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:
One of the great question marks still hanging over Pope Francis’ tenure as Bishop of Rome is whether any actual doctrinal changes will occur. Damon Linker has a provocative and honest piece out wondering if “liberal” Catholics even care about doctrine any more – because so many have been content simply to celebrate the sharp transformation of tone in the Francis era and the new emphasis on Christianity as an urgent and empowering and demanding way of life. Money quote:
I had assumed all along that liberal Catholics wanted to liberalize Catholic doctrine — that they wanted to bring the church, as I wrote in TNR, “into conformity with the egalitarian ethos of modern liberalism, including its embrace of gay rights, sexual freedom, and gender equality.” But here was a liberal Catholic telling me I’d gotten it all wrong. The pope’s warm, welcoming words are “everything,” Trish said, because doctrine, including that covering contraception and divorce, is “useless.”
As someone who, to be honest, has been exhilarated this past year by the re-emergence of a genuine, living, breathing Christianity in the Vatican, I’m not in the same camp as “Trish”. But it also depends on what you mean exactly by doctrine.
If by doctrine, you mean the core tenets of the Creed I recite at Mass by heart (or at least used to until Benedict added all sorts of anal-retentive clutter), then I do not favor any changes in doctrine. I believe in what I say. Sometimes, of course, it is hard to believe something that is beyond my real understanding. I’ve thought about, meditated on, puzzled over and marveled at the doctrine of the Incarnation, for example – for me, the most radical of all Christianity’s improbable claims. I believe in it until I can’t, at which point, I embrace a mystery – what Pascal called “the use and submission of reason.” But I am utterly unworthy – morally and intellectually – to offer any real critique of these mysteries; and because I feel and know the living presence of Jesus in my own life, because that presence seems to me both human and divine, and because Jesus has rescued me so many times from myself and from the world, I accept what I cannot understand.
Then there are questions of morals. And readers know I find the natural law arguments that I have been told to believe in about human sexuality and the family to be both incoherent and unpersuasive precisely as “natural” law. (See the relevant chapters in Virtually Normal and The Conservative Soul.) I see Aquinas through the prism of our modern, and far deeper, knowledge of human biology and evolution and my own human experience as a homosexual in modernity. But over the decades I have written on this, I haven’t done more than ask the Church hierarchy to confront and grapple with what I see as incoherence, or cruelty, or anachronism in its sexual teachings. I have, for example, been passionate in backing equal civil marriage rights; but I have never made a case for including gay couples in the sacrament of matrimony, because I think we need a much deeper and slower and conscientious discussion before we think about that kind of change in a two-millennia-old faith. But, alas, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI not only forbade such a discussion but also enforced some of the most insulting and condescending views about who we homosexuals are, spoke about us as inherently drawn to evil by our very nature, and refused even to address us as fellow-Catholics or as fellow human beings.
But Francis has changed that. He famously sent out a questionnaire to all Catholics asking for our views on questions of the family, of sexuality, and of our actual lives in the modern world. It’s in preparation for a Synod later this year in Rome to air those very subjects – the kind of honest, real dialogue Benedict spent a lifetime squelching, stigmatizing and censoring. No one knows where it will lead. But the dialogue is as important as any result. It’s a start. Glasnost is returning to the church again.
And so when the leading Catholic theologians in Germany produce a response to the questionnaire that deeply challenges the rigid doctrines the hierarchy has deployed to understand and enforce sexual morality, it’s a sign of a real paradigm shift. Catholics are part of a faith that cherishes the life of the mind, that asserts that Christianity is fully compatible with reason until mystery intervenes, that in the beginning, as John has it, was logos. And logos was with God. And logos was God. With a Jesuit at the helm, that is arguably truer than ever.
So what do these theologians say? It turns out - quite something. The full document is embedded below. Some highlights:
Yesterday, the Pope appointed 19 new Cardinals, none of them Americans. Barbie Latza Nadeau reviews the picks:
Francis chose two new cardinals from Africa, two from Asia, two from North and Central America, and three from South America. Only two Europeans were chosen outside the Curial appointments. The cardinals’ primary responsibility is to vote for the new pope in a secret conclave held in the Sistine Chapel when a sitting pope dies, or, as in the case of Pope Benedict XVI, resigns.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that the appointments of Bishop Chibly Langlois of Haiti and Archbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo of Burkina Faso underscored Pope Francis’s primary focus on ministering to the poor.