocaust deniers, back into the fold.
In every single, defining characteristic of Ratzinger’s long rule – from the era of Ratzinger as head of orthodoxy to Pope Benedict XVI himself disappearing inside a fabulous flurry of fabric and jewellery – Francis has turned a corner. Definitively, bluntly, unmistakably. So what do the the “reactionaries and legalists” (Francis’ own words) have to say now? Matthew Schmitz grapples:
The pope certainly does mean to propose an adjustment, though the nature of that adjustment isn’t immediately clear. The hope of many (and too-eager suspicion of some) that he was muzzling the Church’s moral witness was immediately disappointed. A mere day after the publication of his interview, he denounced abortion in the strongest terms of his papacy, some of the strongest of any papacy …
The Pope’s approach is one familiar to any reader of the gospels. Pharisees try to discredit the gospel by trapping its teacher; the teacher refuses the terms of their question and raises the spiritual stakes. The point here is not to compromise on or back away from truth, but rather to reject its caricature. This is good practical guidance. If it’s what he meant in his broader remarks, then those remarks offer wise advice well worth taking.
Note that he immediately has to grasp onto a short statement after the 12,000 word interview to try and belittle the seismic shift. As if Francis were likely to change a deep moral truth about life in the womb. John Zuhlsdorf, in contrast, just goes into total denial:
People who focus just on the comments that Francis made about compassion for homosexuals and “social wounds” or about not talking about abortion all the time or that the Church has no right to “interfere” with people (as if to say that Francis thinks homosexuality is okay or that the Church should be silent in the public square or that we mustn’t talk about abortion) without also underscoring that Francis was talking about things which need healing and that they are matters for confession (read: sins) have distorted his meaning.
Really? Homosexuality is not okay for Francis in exactly the same way it was not okay for Benedict? Let me offer two direct quotes from both pontiffs. Benedict XVI:
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not…
The proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.
There is even a hint that gays deserve bashing for pushing society too far. And this edict was issued as the AIDS epidemic was destroying so many lives – and where Francis’ view of the church as a “field hospital” could not have been more appropriate. Instead: condemnation, marginalization, cruelty, tone-deafness.
Francis, in stark contrast:
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.
And these words cannot but be understood as a gentle but nonetheless revolutionary rejection of the entire John Paul II-Benedict XVI era, which was fixated first and foremost on doctrinal orthodoxy in all things, from legalistic details about coverage of contraception to refusing even to employ gay people in lay services for fear they might be infected with the horror of a civil marriage. Can the theocons not read? Or is it too much right now for them to absorb? Francis could not be clearer:
The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
Remember the American nuns under investigation – still ongoing? Why were they under investigation? Because they were not being insistent enough on the issues of abortion, homosexuality and contraception! They were too busy serving the poor. What did the new Pope just say?
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.
But this insistence was not just possible, it was mandatory in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for the last several years, with their ridiculous Fortnight of Freedom, their obsession with contraception in Obamacare – ignoring the vast moral sea-change of universal coverage in their cramped Pharisaical insistence on these sexual matters – and their bitter, nasty, divisive attacks on gay Catholics and our loves, even as they shielded child-rapists from exposure and from accountability.
Now, of course, the Pope is not about to alter core doctrines nor does he have the authority to do so. But what he has insisted upon is that the truth of the faith is not guarded by one man alone, as John Paul II and Benedict XVI tried to argue. Their deliberate attempt to ratchet power back into the papacy, to use that authoritarian office to purge heretics, freeze debate and chase out the “luke-warm” liberal Catholics in favor of a smaller “purer” church … has been replaced by something much more like John XXIII’s and John Paul I’s vision and the Spirit of the Second Council. Francis understands the appeal and temptation of strong authority. Because he once tried it:
My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.
What replaces that? The authority of the people of God in a journey of faith:
A photographer we have featured in the past writes:
I have spent the last three years photographing addicts in the South Bronx. Before that I worked on Wall Street. The first addict I met in Hunts Point was Takeesha. She was standing near the long and high wall of the Corpus Christi Monastery. We talked for close to an hour before I took her picture. When we finished I asked her how she wanted to be described.
She said without any pause, “As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God.” After spending close to twenty years on Wall Street it was jarring to hear someone so self-aware.
Talking in front of the monastery evoked memories. I grew up Catholic and for much of my early life nuns taught me. In my teens I walked away from the church and into science. Until my work in Hunts Point I thought little about the church or the bible or God. If I did, it was with a degree of cynicism. I heard little of what the nuns taught me coming from church leaders.
In the last three years, I have been reminded daily of what the nuns taught me: That we are all sinners who fall short. Most addicts understand that viscerally. Many successful people don’t, their sense of entitlement having numbed their compassion.
Yesterday, I read the interview with Pope Francis. It got headlines for his discussion about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception. I was more struck by his answer to the first question, “Who is Pope Francis?” “I am a sinner.”
Takeesha, me – every human is fallible. In that we are all the same, and as such, we should pause before judging another.
I immediately think of Mary Magdalen, a Takeesha of her time, who was there at the very end as Jesus writhed in agony on the cross. And of this passage from Luke:
Then he turned toward the [prostitute] and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown.
But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
A reader refers to the above segment from last night’s AC360 Later:
I am an elderly Catholic Chaplain of 30 years, long a gay rights activist, serving prisons, hospitals and communities as advocate, counselor, and helper-as-able. I was beyond delighted to see you with Anderson Cooper, speaking with such passion about our new Pope. I had not known you were gay, or Catholic. I need to tell you how proud I felt of you, and that I just love you for using that talent; for hanging in there with the Catholic Church; for being you.
Wow! I wondered if Pope Francis could possibly be for real. He seems the absolute embodiment of what I always thought the Catholic Church was supposed to be about – promoting the ideas and teachings of Jesus, not running a corrupt organization without a shred of mercy, divine or otherwise. Pope Francis is having a tremendous pull on me. I rejected the Church long ago, but I’m drawn to this man and what he has to say. I hear a voice inside me that says “yes”.
I have been moved, as you have been, by the amazing grace of the Holy Father. What a revelation, indeed. I was recently baptized Episcopalian – it was the only denomination I could find that matched my social values. This Pope is the first Catholic leader in my lifetime (42 years) I remember reacting to in this way. In reading a book about my church, this passage struck me: “As Episcopalians, we are not called to be Christians, we are called to be Christ on earth.” Pope Francis, from everything I have seen, is embodying Christ on earth. What a blessing. I’m proud to take the liberty of the Anglican stretch and call him my Pope too.
Damon Linker is wrong. Words matter and so do his actions. Of course Francis didn’t come out and say “homosexual acts are morally permissible.” That statement would completely take away from his greater point: God is love. People would be frothing instead of focusing on who is important: Jesus Christ and his ultimate sacrifice because of his Father’s love for all of us. As a liberal woman, I don’t need him to make a grand statement about women and the priesthood. The actions of washing young women’s feet on Holy Thursday was deeply profound. Love for everyone is what he’s projecting.
Of course there will be liberals that will never be happy, and there will be conservatives that twist his words to suit their agenda, but the rest of us will just push away the noise and listen.
To Linker and Stanley: “Meepus, meepus.”
I am amazed at those who poo-poo the words of Pope Francis because they do not change church doctrine. They might not. But they do seem to change an attitude towards those who disagree with doctrine. And that is no small thing. For example, my wife (a Catholic) and I (a Jew) have taken our 14-year-old daughter to church regularly for her entire life. We send her to Catholic school. Yet she chose not to be confirmed. Why? The church’s dogmatic approach to homosexuality for her entire life. But now the Pontiff has told her, “You think we are wrong? Feel free. You can still be Catholic.” That’s a big deal. That might someday make her comfortable coming to the church.
I’m an atheist, but if anything I’m more enthusiastic about Pope Francis than you are. I think the best of Christianity is a combination of the messages from Jesus about helping the poor and downtrodden; that love is the only solution to the puzzle of humanity; and that forgiveness holds a power much greater than revenge. This pope really seems to get it. If his words can stir emotions in an old non-believer like me, think of what he might do with lapsed Catholics.
It feels strange, being a nonbeliever, to find myself so avidly following the Pope Francis’s pronouncements these days. A few months ago I felt cheered by his hints of a possible shift in the Catholic Church’s attitude towards homosexuality. Then, a few weeks back, I was struck by his succinct but powerful tweet on the Syrian conflict:
This was a day the new Pope proved how remarkable he is – simply for speaking the way Jesus spoke. No ideologies, no rigid certainties, committed to community, engaged with the margins, speaking of mercy, mercy, mercy. Readers will, I hope, forgive me for some of the gushing. But those 12,000 words – after such a long, dark period of rigid enforcement of orthodoxy, after the hideous conflation of the great truths of the Church with the political agendas of the far right, after an American hierarchy obviously more interested in control than in love – came like a shower in the desert. All the intimations we had seen since his papacy began, the hints and guesses, emerged in language as powerful as it was accessible.
Some tempers flared over the terrible tragedy of Matthew Shepard; and a new front opened quite clearly in Syria – now a war between Assad, the Free Syrian Army and the most brutal of Sunni Jihadists. John McCain’s stunt in the Russian online media was as buffoonish as it was deeply unhelpful to resolving the question of Syria’s chemical stockpiles. And Stephen Colbert had the last laugh on me in the editing room.
See you later tonight at 10 pm on AC360 Later and in the morning.
— Fabio M. Ragona (@FabioMRagona) August 29, 2013
Francis, it has become clear, is the honey badger pope.
— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) September 19, 2013
Michael O’Loughlin, a young gay Catholic, feels the impact Francis is already having on his peers:
At first, I found it odd, though admittedly pleasing, how the secular media covered Pope Francis with such obvious admiration. Reddit and BuzzFeed both featured the pope, often in a positive light, unusual for sites geared toward younger, agnostic-ish crowds. NPR and the New York Times were reporting on what the bishop of Rome had to say the economy, peace, and other issues of importance on a regular basis. MSNBC suggested he was the best pope ever. Even John Stewart couldn’t help but be moved.
But at second glance, it’s all so obvious. Pope Francis is so revolutionary, so engrossing, because he is living out Gospel values of love, mercy, and compassion. These values are often antithetical to those of the world, so it moves us when people in power embody them.
People sometimes ask how I can remain in the church when it’s so hostile to gay people. I explain that the church is simply an instrument I use to understand and attempt to live out the Gospel. Pope Francis recognizes this.
A reader responds to the incredible interview with Pope Francis released today:
After reading the Pope’s remarkable interview, I noticed that James Martin, an editor at America and himself a Jesuit priest, had a short companion piece about preparing the interview for publication. This comment jumped out at me:
Our review process was somewhere between editing and spiritual reading. One editor said that it was the first time she ever found herself in tears over a galley.
What a testament to the power of the Pope’s words – “in tears over a galley.” I felt much the same way reading it, disarmed from the very start by the sincerity of his own declaration of sinfulness, and moved by how clearly he feels the mercy of Jesus in his own life. You can tell this was not a perfunctory concession, like saying, well, nobody is perfect. His humility, his hesitation to judge, his approach to the life of the Church – all stem from the posture established in the first question: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” His reply? “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
There is so much to say about this interview – who knew he loves Dostoevsky and Hopkins? – but this passage in particular struck me as worth noting:
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) September 19, 2013
Thomas Reese declares, “I have never been prouder to be a Jesuit or prouder of my church or more surprised by the Spirit”:
For Francis, three words sum up the mission of Jesuits today: “Dialogue, discernment, frontier.” On the last point, he quoted Paul VI’s speech about the Jesuits: “Wherever in the church—even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches—there has been and is now conversation between the deepest desires of human beings and the perennial message of the Gospel, Jesuits have been and are there.”
Reading this interview gave me greater insight into my Jesuit vocation and into our Jesuit pope. What is clear is that he does not think like a classicist who sees the world in unchanging categories. He is a story teller like Jesus, not a philosopher. He thinks in narrative not philosophical principles. He thinks like a pastor understanding the history of the church but wanting to move with God’s people confidently into the future. He trusts that the Spirit is alive and well in the people of God.
James Martin nods:
Pope Francis is comfortable with gray. In the interview, he speaks out against what he calls a “doctrinal security” and offers a gentle critique of those who “stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists.” Pope Francis asks Catholics to move away from a church that “locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” Instead he invites Catholics, and invites the church, into the world of uncertainty, which is where most of us live anyway.
This is the world into which Jesus walked: the real world, in which people experience uncertainty and confront the need to make decisions. It is the milieu of the everyday believer. Jesus entered this world in the first century, and the church must be comfortable in that same world today.
Martin Longman feels odd praising the pontiff:
Pope Francis isn’t changing any doctrine with these kinds of remarks, but he is making a rather clean break with his two most recent predecessors, whose tone and emphasis was much more in tune with the Reaganite Right in this country. … I can’t say for sure how this new pope will influence American politics, but as a liberal I can say that it is a relief not to feel like the Vatican is fighting on behalf of my political opponents anymore. That’s not a comfortable feeling.
K-Lo glosses over the content and praises the tone:
The Francis factor, so to speak, is his focus on opening doors. How will anyone be open to Catholicism if they cannot get past knowledge of some of the prohibitions, without knowledge of the context, without invitation, without a love that compels them radiating from Christians? … That’s very much the Evangelical Catholicism George Weigel talks about, using that same Emmaus-road image, by my quick read. It’s the call of the Catholic to know Christ and make Him known, to set hearts ablaze. In this interview and by his daily witness and words, that’s what this pope is witnessing to, fascinating the world — which may misunderstand at times, as he reproposes some fundamentals and open doors of introduction and renewal.
Damon Linker throws some cold water:
I am, I must confess, still reeling from Pope Francis’ new, lengthy and remarkable interview. I can barely believe that these words – so redolent of Jesus’ – are coming from the new Bishop of Rome, after so long an absence. Although the Pope is unfailingly respectful of his predecessor, let no one doubt the sharpness of Francis’ turn away from the dead end of Benedict. His message is as different as the context. Where Benedict, draped in ornate vestments, spoke from the grand edifice of the Vatican, Francis is in the same simple hostel in which he was ensconced during the Papal Conclave. Why?
Community. I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta. At the time of the conclave I lived in Room 207. (The rooms were assigned by drawing lots.) This room where we are now was a guest room. I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.
An inverted funnel, which he now wants open to the world and to his fellow human beings. And there is throughout a premise of humility, doubt, mystery, openness to new things. How many times have you heard a Pope be as self-critical in retrospect as this:
My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.
And when at the outset of the interviews he is asked simply who he is, he replies
I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.
He speaks of Carravagio’s painting ‘The Calling of St. Matthew” (see above):
That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze.
But, for me, the most powerful argument Francis makes is about what Christianity is. It is not, in the end, about certainty. It is about faith as alive and open in doubt:
In this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.
Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing … We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us.
This profound mystery – that as soon as we claim certainty about the nature of God, we have lost the meaning of the nature of God – is at the heart of a Christian’s openness to the divine. Now think of this in contrast to the unrelenting fixation of John Paul II and Benedict XVI on enforcing total uniformity in even the tiniest details of sometimes esoteric doctrine, to banish debate entirely, to assert with more and more rigidity the impermissibility of dissent or doubt among the people of God. In the end, that rigidity is a neurosis, not a living faith. And to those who argue that a more open view of faith-in-doubt is tantamount to anarchy, to relativism, even to nihilism, Francis has a simple answer. No, it is not necessarily about these things, although they remain dangers. What makes all this work is what the Jesuits have long called “discernment.”
The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong. The Society of Jesus can be described only in narrative form. Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss … The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking.
Faith is not in the head; it is in the soul and heart and body. It is our acting in the world, not our debating the finer parts of infallible doctrine in an “inverted funnel”. And look how Francis uses the term “infallible.” He uses it not to refer to the papacy, but to the people of God, you and me, and not in terms of possession of the truth, but rather the open search for it:
The church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.
This is the core message of the Second Vatican Council that John Paul II and Benedict XVI did their utmost to turn back in favor of papal authority. The hierarchy is not the whole church, just a part of it, in community with all the faithful. And he uses the example of the Blessed Virgin to buttress his point:
This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.
And how we live is the only true expression of what we believe. Here is the rebuke to the theocons and their project:
Well, if the theocons hadn’t got the message by now, they can only blame themselves. The new interview with Pope Francis is a revelation. This Pope is not the Pope of a reactionary faction obsessed with controlling the lives of others – a faction that has held the hierarchy in its grip for three decades. He is a Pope in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, a Pope with a larger and more humane perspective than the fastidious control-freaks that have plagued the church for so long. I need to read and absorb the full interview – it’s 12,000 words long – before I comment at any greater length. But here are the key phrases that are balm to so many souls:
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
And this with respect to the near-pathological obsession of the theocons with abortion, gay rights, and culture war politics:
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
For me, obviously, it was wonderful to hear the true spirit of the Gospels with respect to homosexual persons:
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
Why must we always consider the person rather than abstract theological certitude? Because that is what Jesus did. And Jesus, quite obviously, is breathing life back into His church.
More soon, after I’ve had some time to read and absorb the whole thing.
(Photo: Getty Images.)
War never again! Never again war!
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013
In light of his vocal appeals for the US to resist intervening in Syria, Michael Peppard sees Pope Francis shifting away from a “just war” approach to international affairs:
The “just war” tradition of the Catholic Church focuses on principles such as just cause, proportionality, last resort, and serious prospect of success, among others. In recent years, some have developed the principle of “responsibility to protect” as a corollary to the received tradition. Some usually progressive American Catholic voices, such as Michael Sean Winters, have argued that military intervention in Syria does qualify as just.
But from Pope Francis’s statements and previous writings, he leans away from the “just war” discourse and toward the just peacemaking school of thought—or outright pacifism. Conflict has been present from the time of Cain and Abel, he said in On Heaven and Earth, but “I believe that war must never be the path to resolution.” The recurrent human attraction to war is exacerbated, he believes, by “the media’s way of putting things, in black and white,” which “is a sinful tendency that always favors conflict over unity.”
That’s my impression too – in large part because just war theory did nothing to prevent the disaster in Iraq. Christians may need, given the terrifying spread of religious terrorism and unimaginably advanced and increasingly accessible means for widespread destruction, to recalibrate toward a more pacifist position. That’s where my own prayers are leading me after the last decade, and Francis is emerging as a potentially vital figure for framing the next century. Alessandro Speciale notes that “Francis took the unusual step of penning a letter to world leaders ahead of a global day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria that Catholics will observe on Saturday (Sept. 7).” An excerpt from letter:
There was a real debate about how to interpret the Pope’s recent conciliatory tone toward gay people. Many, like me, saw the tone as substance, seeing no massive overhaul in doctrine, but a revolution in emphasis that necessitates an eventual change in doctrine. By choosing to emphasize the humanity and dignity of gay people seeking God in good faith – “Who am I to judge?” – this Pope was shifting gears away from the counter-revolution of John Paul II and Benedict XVI against the liberation of modernity. Others insisted there had been no change at all – and that the idea of one was a deliberate or misinformed misreading of the Pope’s comments by the secular press.
Well, we could go back and analyze every sentence of the impromptu press conference – as some have done with surprising results:
He did not say that “homosexuals should not be marginalized.” He said “these persons should not be discriminated against, but welcomed (accolte).” He is citing the words of the Catechism here.
And he did not regurgitate other language from the Catechism about gays’ “objective disorder” or “just” and “unjust” discrimination against them. He ignores the former language and expunges the latter. In fact, the more you examine the presser, the more radical its implications seem.
But now we have more confirmation that this was not a gaffe but a strategy. Well, confirmation might be a bit strong – but one of the American cardinals tapped for Francis’ new, reformist group of eight cardinals is Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He has clearly been in touch with the new pontiff and just gave a speech which confirms the theocons’ worst nightmare. It was at the annual Knights of Columbus convention in San Antonio. K-Lo was there and didn’t see anything but the attendants’ desire to evangelize in the developing world and roll back Obamacare, marriage equality, alleged religious repression, and abortion rights. In fact, her opening paragraph is about the Catholic importance of denying gay couples civil equality. Funny that, isn’t it?
But O’Malley’s speech was an eye-opener to anyone who hasn’t decided to be blind for a while.