The Acid Test For Francis, Ctd

And he fails:

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.

Previous Dish on the subject here.

Francis On Civil Unions

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The knots begin to be untied:

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.

I expect mercy to be primary in grappling with the questions of divorced Catholics, contraception and gay lives. Less judgment, more mercy. You know: like Jesus. And look at the stark difference between Francis’ approach to doctrinal and theological debate and Benedict’s relentless imposition of total orthodoxy:

Pope Francis praised Cardinal Walter Kasper’s keynote talk on the family to the assembly of cardinals (the Consistory) on 20-21 February which the interviewer said had sparked divisions among them. “It was a most beautiful and profound presentation, which will soon be published in German.  It dealt with five points, the fifth of which was the question of second marriages”, Francis commented. He said he would have been “worried” if there had not been “intense discussion” and, moreover, the cardinals knew they could speak freely. Indeed, “the fraternal and open confrontations make the theological and pastoral theology develop.  I do not fear this; on the contrary I seek it.”

In my view, it is this new and overdue opening of the Catholic mind for which Francis may one day be remembered most of all.

“Charm It With The Beauty Of Love”

CORRECTION-VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

Another day, another breath of fresh air from Pope Francis:

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.)

Quote For The Day

“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.

The Pope Emeritus In White

Pope Francis Appoints 19 New Cardinals at St. Peter's Basilica

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?

Is he really saying that in the vast ornate closets in which he kept his bewildering variety of Liberace-style outfits, he couldn’t find a suitable one that in no way confused people about who might be the actual Pope? Not buying it. La Stampa elaborates on how Benedict maintains deference to Francis:

Benedict XVI proved this at last Saturday’s Consistory – which Francis had invited him to – when he took a seat along with the cardinal bishops instead of accepting the special seat that was offered to him. When Francis came up to him to greet and embrace him at the start and end of the ceremony, Benedict removed his zucchetto as a sign of respect and also to show that there is only one reigning Pope.

So he keeps his papal name and his white papal outfits, but removes his zucchetto. And his outfits remain as fabulous as ever.

(Photo: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, flanked by his former personal secretary and Prefect of the Pontifical House Georg Ganswein, greets cardinals as he leaves the St Peter’s Basilica at the end of the Consistory on February 22, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. By Franco Origlia/Getty Images.)

Quote For The Day III

“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.