Pope Francis elected

Pundits on the pope, March 26, 2013
The latest National Catholic Reporter (Mar.29 – Apr 11) feeds my addiction to religious politics with a wealth of opinion, reflections, suppositions, and guesses about the new pope. Joan Chittister (p. 13) expresses weary longing for reform of the Catholic Church, and many observers offer suggestions for cleaning up its moribund institutional structure.

John Allen (p. 9) reviews qualifications for high offices in its governing structure. Antonio M. Pernia (p. 12) states,
In a complex world—more multicultural, pluralistic, postmodern, global and technological—it is no longer possible for one person to govern alone. . . .
Just as a superior general of religious orders has a council to govern with him, cannot a pope, too,  have a council (e.g., of six or eight or 10) who would share the responsibility of leadership with him?
Emeritus Archbishop of San Francisco John Quinn calls for
major decentralization of Vatican and papal authority . . . through the creation of regional bishops’ conferences and synods of bishops with decision-making authority, . . .
He said there is no impediment in doctrine or canon law that would prevent the creation of new patriarchal structures in the church.
Well, it would be some change but hardly encouraging. Thomas Reese (p. 17) appreciates the need for more substantive reform. His prescription for reforming the Curia resembles my decades-old prediction that the Vatican would eventually evolve into a centralized clearing house for Church matters.
It should be organized as a civil service and not part of the hierarchy of the church.
Thus my reforms start with not making members of the Curia bishops or cardinals. The current Curia is organized like the royal courts of the 17th century where princes and nobles helped the king run the nation. . . . where the monarch held the legislative, executive and judicial powers.

Modern governments recognize the need for a separation of powers. Agencies like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should not make the rules, and then act as police, prosecutor, judge, jury and executor in dealing with theologians.
In other words, it should not exercise top-down power over the universal Church.
Jamie Manson (p. 11) offers the most provocative and unsettling comments by reporting that Cardinal Bergoglio was close to a movement little known in the U.S. but globally powerful. She quotes a researcher of Communion and Liberation who wrote,
CL boldly claims that the Church embodies authoritative truth that is binding on society at large. [It claims] a kind of inerrancy.
Manson warns,
Those who hope Francis’ humility indicates he may decentralize Rome’s authority or relax the demand for absolute orthodoxy may want to read more about Communion and Liberation’s understanding of the papacy.
It's as if Jamie Manson were answering me personally after reading my past ruminations about the new pope. Her facts suggest that Pope Francis will not address the institutional Church’s most pressing need—shared power. On pelvic issues his bias toward traditional teachings is clear.
We’ll have to see whether the Catholic Church will be a stabilizing or destabilizing force in the 21st century as the globe transitions to the post-Christian age.

March 26, 2013
Thomas Reese, former editor of America:
on Bergoglio’s opposition to Liberation Theology and on his alleged complicity with Dirty War tactics:
Part of the problem was the use of the term "Marxist analysis" by some liberation theologians, when they sought to show how the wealthy used their economic and political power to keep the masses down. The word "Marxist," of course, drove John Paul crazy. . . .

As provincial, Father Bergoglio was responsible for the safety of his men. . . . The junta did not get information from Bergoglio. Contrary to rumor, he did not throw them out of the society and therefore remove them from the protection of the Society of Jesus. They were Jesuits when they were arrested. . . .
Francis represents a break with tradition in several ways. . . . But the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio emerges from a Jesuit order that has been largely purged of its independent-minded or left-leaning intellectuals, . . .  
it’s difficult to imagine that he can or will do anything to arrest the church’s long slide into cultural irrelevance and neo-medieval isolation.   
Jim Wallis of Sojourners:
……. reports of the new pope being a “bridge builder” between Jesuits and other orders and, more widely, between conservatives and liberals in the church. How welcome that would be. ”
Wallis said the new pope must address these fundamental issues:
  1. First, the church must indeed be transformed to become known, as Francis of Assisi was, as the defender of the poorest and most vulnerable.  . . . Sadly, the Catholic Church’s hierarchy is not best known for those primary issues today.
  2. Second, Pope Francis must address, with both compassion and justice, the enormously painful reality of church’s sexual abuse of children. . . . the horrible sins of pedophile priests and cover-up bishops must be repented and reconciled.
  3. Third, the new pope must reverse and redress the Vatican’s recent censure and, in my view, mistreatment of its own sisters. These Catholic religious women around the world represent the best of Catholic social teaching. Pope Francis could and should embrace the women of the church instead of suspecting and disrespecting them.
“ The next pope should be increasingly irrelevant, like the last two. The farther he floats up, away from the real religious life of Catholics, the more he will confirm his historical status as a monarch in a time when monarchs are no longer believable.
Some people think it a new or even shocking thing that so many Catholics pay no attention to papal fulminations—against, for instance, female contraceptives, male vasectomies, condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, women’s equality, gay rights, divorce, masturbation, and artificial insemination (because it involves masturbation).
But it is the idea of truth descending though a narrow conduit, straight from God to the pope, that is a historical invention. ”
 . . . “truth is not determined by a majority vote.” But that is precisely how the major doctrines like those on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection were fixed in creeds: at councils like that of Nicaea, by the votes of hundreds of bishops, themselves chosen by the people, before popes had any monopoly on authority. .
Tom Roberts, editor at large of National Catholic Reporter:
. . . Francis also received enthusiastic endorsements from liberation theologian and former Franciscan priest Leonardo Boff of Brazil. . . .
Even his critics say he never acted to hide abuse and there appears to be agreement that Bergoglio acted with increasing resolve . . .
Pope Francis said:
We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.
These words of Francis give almost more hope than his admirably simple lifstyle.  
It was not possible that someone more liberal could be elected by a bunch appointed by the last two ultra-conservative popes.
Change in the Church is coming and will continue to come from the bottom up and from outside in, not from the Vatican. Power centers rarely experience success at effecting lasting change. That has to come from the collective consciousness, and changes there are outside anyone’s control.

Pope gives me hope, despite . . .  , March 15

I have hope that the papacy of the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, will lead to significant change in the Church, despite some disquieting facts. On social issues, his leadership does not look promising. He led and lost a campaign in Argentina to prevent gay marriage from being legalized, earning a tense relationship with the government of Argentina and President Cristina Kirchner. But history moves so inexorably toward acceptance of gays that this does not disturb me.

He opposed Liberation Theology, considering it tainted by Marxism. This disturbs me more, and it seems inexplicable, considering his lifestyle. The archbishop lived simply, opting to have an apartment in the city instead of residing in the mansion reserved for the archbishop. He cooked his own meals and rode the bus. His outreach to the poor included visiting with residents of slums, and he makes a point of communicating with ordinary people. These facts not only endeared him to his faithful; they appeal to me. I can respect a conservative who places so much emphasis on care for the poor. He chose the name “Francis” in honor of Francis of Assisi and apparently models his life on the saint known for advocating peace, simplicity, love of nature, and bringing people together.

During Argentina’s military dictatorship of the 1970s, Bergoglio as Jesuit superior dismissed two priests from the Jesuit order because he disapproved of their anti-government activism. They were subsequently kidnapped and tortured. Bergoglio was accused of colluding with the government in this case and for failing to prevent other disappearances because he did not speak out strongly against the junta. A lawsuit was dismissed, but  debate about his guilt continues. I expect this will go nowhere for lack of evidence and his elevation to the papacy, but the potential for trouble persists.

Because Bergoglio is not a Vatican insider—he has never lived in Rome—I hope he will appreciate the need to reform the Roman Curia and to diminish its power over Catholics the world over. Bishops around the world are clamoring for restoration of collegiality, meaning decentralized power and more local input into decisions, for instance, on the appointment of new bishops. As archbishop, Bergoglio was reputed to be a competent administrator besides living his austere life. This bodes well for reforming the Curia and its global relationships. Things needing to be cleaned up are Vatican finances and clergy sex abuse, most troubling, the lack of accountability for bishops involved in it. I expect more exposés of bishops covering up their own cover-up, as happened to Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. This issue will not go away.

Bergoglio is loyal to traditional Church teaching and opposed to changes favored by Americans. He opposed married clergy, women priests, and legal abortion. He opposed the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina, a disquieting detail. He asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, but while battling gay marriage in Argentina, he also rebuked priests who denied Baptism to children born out of wedlock. Bergoglio is a brilliant Jesuit intellectual, and I tend to trust intellectuals’ ability to analyze and see the broad implications of issues. I expect them in time to at least understand liberal thinking.

Mostly my hope rests on the fact of change, which ultimately leads to renewal. Change has a way of doing this. And if power is decentralized, if the Curial dictatorship can be broken, more substantial change can happen despite the positions of people at the top. Hope springs eternal.

While the cardinals were voting,  March 13

Paul Ryan came out with another budget. No, it's essentially the same budget that voters already rejected—focused on repeal of Obamacare. Ironically, it depends on savings that Obamacare put into place. It even uses some language of the Affordable Care Act.  Funny.

Also humorous—the media attention given proceedings at the Vatican. It is understandable that the line of cardinals in their regal attire processing into the magnificent Sistine Chapel would capture the imagination of the world. But knowing what lies behind the façade of holiness, I smile ironically. Thank Goodness, the pageantry did not stop reporters from asking tough questions of cardinals they could corner. Mainstream news reports even featured advocates of women’s ordination and diminishing the power centralized in the Vatican. But when I hear interviewees gush over the “Holy Father” and defend the exclusion of women, my throat and stomach squirm. And then I remind myself to laugh.

Benedict’s legacy will include one aspect I applaud—he sought justice for the lowly and unfortunate. He denounced “the scandal of inequalities” in a 2009 encyclical and called for a more just distribution of the world’s wealth. This will surely be promoted by Pope Francis I. His reported manner of living promises a papacy devoted to uplifting the poor and marginalized. Now, what about the other issues of justice?

Given the role of women’s ordination, contraception, gay marriage, and divorce in redressing injustice, I ask, what is working in men who recognize the need for economic justice but are blind to justice in sexual matters? A hard line on these issues exposes a block that I will avoid analyzing psychologically. But religiously, Benedict, the Roman curia, and bishops appointed by the last two popes apparently think traditional sexual roles are sacred, eternally ordered by God. To state it bluntly, women should stay in their place, and so should gays, who defy tradition even more disturbingly. Both groups must be held down, nicely but firmly.
Whenever a new story emerges of the Vatican or a bishop stomping on a Catholic exercising conscience instead of blind obedience, I find myself smiling. A display of sexual hang-ups is sad but also comical.

Another bit of entertainment comes from a Catholic newspaper I found online—The Remnant. A columnist there complains that,

“American Catholicism” is that branch of the Faith in which a man can believe anything he wants and call himself a Catholic.  
Using this male-centered language, the essay scorns “priestesses” and “pervert priests,” while defending the stance on sexual matters of “the Holy Father.” It apparently advocates a smaller church of more fervent believers because giving in to American values would be to condemn one to eternal damnation.  
 Reading it provides a trip in time travel to the 1950s, which provides humor and a surprise—it actually disapproves of the Church advocating for social justice, contrary to Benedict’s position.
I did not expect a Catholic group to be so baldly opposed to helping people who need help and spreading love instead of hate. John Gehring, a Catholic who works for a liberal advocacy group, wants the Church to,
stop being the Church of No and once again put it at the forefront of social justice and helping the poor. . . . When being a good Catholic is defined on a narrow range of sexuality issues rather than a more positive, loving vision, it’s no wonder people are moving away.
The Remnant writer grouses,
Church of No” is code for wanting the option to sin sexually without having to confess, and the expectation that the Holy Father will overturn 2,000 years of dogmatic teaching on sexual matters. No real Catholic expects such a thing.
One more laugh. Here you can see Paul Ryan’s Freudian slip:
We’re not going to give up on destroying the health care system.
And HERE are 9 ways American Catholics differ from the cardinals in conclave.


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