Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

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?

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