“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?
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.)
“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.
There’s a retirement palace being built for the archbishop of Newark, while the diocese has closed a critical school for lack of funds.
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:
There is no question that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was supreme under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. No one would have questioned its supremacy when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect. But the supreme congregation doesn’t look so supreme anymore. It has been publicly criticized by a curial cardinal from Brazil, by the president of the German bishops’ conference, and by two cardinals who are members of the Council of Cardinals, appointed by the pope to advise him on reforming the Vatican. Even Pope Francis told Latin American religious not to worry about the congregation.
Actually, what Francis said was the following:
“The [CDF] will make mistakes, they will make a blunder, this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine [of the Faith] will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing. … But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward.”
Translation: live the faith, don’t ideologize it.
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:
Remember what we, in the U.S. Catholic church, had been through: an “apostolic visitation” of congregations of American women religious; a doctrinal investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the appointment of overlords to help them “reform.” Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois had been excommunicated because he supported women’s ordination. Long established and trusted scholars, Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley and St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, had been censured. The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board for child protection had warned the bishops that complacency threatened the continuing implementation of their policies and guidelines meant to keep children safe. The U.S. bishops seemed to be doing their best to scuttle health care reform over — of all things — artificial contraception; their campaign for religious freedom seemed petty and partisan. A clunky, ideologically driven translation of the Mass prayers had been thrust upon us.
In an interview with Reuters, Archbishop Georg Gänswein says Benedict’s conscience is clear:
Pope Benedict is at peace with himself and I think he is even at peace with the Lord. He is well but certainly he is a person who carries the weight of his years. So, he is a man who is physically old but his spirit is very vivacious and very clear. … I am certain, indeed convinced, that history will offer a judgment that will be different than what one often read in the last years of his pontificate because the sources are clear and clarity springs from them.
Rocco Palmo reports on what Benedict has been up to in the past year:
Since stepping away, the now Pope-emeritus has broadly held to his plan for his retirement to be spent “hidden from the world.” From his base in the former Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens, Benedict – who’ll be 87 in April – is said to spend his days with the books he once called his “old friends,” still engaged in theological study, though he’s not expected to write again. A midday walk in the Vatican Gardens is often followed by time at the piano. Company does come, but the invitations tend to be limited to a relatively tight circle of longtime allies, who can be sufficiently trusted to not leak what he says.
The mail is another story, however. A lengthy letter Benedict wrote an atheist author last November was published in La Repubblica with his consent, and in yesterday’s edition of the leftist daily, it emerged that Ratzinger had resumed correspondence with Hans Kung, his colleague-turned-rival of half a century, who he famously hosted for dinner months after his election.
(Photo: By Stefan Wermuth/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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.
And why do we have to struggle to discover that more than 400 priests have been defrocked because of child rape in the last couple of years alone? Why aren’t their dismissals announced proudly by the Vatican? And why, for Pete’s sake, does the Vatican not enforce a simple rule: all accusations of child abuse should be referred immediately to secular law enforcement?
Francis has an opportunity here – perhaps the only opportunity the church will ever get – to turn a new page, to insist on complete transparency, to be fully accountable to law enforcement, and to atone and recant for the legacy of the past. There needs to be a purge not just of abusing priests but of every church official who played any part in the cover-up. Why, for example, has Cardinal Bernard Law not been defrocked and publicly shamed – instead of enjoying a cushy sinecure in Rome?
Francis has made some steps toward a reckoning with the past. But not nearly enough so far. He’s been adept at symbols, gestures, simple acts that speak more loudly than words. But no symbol and no gesture would do more to restore some measure of integrity to the institution than following most of the UN Report’s recommendations. The truth is that the Catholic Church has committed a crime against humanity. Until every person implicated in that crime is removed, defrocked and disgraced, the entire moral credibility of the church will remain irreparably damaged.
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:
While past popes maintained detailed public schedules, Francis handwrites his own agenda in a private datebook. “This is unheard of,” a senior Vaticanisti who wishes to remain anonymous tells me. “Aides who’d ordinarily know what’s going on have to piece things together by talking to other people.” Confirms Father Lombardi, the Vatican press secretary, with the hint of a sigh, “Before, I was in contact with the Curia and could ask them what the daily agenda is. Now, we have to discover what the agenda is. He is very free in organizing it.”
We also discover that Francis has few friends. He is at peace with the many and alone:
Vallely’s book describes a man who, when not out among the people, leads a solitary monklike existence in which “he looks after his interior life and doesn’t really have a social one.” Those are the words of one of his closest aides in Buenos Aires, who adds, “If you define friendship as having fun with people, then he has no friends. Friendship is a symmetrical relationship. His relationships are not like that. People believe they are his friends, but he never goes to dinner at their homes.”
Read my Deep Dish essay on Francis here.
(Photo: A mural by Italian street artist Maupal depicts Pope Francis as a superman, flying through the air with his white papal cloak billowing out behind him and holding a bag bearing the word “Values” in downtown Rome near the Vatican on January 28, 2014. The image, created by Italian street artist Maupal, was tweeted today by the Vatican communication twitter account, @PCCS_VA. By Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images.)
— Jon Axell (@JonAxell) December 22, 2013
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:
Sister Mary Tracy’s decision to leave may yet indicate the stirrings of true change in the church. And her choice to leave the school may have stemmed from more than just bad publicity. There may have been an element of conscience. Earlier this month, she told the school’s openly gay freelance drama instructor Stephanie Merrow that Merrow’s work status wasn’t an issue, and that’s she was “welcome” to stay on at the school. And most tellingly, she let her own students share a statement she gave to them, in which she told them, “I look forward to the day where no individual loses their job because they married a person of the same sex.”
Things are coming to a head sooner than anyone expected. I suspect Pope Francis understands this. Which makes this year’s Synod on the family and marriage a potential watershed of sorts.