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Jorge Bergoglio had come in second behind Joe Ratzinger in 2005 at the conclave tasked with electing the next pope. Eight years later, Bergoglio himself was elected to the holy and powerful office. The American media, treading water as usual on the surface, proclaimed Pope Francis to be a reformer. After all, he was the first non-European to hold the office in more than a millennium. However, Francis is a reformer in a very narrow sense, and he is not as much of an outsider as one might suppose from the media reports. As with most matters in life, the truth is more nuanced.

I begin with the matter of the pope ostensibly being an outsider. Because Bergoglio had been born and raised in Argentina, his election quickly came to stand for or personify the increasing salience of Latin America in the contemporary Catholic Church. At the announcement habamus papam, Latino Catholics in the Vatican’s square and on a much larger scale in Argentina spontaneously rose in celebration. However, the assumption that Bergoglio is the first Latin American pope needs some qualification because his parents were Italian immigrants. Not surprisingly, he grew up speaking fluent Italian in addition to Spanish. Accordingly, he had no trouble giving the homily of his first papal Mass in Italian. Italian culture was doubtless a part of his upbringing as well. So it is not strictly true that a non-European was elected pope. More accurately, Pope Francis is a hybrid, or “third culture person,” consisting of Latin American and European elements.

Moreover, in having achieved the high office of cardinal, Pope Francis is not an outsider. His status as an outsider is relatively narrow, being that he has not worked in the Curia at the Vatican. However, even this respect could be moderated by the pope’s Italian upbringing. That is to say, he undoubtedly has the sense of being in the familia in virtue of his Italian roots. Italian cardinals and bishops in the Curia could thus expect to have some pull with him. I doubt this point was not lost on at least some of the Italian cardinals in the conclave. Of course, the fact that the pope appointed so many reformers to his advisory council on the Curia suggests that the term “reformer” applies to him in respect to dealing with the corruption in the Vatican, including its bank and senior officials. This does not mean that he is a reformer writ large—meaning in terms of doctrine, the hierarchy, and social issues.

Even though feminist groups dared to hope that the new pope might finally bring the Church into the twenty-first century on social issues, Bergoglio had been stanchly conservative on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, women in the Church, and even contraception. Therefore, it is very unlikely the new pope would make any changes along the lines sought in the developed West.

Indeed, a month after becoming pope, Francis reaffirmed his predecessor’s rebuke of the Leadership Conference of the Women Religious (LCWR). The umbrella group of American nuns had been accused of excessive feminism and too much attention to social justice and the poor at the expense of preventing abortions. The affirmation is particularly astonishing because Bergoglio had emphasized social justice and the poor as an archbishop  in Argentina. That his reaffirmation of the previous pope’s rebuke pertains to a group that shares his own priorities on social justice and the poor suggests that his role as a reformer is narrow indeed. His reforms inside the Church are likely to be limited to reforming the Curia to get rid of its corruption and insularity. To be sure, that he had spoken out against unregulated markets and oppression could suggest that the pope might be a reformer in terms of human rights outside the Church. He might even urge governments to enhance financial regulation and fortify safety nets for the poor. Crucially for our purposes here, this would not make him a doctrinal or social-issue reformer in terms of Catholicism.

George Weigel, a traditionalist Catholic theologian, put the matter of the pope’s orientation very well. “He is a reformer, and making clear that the LCWR’s program in recent decades has been incompatible with Catholicism is part of the reform-by-purification that he is going to lead.” The term “purification” is key here, for it describes the traditionalist approach of the prior two popes wherein a traditionalist interpretation of doctrine (including on social issues) has been used to purge the marginal (i.e., moderate and liberal) Catholics on the way to restoring the true Church to the true believers. In a sense, the traditionalists had succeeded in using the “reform” label for their own purposes, but this does not mean that Pope Francis will open up the Church to women or married priests or relaxed positions on gay marriage, abortion and even contraception. Rather, a bishops’-led return to outward caring for the poor in place of insular infighting and corruption is the sort of “reform” that is perfectly consistent with the ecclesiastical traditionalism of the cardinals who elected the Italian-Argentinian cardinal.

 

 

For more, see Jaweed Kaleem’s article, “Pope Francis Gets Strong Ratings From U.S. Catholics in First Days,” in the Huffington Post on March 15, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/15/pope-francis-approval-us-catholics_n_2884494.html?utm_hp_ref=religion ; Cathy Grossman, “Pope Francis Keeps Tight Rein on U.S. Nuns,” USA Today, April 16, 2013; Laurie Goodstein, “Pope Upholds Reprimand of American Nuns’ Group,” in the New York Times on April 16, 2013

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Beginning in 1979 and continuing at least into the second decade of the twenty-first century, the Roman Catholic Church underwent a “movement,” or “step,” back—in the sense of turning back from the shifts made possible by the Second Vatican Council. Aspects of the reactionary agenda include a greater distance between the clergy and the laity (as eventuated in less emphasis on lay ministries, ironically as the proportion of priests decreases) and more emphasis on two particular political issues: abortion and stem-cells. In other words, the clergy in the movement tend to hold themselves in a more elitist position vis a vis the laity while feeling more confident in asserting their particular partisan position. One such priest at a parish, and indeed diocese, “gone reactionary” is reported to have added a prayer in the petitions at Mass as the campaigns for the Republican primaries were revving up in 2011, “We pray for the election of a pro-life president.” As Barak Obama is pro-choice and most of the Republican candidates are pro-life in terms of being anti-abortion, the prayer was in fact for a Republican to win the White House. There are a number of problems with this sort of petition—none of which evidently had swayed the overconfident “high” priest

First, the partisan nature of the petition could be expected to turn off any independents and Democrats in the congregation. In fact, they could have felt alienated—some strident Obama supporters may perhaps have even skipped taking Communion. In attending the Mass, the members of that parish had agreed to take part in Roman Catholic religion; they had not agreed to attend a Republican or even a politically partisan club. Indeed, you can bet that priest would have quickly dismissed any members identifying themselves as intending to vote for Barak Obama. The priestly arrogance falls particularly flat when politics, wherein each person has one vote, is the priest’s chosen field of endeavor. Lest he object that religion is everywhere and thus preemptive in other domains, one might wonder whether he has any self-control or restraint, not to mention humility—particularly as it is his favored ideological stance that reigns supreme and trumps all others.

Second, the petition itself may be self-defeatist. According to the New York Times, “attacks on the E.P.A., climate change science and environmental regulation more broadly” are red meat to many if not most Republican voters. Some
of the Republican candidates would do away with the E.P.A. outright. Michele Bachmann, for instance, said, “I guarantee you the E.P.A. will have doors locked and lights turned off.” Now, if we let corporations and drivers send our climate to a new equilibrium that is incompatible with the human species, then any pro-life political agenda would be thwarted, at least with respect to human life. The partisan priest could take solace, however, in that there would not be any abortions.

In fact, not only is the petition narrow-minded and self-defeating, it bears a contradiction if universalized (i.e., everyone votes anti-abortion) that renders the maxim immoral, at least according to Kant’s categorical imperative. For the maxim “Vote anti-abortion” universalized could bring with it a trashing of the environment to the extent that the maxim no longer makes sense because there is no possibility for abortions when there are no human beings remaining. In other words, the maxim universalized is self-contradictory, so the maxim cannot be taken as a fact of reason (i.e., as having the necessity of reason, as in 4+5=9) and thus the maxim is immoral. This is obviously a rationalist method of assessing morality.

The main oversight by the reactionary politicized priest is that voting on a single issue opens one up to the risk of having voted recklessly with respect to other issues. Moreover, the tenet that one single issue is so much more important than all the others, such as social justice and aiding the poor, even with respect to the religion (and religious morals) not to mention politics is faulty at best. In Christianity, for example, Jesus is depicted as urging aid to the poor—the least of us or the lowly being exalted. Considering the Republican condition for raising the debt-ceiling in July 2011 that unemployment compensation be ended, it is difficult to see how voting for a “pro-life” candidate on abortion could be
consistent with Jesus’ admonition. Even from the standpoint of following Jesus, the self-vaunted ideology of the priest is problematic for him. With respect to humility, which the Catholic Pope (Joe Ratzinger) has maintained is God, a partisan petition is at the very least unseemly and ultimately self-defeating with respect to union with God.

See John M. Broder, “Bashing E.P.A. Is New Theme in G.O.P. Race,” The New York Times (August 18, 2011).

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“While I greatly respect the Catholic Church and its leaders, like many Rhode Islanders, the fact that I disagree with the hierarchy of the church on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic,” Rep. Patrick Kennedy (a son of the late Ted Kennedy) wrote in a letter to Tobin, agreeing to a sitdown. “I embrace my faith which acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.”

“Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an ‘imperfect humanity.’ Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your Communion with the Church,” Tobin (Catholic Bishop of RI) wrote.  It is disputed whether the bishop has barred Kennedy from receiving communion in RI, or simply asked him not to do so.  The bishop claims he did not tell his priests to refuse to give Kennedy communion.

Analysis:  There is perhaps an interesting question regarding the reference of an “imperfect humanity.”   Is Kennedy referring to those people who accidently get pregnant or to the men having ecclesialastical positions in the Catholic Church?  Kennedy could be saying that differing from the men who run the Church on particular societal issues ought not put one’s salvation at risk.  If so, then Tobin’s claim that imperfect humanity does not apply to him involves a conflict of interest.  Moreover, the fact that he and Kennedy had gotten into a public spat means that Tobin’s act to barr Kennedy from receiving communion also involves a conflict of interest.   Tobin’s first mistake was in violating his pastoral role by getting into a brawl with Kennedy.  Any subsequent “pronouncements” are tainted by Tobin’s self-interest as a party to a brawl of sorts, and thus illegitimate.    Given human nature, none of us can properly vaunt himself or herself above others in terms of that nature.  The best we can do is to try to help each other.   I don’t see that happening in this case.  Instead, I see the antithesis of what Jesus evinced and stood for.   To try to say that “loving thy enemy” means barring him demonstates the extent to which Christianity can be bent to fit one’s interests in the guise of something else.  More than anything, transparency is needed in how Christianity is abused.  That it can happen by those presumably closest to it may be why Jesus points to the outsider and the stranger as having greater faith than those we would expect.  Christianity needs to be applied to Christianity.   “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20:16).   There is also Matt 23.  “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. … And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”   The extent of mental gymnastics that has been involved in finessing that line is truly amazing. 

For more, pls see:  http://twitter.com/deligentia

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34091312/ns/us_news-faith/

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