Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Friday, January 16, 2015

On Pope Francis

I've been following Pope Francis I since the announcement of his elevation. Read my posts here or via excerpts/reposts on Huffington Post.

 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Pope Francis I and the Nun-Busters and Why Catholics Should Buy "Quest for the Living God"

Last week Prefect of the Confederation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) Gerhard Mueller, condemned the Leadership Conference Women Religious (LCWR) for honoring Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson and her book Quest of the Living God. The CDF argues that the book fails to be in accord with Roman Catholic doctrine. This magisterial spanking aims to dictate to a group of highly intelligent, well-educated women which books are suitable for their honors; promises to uber-boost sales of an academic work; and, I believe, puts the pope in a tricky spot. (See my 2012 piece, "Just Buy 'Just Love' for more on how such condescending condemnation works.) The pope is the pope. He can speak when he likes. But I think this pope, thistime around, unlike the last time around, will have to say something.



Today's pope is, after all, everyone's favorite pope. At present, Francis I is re-examining the way the church hierarchy looks at LGBT Catholics, divorced and remarried Catholics, and so-called "artifical" contraception. This kinder and gentler pope has exhorted Catholics to respond more vigorously to the marginalized among us, and to look more closely at our (I'm Roman Catholic.) obligations to be conscientious stewards of the environment. This more Catholic-in-the-pew-friendly pontiff even appears to be more dramatically rethinking celibacy for priests. (That he's doing so as a means of staving off the clear call to examine more openly the case for ordaining women, though disconcerting to Catholic feminists, detracts only somewhat from the dramatic nature of this examination.)
We have seen a great shift in this Vatican's tone. But what have we not seen?
We have not seen the shift fully extend to the women of the church.
And we will not see Pope Francis I come down on this Mueller, despite that he ought.
Let Catholics recognize, at the very least, that this cuddly pontiff supports these Inquisitions, which had the Vatican monitoring women in convents. Let Catholics in the pews not pushy away the truth that the Vatican is still trolling its women religious--and that this campaign is conducted with the imprimatur of Pope Francis. Let Catholics be aware, as well, that it is women's ordination activists the inquisitors seek, who dwell, more often than not, in convents.
Our very cuddly pope may be taking a bold lead in some areas wherein reform and a change in tone are needed, but he has no interest at all in even opening the door to discussion of ordaining women, and every interest in cracking down on those bishops who would ordain them.
Perhaps because I follow Vatican news closely, I have found it difficult to share the enthusiasm many non-Catholics and Catholics alike have had for this new pope. I knew (and predicted) that the first order of business in 2013 when Joseph Ratzinger stepped down (in disgrace, I believe) would be to install an "anti-Ratzinger" who could forestall an official schism and arrest the exodus of Catholics leaving the church. Thus it went down.
The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was not long ago called The Holy Office of the Inquisition its prefect has long been the pope's enforcer. Pope, Francis I, inherited the prefect who served under Ratzinger, the author of these words written with regard to LCWR honoree,
author, theologian and (Sisters of Saint Joseph) Sister Elizabeth Johnson:
...It saddens me to learn that you have decided to give the Outstanding Leadership Award during this year's Assembly to a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian's writings. This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well...However, following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees.
Not only does Gerhard Mueller condemn the choice to honor Sr. Johnson. He implies that the failure to comply in the matter of future selections of honorees might result in punishment.
Those who have taken note of the Roman Catholic hierarchy's expensive campaign to prevent Catholics and non-Catholics alike from enjoying Equal Marriage Rights know that Peter J. Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle--who lobbied against Equal marriage rights legislation on his diocese's dime, and who really, REALLY wants to be promoted to cardinal--continues to take an active role in the nun-busting sister-crackdown.
Catholics should listen closely to Pope Francis's response and take note if the pontiff chooses silence.
Sr. Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus introduced the world at large to intellectual tradition of Roman Catholic nuns. (See "Gunning for the Nuns" for more on this.) But in so many ways the "new" rebel nun is not new at all. While working as a New York City archdiocesan teacher in the 1980's, I came to know many progressive nuns. They were as expansive as they were faithful, departing from doctrine only when they had to. It was from such reverent, reserved, well-educated, quietly activist sisters that I first learned how deep misogyny promulgated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in Christ's name, ran. And still runs.
In many ways, Roman Catholicism was radically early to recognize the worth of woman. So so substantial was Jesus's departure from his original religious practice (which had men and women worshipping separately) that the vestige of female divinity it persists--even in the canonical Gospels--and through our Marian traditions despite the Vatican's great efforts through the past 2,000 years, to eradicate and minimize it.
The synoptic gospels have women following Jesus, praying with men, standing at the foot of the cross when the men (among them the man the church considers the first pope) ran. Catherine of Sienna, Hildegarde, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux are doctors of the church. The most exalted fully human being in the Communion of Saints--Mary, mother of Jesus--is a woman.
The Gnostic Gospels provide us with a glimpse of the extraordinary lengths to which Catholic teaching, through the ages, went, as it sought to scrub the power of women from Catholic history and consciousness.
This new pope who has won the hearts of so many remains a steadfast enemy to any discussion at all of women's ordination while claiming to wish to see women gain a greater role in leading the church. I think Pope Francis I has some Christ-splaining to do, and it will be interesting to see whether he voices even the slightest challenge to the CDF's most recent storming of the LCWR.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is the Pope Christian? Fr. Roy Bourgeois Writes to the the Pope

Today, excommunicated and defrocked Roman Catholic Maryknoll priest and peace activist Roy Bourgeois, published an open letter to Pope Francis I. In this letter, Father Bourgeois asks the pontiff him to look more closely into listen more fully to the hearts of LGBT Catholics and Roman Catholic women called to ordination. Bourgeois writes: 
Any movement rooted in love, justice, and equality is of the Divine and cannot be dtopped
I worship in a conventional Roman Catholic parish mostly, and in a community led by a female Roman Catholic priest when I am able, as well. So I have found it difficult to hear friends--non-Catholics and atheists alike--lavish praise upon a pope (Francis I) while so strenuously affirms, and reaffirms that the "door is closed to discussion of women's ordination."
I have held out hope that the pontiff everyone loves to love might prove that he truly is cut from some other cloth than that from which his two predecessors were cut by adopting a more Christlike point of view on the ordination of women. So far Pope Francis has yet to do this.
I have followed Father Roy Bourgeois's journey closely over the past few years, and having done so, have found it hard to push away the knowledge that Francis has done nothing at all to remove the excommunication of Bourgeois, whose offense was supporting the ordination of women. To add context, I note that hundreds of priests accused of raping children or serving as accessories in these crimes kept their frocks as Father Bourgeois--a Vietnam veteran and Nobel Peace Prize nominee--was being stripped of his.
In his letter to Pope Francis, Bourgeois cites the pain he has experienced as a consequence of being "kicked out of the church." This estrangement, he suggests, has deepened his feeling for fellow Roman Catholics who have been scorned and marginalized within their own church.
My pain at having been kicked out of the priesthood has allowed me to glimpse the exclusion and discrimination that people of color, women, and gay people in our Church have experienced for centuries.
Judaism, from which the first church of Christ came, began as a tribe of fervent, loving, fearful, brave, orthodoxy-challenging believers who yearned for and found a sacred locus for their worship. The Roman Catholic Church began as a cult, in small rooms, as fervent, loving, fearful, brave, orthodoxy-challenging believers yearned for and found a sacred locus for their worship. The ordination of Roman Catholic women, which is currently under way and is too big to fail, began thus in small rooms wherein the voices of women called to the priesthood were heard.
The ordination of Roman Catholic women, which is currently under way and is too big to fail, began when Roman Catholic (male) bishops stepped forward from their spots in the Apostolic Succession in Christ's name to ordain women in secrecy in order that God's will, as they understood it, might be done. Thanks to them, the Roman Catholic Women's Ordination genie is out of the bottle.
Conservative Catholics (including women who view their subjugated status as a somehow blessed condition) find the Roman Catholic ordination of women so distasteful they call Catholics who support and take part in masses celebrated by women nasty names: "apostates," "heretics," "devils," and (Cover sensitive ears.) "Protestants!" I puzzle over and find ironic that any Christian should, under any circumstances, think "Protestant" an insult, but these anti-woman's ordination crusaders are skittish and desperate and that may account for the puerile tone of their rhetoric. I notice they fixate, in particular, on the 'dress-up' aspects of Roman Catholic women priests--as if the daring to "vest" itself--to don the big dress, brocade and bling--were the most diabolical feature of the so-called apostasy!
I am neither a Canon lawyer nor a theologian, but I am a smart and wise student of Roman Catholicsm who has been studying doctrine and dogma informally and following Catholic news for a decade now. The more I read, the more I come to know that there is no authentic theological basis whatsoever for denying women ordination.
If the dogma and doctrine had been dictated to scribes by Jesus himself, those who hold both up as as clear evidence of God's desire that only people with male genitals are qualified to serve as priests might have a case. But Jesus did not write the Canon Code and they have no case. Men with political stakes in keeping women subjugated enshrined this prohibition; men driven by financial interests, men who were products of their time. Not Jesus. Not God.
There is no substantive theological barrier to the ordination of women. There is only white smoke and mirrors.
If this wiser, kinder gentler, more Christian Catholic pope is for real, he will respond to Father Bourgeois's letter. I pray the pontiff will be guided by Bourgeois's tender prose, and that Francis will be moved to lift the penalty of excommunication and to reinstate Bourgeois to the priesthood. If this wiser, kinder gentler, more Christian Catholic pope is for real, he will reach, with Christ in mind and heart, for the knob on that door he has called "closed."
If Pope Francis does reaching for the knob, the gesture will be symbolic in the extreme--because that door (to Woman's Ordination) has never really been closed.


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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pope Francis, Man of the Year? Not Yet




Within the past week or two we have seen the pope make the covers of TimeThe New Yorker and The AdvocateTime and The Advocate have designated Pope Francis as their publications' "person of the year." As a progressive Roman Catholic who is active in ministry, I find it pleasant to have a pope who does not come off as the kind of spiritual batterer Benedict XVI was. It's nice not having to constantly defend my choice to be a practicing Catholic. Atheist progressive friends who have never quite understood my peculiar willingness to worship in what one or two have called "a hate group" now make laudatory remarks about Pope Francis. My fellow Roman Catholic LGBT ministry members are delighted with our new pontiff. I imagine I might speak for many when I say that being a Roman Catholic is a tad easier now that our public relations has been so well-improved by Francis I. But man of the year? As Saint Augustine might say, "not yet."
Pope Francis may well be what he seems but it can not be denied that this pope is made-to-order. It is only by cutting through the "spin" that we can know how genuine Francis and the change with which he being credited actually are. A look at what was wrong with Ratzinger from a public relations standpoint reveals much. As a Catholic who has been watching the exodus of Roman Catholics from the church for years while chronicling developments in the church, I find taking this new pontifical upgrade at face value difficult. And facile!
Progressive Roman Catholics did not much like Joseph Ratzinger, but then again, neither did the traditionalist Roman Catholic fringe. Progressives objected to Ratzinger's anti-gay, anti-woman disposition, while ultra-conservative Catholics held against Ratzinger both his prominent role in Vatican II and his (later) failure to go far enough once he did become more conservative. Ratzinger resigned from a church that was lousy with financial and sexual scandals (I am one of those who believe we have yet to see the full impact of the Vatican sexual abuse scandal/crisis in the developing world.) and possibly on the verge of an all-out schism. The situation called for a man like Francis who could keep Catholics in the pews without amending teaching, a pontiff who could avert a schism and arrest the exodus of Catholics leaving the church in disgust. It's no accident that an Italian-Latino replaced the German; a warmer-blooded pope was called for, a pope with a glint in his eye, a pontiff more charming and less conspicuously royal than Josef Ratzinger. The church hierarchs knew that if they wanted LGBT Catholics and women sickened by the Magisterium's misogyny to remain in the church, they would have to elevate a cardinal capable of stepping away from dogma and doctrine both--but without challenging either outright. Pope Francis has been expert in finessing this.
In a December 2, 2013 piece that appeared (in translation) in National Catholic Reporter, Roman Catholic priest Hans Kung, a renowned theologian and former friend of Josef Ratzinger, included this observation in his discussion of Francis's pontificate: 
And worried observers are already asking whether Pope Emeritus Ratzinger is in fact operating as a kind of "shadow Pope" behind the scenes through Müller and Georg Gänswein, [Benedict's] secretary and Prefect of the Papal Household, whom he also promoted to archbishop.

Kung reminded of us the possibility that Joseph Ratzinger who continues to reside in the Vatican, may still, to some extent. run things. This is not a preposterous notion. Ratzinger's was one of the strong voices of the Second Vatican Council. He has been in the College of Cardinals since 1977 and is one of the world's most accomplished Roman Catholic theologians. The Emeritus Pope, who has wielded immense influence in the Vatican for half-a-century, could still be calling a few of its shots. 

While it is true Ratzinger wore more bling and fancier shoes than does the current Holy Father, Ratzinger steadfastly characterized greed and warfare as sinful. Under Ratzinger, cardinals in dioceses that desired it were invited to minister to LGBT Catholics in their parishes. Under John Paul II and Ratzinger, at the parish level, movement in the direction of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments was made. Under John Paul II and Ratzinger, we saw more and more women in pastoral ministry and working on altars, and the College of Cardinals was discussing an exemption to the prohibition of artificial contraception to arrest the spread of HIV/AIDS. Ratzinger made many horrendous remarks about "homosexuality" but when he did so he cited the very same doctrine (Roman Catholic Catechism) Pope Francis has yet to challenge, revise or update explicitly. (Francis has aimed to reframe some teaching in an implicit way.) Ratzinger did classify being homosexual as a "disorder," but--not nearly so often or strenuously as he ought to have--he also condemned homophobic abuse.

My aim here is not to suggest that Benedict XVI was a fine pope and that Francis I is not, but to notice, as a member of the church, that if any part of the elevation of Jorge Bergoglio were part of a Machiavellian strategy to improve Vatican public relations, it certainly is working.
What has really changed under Pope Francis beyond tone? Not much. Has Pope Francis formally challenged the Roman Catholic Catechism's characterization of homosexuality as "disordered"? He could. He has not.
Perhaps nothing so much suggests a disinclination to make real change in teaching as the pope's remarks on the matter of the ordaining women? On the well-publicized July 2013 interview on the airplane, Francis said the following about the possibility of conventionally ordained Roman Catholic women priests: 
The church says no. That door is closed.

Pope Francis extolls the importance of dialogue ("words which set hearts on fire") throughout In his recent (November 2013) encyclical Evangelii Gaudium<, yet reinforces his hierarchy's misogynistic ordination policy thus: 

...The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion...

The implication therein is that Catholics should discuss everything but ordaining women. I find this disgraceful.

Evangelii Gaudium is warm and lyrical. The author of Evangelii Gaudium firmly declares his disdain for greed, his ardent regard for the poor and the document boasts a conspicuous absence of homophobic rhetoric; all of that is good. Its focus, however, is evangelization--in 'Catholicspeak,' "evangelization" means "growth." Ratzinger was often accused of wanting a smaller, purer church. His successor appears to love his messier church, a church he describes (in Evangelii Gaudium) as 
bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined...


By elevating Jorge Bergoglio to the throne of Peter, the cardinals may have prevented an all out schism. The novel pope-love at hand, the likes of which the church has not seen since John XXIII, foreclosed on a schism and now seems substantive and powerful enough to keep the pews and Vatican coffers full. Who but an ultra-charismatic leader determined to preach on the divine character of humility could have pulled this off?

What kind of pope might have any chance at all of keeping the next generation of women in the pews without changing misogynist anti-woman's ordination doctrine? One who has won the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The big losers in this are Catholic women and their daughters. 

I like the pope too, and I remain hopeful about his ability to steer the worlds' Catholics toward greater peace and increased justice. I understand that Rome was not built in a day and that the Roman Catholicism Church will not be healed in a day, but the truth is that while the tone of Pope Francis's message regarding LGBT Roman Catholics and women is gentler, the message has not essentially changed. The bigotry remains. Strip away the tone shift and the message under Francis, as conservative Catholic observers have been saying, is the same message that Ratzinger, Timothy Dolan et al have been promulgating all along. The bigotry persists.
The Magisterium continues to prohibit divorced and remarried Catholics and all Catholics who are sexually active (regardless of their sexual orientation) from receiving the Eucharist; that has not changed. Pope Francis has made clear his disinterest in even discussing the ordination of women; that has not changed. Dogma and doctrine on contraception has not changed, and while Francis has been bold on the avarice front, he has been relatively reticent in his response to those who have been sexually abused, as children, by Catholic priests. The looking the other way on this count has not changed enough.
Given the incredible damage done by the Vatican sex scandal and banking scandals; the continued support the Vatican offers to organizations that use collection dollars to make the world a bit less safe for women, LGBT people, and those who have been victimized by priests; given the sitting pope's disinterest in challenging his hierarchy's flimsy, self-serving and fallacious arguments against ordination of women; I believe it is way too early to take Pope Francis as an unadulterated, full-on breath of fresh air.
I will pray for Pope Francis, but this Catholic woman is not drinking from the papal Kool-Aid chalice. Not yet.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Grant Me Pope Francis Kool-Aid But Not Yet: Is The New Pope For Real?



Like many Catholics I am encouraged by Pope Francis's language on the matter of sin, war, greed, and the poor, especially encouraged by the the pontiff's willingness to admit that conservative Catholics fetishize (my word, not his) the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage to the possible exclusion of other Christian concerns. I am grateful to see the pope promote the idea that a person who does not believe in God can have a conscience. I am grateful for Pope Francis's choice to extend a modicum of warmth to my LGBT members of our Church.
Grant me the Francis Alleluia Kool-Aid, but not yet.
Vatican doctrine still holds that same-sex and marriage and love are sinful. The pontiff has yet to fling "open the door" (to employ the terminology Ratzinger et al used) to the discussion of Women's Ordination. The pontiff's 'atheists should follow their consciences' message still had a subtle, persisting undertones of a "hate the sin, love the sinner" condescension--the idea that atheists have consciences is not exactly a metaphysical news flash. (Atheists, we should not forget, do good for good's sake, not for the divine report card kept by our triune God. If that is not conscience, I don't know what is.)
There's still the pope's money-hiding, pedophile-abetting cardinal in New York (Timothy Dolan) offering this interpretation of his fellow prelate's message in an interview with The Wall Street Journal
"Like Jesus, he's saying, hate the sin, love the sinner," Cardinal Dolan said, referring to Pope Francis's recent comments.
Being gay is not a sin. Loving one's same-sex partner is not a sin.
Yesterday, the LGBT ministry in the Catholic parish in which I am active, inspired by the pope's recent admission that being gay is okay had a plan to 'represent'--after masses, via that time-tested church tradition of serving coffee and cake. I am active in the LGBT ministry in my parish--I helped to start it--but I decided not to take part in this, because this week, something about the reaction to the pope's ( I fear too) well-received message leaves me the slightest bit uncomfortable.
Yes, there is a new breath of fresh air emanating from Peter's seat yet still, when I attend mass in my parish church, there's a man celebrating mass and and a half dozen-women Rome deems undeserving of priesthood scurrying about the church, on the altar and otherwise, making the the sacrifice of the mass come off without a hitch. This I find sinful. There's still the matter of a Nobel Prize-nominated Maryknoll Viet Nam veteran peace activist, Roy Bourgeois, whom the new pope ought to think about re-frocking. He lost his frock as a punishment for taking part in the ordinations of women.
Not one of the many Roman Catholic priests with whom I speak regularly really believes, as the hierarchal gynophobes argue, that "the Church lacks the authority to ordain women." Not one believes this dogma should be immutable. Not one finds this cherry-picked law, which gets used as a cudgel to keep women in their proper place, sound from a theological standpoint.
The law prohibiting the ordination of women is rooted in fear of the power of women and in economics--not Christ's teaching.
The Vatican will ordain women. The Canon Code may change to allow it. The Women's Ordination may grow so fast that women priests become a kind of unofficial norm or (most likely) a crisis in the Church will make it economically necessary to rethink the idea that a priest must have male sex parts.
The world's Catholic heart went aflutter recently--and I was with us, in this, to a limited extent--when the possibility that Rome might consider ordaining married (male) priests found its way into the news. Many people do not know that there currently are married Roman Catholic priests. Ratzinger cut a deal with ultra conservative Anglicans who wanted to bolt from their church to a more orthodox church that would promise to be less hospitable to feminists, LGBT people and progressives. A small number of Anglican converts were ordained into the Roman Catholic Apostolic Succession without having to give up their wives.
We can expect the discussion of married priests to get louder now. Now that Francis has established himself as the love pope, there will be more talk about the sanctity of love between spouses, and with an eye on addressing the shortage of priests, the hierarchs, under Francis, will begin to adopt a more open view of non-celibate priests.
I want my priests to have love lives, however, I am reluctant to join the campaign for married priests because I think there's something disingenuous in it. In many parts of the world heterosexual priests have wives and children on the down low, and Rome knows that. In the United States--and elsewhere, it is safe to assume--a significant percentage of priests are gay and probably most are, at some point in the course of their priesthood, sexually active.
There's a priest shortage. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Vatican Public Relations team responsible for this new, kinder, gentler, more Holy See would now send out the married priests test balloon.
I have been discussing the ordination of women with Roman Catholic priests for years. Not one I have ever spoken with believes that the ordination of women is notinevitable. It's not a matter of whether, they tell me, but when. The idea of women priests is the great fear of any prelate worrying about the Vatican coffers, however, because epically spawning women build the church. I believe the scrambling to offer quasi-acceptance to LGBT Catholics, the fresh re-emergence of discussion of the possibility of ordaining (non-Anglican baptized) married men the new shine this pontificate currently aims to put on the the well-worn argument that women have a special place in the church just as Mary, the mother of God, born without sin, had a special place in the life of Jesus.
The all-male priesthood is a vestige of the Judaism of antiquity which (God bless them for it.) even Orthodox Jews have managed to challenge and shake. Economic necessity caused men to write exclusion of women into Canon Law and economic necessity will reverse this exclusion. Eventuially.
When it becomes economically necessary, the Magisterium will arrive at a new interpretation of the Canon Code that makes way for the ordination of women. Until then the Vatican will try anything else--Anglican clerics, married or not; thanks to an unofficial "Don't Ask Don't Tell," policy--gay priests; and offering women to do the bulk of work at parish levels save that which priests alone are authorized to do.
I think Ratzinger's early departure was a well thought-out strategy for preventing an all-out schism and arresting the mass exodus of disaffected Catholics. What better man to stop the bleed than a anti-Ratzinger, a lovable, humble, warm-blooded guy who's all about peace and love?
It's not a push to imagine that Pope Francis, who has already given the Vatican a brighter smile, might (even unknowingly) be a pawn in a less than divinely inspired campaign to keep Catholics from the leaving the Church and recall lapsed Catholics back into the tithing fold. It's not a reach to imagine that a College of Cardinals made jittery by Ratzinger's arrogance and relative indifference to the suffering of victims of the Vatican Sex Crisis might have carefully s/elected the prelate most likely to serve as living breathing damage control, a real Habemus Papam pope.
I hope the man Timothy Dolan described, yesterday, as "hardly a shrinking violet" will yet exhibit and reflect the audacity of the Jesus who broke with the orthodoxy and took women as discliples. Let Pope Francis open the door to discussion of the ordination of women, so that we women can come to know whether he is the real thing.


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Monday, July 29, 2013

Popacabana: New Tone, Old Message



Pope Francis is just off the plane from his celebrated voyage to Brasil, a trip so lively and successful it earned the name "Popacabana." Popacabana was well-covered by news agency and from the standpoint of the pontiff's handlers, well spun.
Each time I read about this pope I marvel at how much I like the guy and fear his "body people"/publicity team. I often think the rubric for this pope emerged from the sweet 2011 film Habemus Papam . In Nanni Moretti's film, a pious and unassuming cardinal is elevated reluctantly to the papal throne, the chief irony being that the very aspects of his nature which make him such a fine and gentle servant of Christ, render him less a than than ideal papabile.
So Pope Francis has said "yes" today, to inclusion of LGBT people in Roman Catholic worship, and "no" to the ordination of women.
Rome stoops to divide and conquer.
Some of this reporting misleads. Pope Francis does not much depart from Ratzinger on the matter of LGBT Catholics. According to doctrine, all Catholics are asked to abstain from sex outside of marriage and the sacraments if such abstaining proves impossible. The rules for same sex couples have not changed. Pope Francis merely stresses that gay people should not be scorned when they show up at mass. Far be it from me to throw a compliment Ratzinger's way, but that was actually his position as well.
Where Ratzinger and Francis may be parting is on the matter of gay priests. My team of experts leads me to believe that by conservative estimates half the Roman Catholic priests in the world may be gay. Ratzinger wanted to impose a don't ask don't tell policy in the seminaries; Francis has no problems with gay priests as long as they remain celibate--which, let us not forget, does not mean "chaste," but unmarried.
Pope Francis offered some attractive rhetoric on the matter of women. The logic he espouses is familiar to anyone who practices a religion whose orthodoxy prohibits women from being clerics. The argument goes like this; women enjoy not a second class status, but its opposite, a more essentially exalted status, even then that of male clerics; women are hearth-keepers and mothers. 
"It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas," he said, according to the Catholic Herald. "Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests," he said, in the same way that "Mary is more important than the apostles."
Thus the pope basically argues that 1) women should get more to do and 2) that Mary is more important that the apostles.
I once heard a theologian priest told this joke from the pulpit: An elderly lady stayed after mass and prayed the rosary in the pews. With each "Hail Mary" her voice got louder and louder and somehow more urgent. The priest, hearing this, quietly interjected. "Jesus hears your prayer," he said. The woman prayed louder and in a more desperate tone. Again the priest spoke. "He hears you. Don't give up." One more time the woman increased her volume and the priest intervened. "Christ hears you."
"Will you keep it down, Father? It's not Jesus I want to talk to. It's his mother."
Women like my very devout Irish grandmother never exactly called it that, but they felt the divinity of Mary with an intensity that rivaled that of their feelings for God. Francis knows, especially as a Latin American, that for much of the Roman Catholic world, despite that such worship constitutes all out blasphemy, Mary is already way more powerful than the apostles. She was conceived without sin. She is the apostle who didn't run away from the foot of the cross. For relatively uneducated, but devout Roman Catholics, Mary is a virtual divinity. To say that Mary is more important than the apostles is something not at all radical dressed up to appear somewhat radically feminist. Francis recognizes the need to appease women.
Another aspect of these reports that warrants parsing is the use of the word "church"--as in "'the Church' will not ordain female priests, saying that the stance was "definitive." The Church does not really ordain anyone. The Vatican ordains. It is erroneous to use the terms "the Church" and "the Vatican" as if they were synonyms. The part of "the Church" that is the Vatican does not ordain women, but a small part of "the Church" which is comprised of men and women ordained in the apostolic succession who refuse to accept the prohibition of ordaining women and are determined to disobey the pope for reasons of conscience do ordain women.
And the Women's ordination movement is burgeoning at present. But there are Roman Catholic women priests. These are women who engage in Divinity training and prepare for the priesthood usually under the tutelage of conventionally ordained male Roman Catholic priests. 
I was talking with a Roman Catholic friend the other day who just began to go to church. He has a stepdaughter and the couple wants to raise her in a church. I casually mentioned to this man, an Italian-American with a Ph.d. raised Catholic in New York City, that there was a whole underground Roman Catholic priesthood. He was surprised.

Of course conservative Roman Catholics do not like this phenomenon much. Female Catholic priests endure a lot of name-calling: They're called "fake priests," "pretend priests," and of course "apostates," "heretics" and "blasphemers" by people who seem almost to believe St. Peter lived in a Gothic cathedral and wore satin and bling. How easily they forget that what they see as conventional Roman Catholic priesthood began as a weird, raggedy, orthodoxy-flouting rapidly expanding "cult."
The women priests I know are at least as well-trained in divinity, theology and church history as the male priests I know; they benefit from having strong spiritual mentors (conventionally ordained male priests usually), and act as shepherds in small communities supported in great measure by people like me who have decided they could no longer contribute financially to a parish that funnels money to the Vatican.
I am active in the parish in which I live, but if you think that because you have an open-minded priest and a progressive parish, none of the money you place in that basket on a stick goes to the Vatican, you are mistaken. Parishes kick back to their dioceses and dioceses to Rome, and your fine priest loses his parish if he fails to comply. If you put money in the basket in the Archdiocese of New York, for example, some of your money may already have paid legal fees for priests accused of violating children. If you put money in the basket in Milwaukee ten years ago, you might have paid for a detective to dig up dirt to discredit a plaintiff in a case against a predator priest. Your priest may have voted for Obama, but he still has to kick back to your diocese. My diocese is led by a bishop who was 'thisclose' with Vito ("Feel my tumor") Lopez "Gropez." My bishop took to the radio airwaves to compare same-sex marriage to marriage between human beings and their domestic animals. If I put money in my basket next Sunday, this bishop gets a cut. And bishops kick back to Rome.
If you think you can sit in church and not kick back to Rome, consider this; your church is a tax exempt organization. Even our beloved atheists help to defray the costs of sending Roman Catholic missionaries to sub-Saharan Africa to remind people in regions ravaged by heterosexually transmitted HIV/AIDS that using a condom is a sin.
I have written elsewhere about the institutional patriarchy and misogyny of the Vatican. My own response thus far has been to limit my contributions to my parish to non-financial ones. I give a great deal of time and talent to my church/conventional parish, but I don't give my parish money! I wish I could--but it seems somehow like a sin.
The awareness that so much of the work done at churches is done by women has given me pause today. We learned much about nuns when news of the Apostolic Visitations (Inquisitions) broke in 2009 and even more, later, via "the Nuns on the Bus." At the masses I attend, even at the most conservative parishes, most of the people distributing Holy Communion, proclaiming scripture and presiding over catechesis of children are women. This disappointing sound-bite today has given me pause; perhaps my choice to work in my parish is not so benign and morally acceptable.
Perhaps all women who work for the Roman Catholic Church should examine whether they wish to enable a church that accepts our labor but uses a tired, transparent and well-refuted (by its own theologians) argument against the ordination of women to keep us out of the conventional priesthood. It is interesting to imagine what might happen if between now and Christmas, women and men who view the Vatican's case for barring women from conventional ordination as inconsistent with Jesus's teaching--were to refuse to work in and contribute financially to Roman Catholic churches.
In the developing world, such a "faith action" (I might call it) would never work. The Vatican has long pinned its hopes for growth on the poor of India, sub-Saharan Africa and South America where obedience among Roman Catholics is the norm. But what if Western European and North American Roman Catholic women were to say "no mas?" ("No mass.") Just a thought.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Meet the New Pope. Same as the Old Pope?


I've been hearing this refrain all week: "Who cares who the next pope is?" I figure that those who don't care  who the next pope is probably don't care much about world politics either.  I'm writer who has written about 60,00 words on Roman Catholicism in the past three years--and that does not include the many poems I have written on the subject throughout the years, and I happen to be, Catholic, but my interest in who became pope yesterday is largely political.
When my 14-year old, who is not Catholic, asked me whether I "liked the new guy," yesterday, I told her I didn't l know yet, but that it was unlikely that any guy I liked would ever get that job.
But people change, and like Supreme Court justices, popes are in office for life (unless they exit prematurely for political--ahem--health reasons). A man in Francis I's position has great power to bring about change.
Look how the last pope changed over the course of time. In 1968, Joseph Ratzinger strongly supported the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He emphasized the need for Catholics to embrace primacy of conscience. 
Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. Conscience confronts [the individual] with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church.

("Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II", ed. Vorgrimler, 1968, on Gaudium et spes, part 1, chapter 1.) Yet we saw how quickly that fell by the wayside when Ratzinger excommunicated of and defrocked Nobel Peace Prize-nominated, Viet Nam Purple Heart Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois for following his conscience in the context of the ordination of women. By the end of Ratzinger's stint, the pope emeritus appeared to think conscience a close second to obedience--to himself.

Much is now being made of the new pope's humility. I am always wary of talk of humility when it comes from a man on a throne. Humility. Teresa of Calcutta, promoted as a paragon of Roman Catholic humility, has been in the news lately. I'm one of those who does not see her as a such a paragon. I believe one can admire her personal courage and her desire to minister to the suffering while recognizing that Teresa of Calcutta allowed herself to be manipulated by a hierarchy that needed a woman to thrust to the forefront during a time when women were leaving the church and taking their (children) future tithers with them.
Indeed the gift of life is precious, but it is the antithesis of "saintly" to exhort women who can not feed them to give birth to children. It is neither saintly no by any stretch motherly to promote the eschewing of condom use amid an AIDS epicdemic. Nor is offering an agonizing patient a prayer in lieu of morphine (I would argue that a combination of both is optimal.) saintly. I think Christopher Hitchens' book aboutMother Teresa was, for the most part well-researched; I found its arguments credible and consistent with what I have heard from nuns and priests through the years. Yet because she was trotted out by Pope John Paul II and his consigliere Joseph Ratzinger as a female totem of humility, propped up front and center as a means of reminding Roman Catholics--women especially--that the apex of female godliness is to be humble in the extreme (which is, of course, often not very humble at all--but a martyr's narcissism) Mother Teresa became an unofficial saint--not just to Catholics, but to the world. John Paul II canonized her in 2003, which is the first step toward making her sainthood official.
Jesus was humble in the extreme. Being humble in the extreme is a charism--but not when it promulgates sexism and misogyny. Nor when it perches on a throne.
So far, we have reason to infer that Pope Francis I has aligned himself with his two predecessors on the matter of homosexuality.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio not only called the new law "a scheme to destroy God's plan"; he termed it "a real and dire anthropological throwback," as if homosexuality were evolutionarily inferior to heterosexuality.

Although we do not yet have his explicit statements and papal documents to go by, it is probably reasonable to extrapolate. It's not hard to guess where Pope Francis I will stand on the proper role of women in the church.

The world can be pleased with the idea of a Latino pope, but the world should also note that Penecostal Protestant churches have enjoyed immense success ion recent years, at wrenching Latinos throughout North, South and Central America from the grip of the Roman Catholic Church. Those who cast votes for the new pope knew a Latino pope has a better chance than a non-Latino pope of arresting Protestant evangelization in Latin America.
People living in the Americas can be pleased with the idea of a Latino pope but the world should care what kind of Latino pope we now have.
Bergoglio was ordained in 1971 in Argentina, the same year Peruvian priest and author of A Theology of Liberation coined the term "Liberation Theology," just under a decade before Oscar Romero, Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador was assassinated by Salvadoran Death Squads (who trained in the United States) while celebrating mass in a hospital. School of the Americas graduate Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order.
School of the Americas alum Argentine General Jorge Rafael Videlas (another SOA alum), with whom Argentine journalist and author Horacio Verbitsky claims (in his 2005 El Silencio) the new pope collaborated, is currently serving " target="_hplink">a life sentence for his many crimes against humanity.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI took bold steps, four years after Romero's assassination, to ensure that Roman Catholics knew that the Magisterium viewed "Liberation Theology" as essentially Marxist, and therefore incompatible with to genuine Roman Catholic doctrine, but they were wise enough to hedge, in this, by urging Catholics to embrace Archbishop Romero as a Catholic martyr.
One can not look at the choice to elevate Jorge Mario Bergolglio without examining the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America which has, in the course of the new pope's time as a priest, been extremely polarized. It's interesting that people in the pews often see the Jesuit tradition itself as similarly (on a right wing-left wing spectrum) polarized.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio he has never publicly departed from the Magisterium's teaching on any issue, and his thinking appears, so far, to be in line with that of a pope whose most famous defrocking was that of the aforementioned Father Bourgeois. Bourgeois founded SOAWatch, an organization dedicated to closing down WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), formerly known as "School of the Americas" as a response to the brutal rapes and murders of four female friends/fellow activists--Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel--who were killed by the SOA-trained Salvadoran death squads, while working in Christ's name. Their deaths occurred nine months after Archbishop Romero's under the same leadership.
I happen to be reading The Phenomenon of Man, written by Jesuit priest, theologian and paleontologist a Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was born in 1855. In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard de Chardin reconciles his metaphysical Catholic faith with scientist's knowledge of the "physical" world. The Jesuit order forbade Teilhard de Chardin from make his writing public. And thank God he did, for the book, as the great thinker, theologian and rabbi Abraham Heschel described it,is indeed "a most extraordinary book, of far-reaching significance for the understanding of man's place in the universe."
Teilhard de Chardin obeyed, but ensured that his work would be published posthumously. Teilhard's evolutionary vision has humankind evolving toward a convergence, in time, space and essence, with the divine. The Phenomenon of Man is a difficult, poetic and important work, for it not only offers a religious man's take on evolution, but it also addresses the crisis (I'd call it) which can be expected to ensue when the growth of technology exceeds (outruns?) the evolution of the human spirit. It's hard to imagine that an order so intellectually rigorous as the Jesuits would stand in the way of such a thinker, but Jesuit training emphasizes obedience to the pope.
About six years ago, I heard renowned peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan (who would have made a fine pope) give a talk about reading The Bible. At the time, Berrigan was working in ministry with people suffering from full-blown AIDS. A gay man sitting in front of me raised his hand during the Question and Answer period. He wanted Father Berrigan's thoughts on the Vatican's refusal to approve the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. Berrigan anguished, looked around the beautiful church as if inhaling its splendor. He took a long time to answer, and when he did, he equivocated. His truth was in the air, but Berrigan didn't speak it. He obeyed.
Much has been made of how the man who now called Pope Francis I rides the bus, a luxury Jorge Mario Bergoglio will no longer enjoy now that he is the Supreme Pontiff. Noting that this detail was one of the first to go viral yesterday, I could not help but remember the scenes in the film Habemus Papa, in which the new pope elect rides the bus. His wide-eyed odyssey in that film functions as an outward sign of the character's humility and humanity; as one watches the film's protagonist (who doubles, in a sense, as his own antagonist) one gets the idea that the character is too much of a man, or too good a priest, to serve as pope.
Much is currently being made of how the Jesuit called Francis I took the name of the riches-to-rags Francis of Assisi a humble and beloved saint (and poet!). But for a Jesuit, I must imagine, the word "Francis" conjures thought of one of stars of the Jesuits' hagiographical firmament, Francis Xavier, who brought Catholicism to Asia as the Spanish Inquisitions and Reformation were under way. Francis Xavier and Ignatius Loyola, founder and first Superior General of the Society of the Jesuits were contemporaries and comrades in the Counter-Reformation. Loyola, underwent conversion while recovering from a war injury he sustained while fighting in the Spanish army. Pope Francis I has said his choice is inspired by the man from Assisi--to whom first Superior of the Jesuits was also especially devoted, but not for nothing did the Jesuits acquire the name, "the soldiers of Christ." That's a far cry God's bird man. My guess is Francis recalls both, the soldier and the poet.
Historically, the Jesuit order has always stressed education and tolerated--even encouraged--debate on matters of doctrine within its "ranks." I think this still holds true today. It is for this reason that I, who do care who the next pope will turn out to be, like the idea of a Jesuit priest in Peter's chair.
I do not care, however, for the fact that, thus far, Pope Francis I seems poised to reaffirm emeritus Ratzinger's positions on homosexuality and contraception.
I don't care for the alacrity with with Bergoglio leapt when Joseph Ratzinger finally gave the orthodox fringe permission to reinstate celebration of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass, in which the priest faces the altar and the people in the pews pray for the redemption of the Jews. That is not a good sign.
And I don't care for "Communion and Liberation" a group with which Bergoglio has long been associated. Communion and Liberation is the latest creepy conservative religious (lay) cabalto be if not mired in, then at least tainted by scandal.
Most alarming however, is the possibility of Bergoglio's support for mass murdering, infant-stealing general and chief butcher Jorge Rafael Videla Argentine during Argentina's Dirty War. See what the U.K. Guardian's Hugh O'Shaughnessy has to say about that.
I was happy to hear that Bergoglio has a devotion to the poor. Like many bookish Catholics, I have a soft spot for Jesuits. I have great potential to be pleased to see a Latino become pope. I care very much that Cardinal Bergoglio, unlike his brother Cardinal Timothy Dolan, does not have a spot on SNAP's (Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests ) "Dirty Dozen" list of incardinated offenders. I care that Dolan, failed to make it to the chair of St. Peter.
I very much care that when same-sex marriage passed into law in Argentina in 2010, Jorge Bergoglio characterized the adoption of children by same-sex couples as "discrimination against children." Ironic? Yes, given the possibility he may have had an alliance with Videla.
I care that one of the most powerful men might have gone along with or looked the other way while a general stole newborn babies and killed their mothers.
I am not happy to have a pope who , and I very much care that "the new guy" as my 14 year-old calls him seems positioned to appears, at present, to be inclined to toe the status-quo Magisterium party line.
I care that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio failed to embrace Liberation Theology when the need for it hit so close to (his) home.
In the context of global politics, the pope is possibly the single most powerful man in the world. That's why I care who the new pope is.
That's why I wait, anxiously, to see which side this Latino Jesuit is on.
The Christ side, or the other side?