Friday, September 27, 2013

Mary Hunt On Pope Francis' Interview: A New Moment In A Long Church History, Or An Exercise In Charm?

Here we have two Marines and a Navy Medical corpsman who do not exactly represent Francis' view of the Madonna. This is unfortunate given one of Mary's multitudinous titles has her leading the war against Satan--and speaking of that, these women are in a Psyops unit.  The photo is taken from this article from Veterans Today, which also features a really really interesting take on women in combat from Mary Hunt.

I thought I'd finally get around to some thoughts about Pope Francis' interview with the Jesuits, but after some thought and a whole lot of reading, I still find theologian Mary Hunt's analysis speaks my thoughts better than I can.  So with kudos to Mary Hunt, I have extracted the following extended extracts from her article at Religion Dispatches and as is my usual wont, will throw in a few comments of my own.

......Three Things Leave Me Warm...
The interview’s complexity arises from the overlay of Ignation spirituality that forms Francis’ spirit and psyche. It’s a language and symbol set all its own—heavy with “discernment” and reliant on prayer as a means of knowing. The interviewer tries to interpret it at times (who knew that Peter Faber [1506-46] was such an influential fellow?), but what stands out is how Francis is imbued with the customs and governance style of the Society of Jesus.....  (Francis' description of the Ignation process and how it worked for him was one of the high points for me as well.)
....First, Pope Francis is a person who freely admits that he can change his ways. I admire that. Having been wrong more times than I can count, I understand a person who admits that while at the time s/he did what s/he thought was right, in retrospect it was dead wrong. Pope Francis acknowledges that when he was the provincial of the Jesuits in Buenos Aires his leadership style was authoritarian. He chalks it up to his youthfulness and circumstances, but he has the good sense not to repeat that mistake now, when it could do even more damage. This is welcome. He is correct that based on his history many of his Latin American colleagues fear that he will not make doctrinal changes. Authoritarianism is not simply how one treats people, but also how one treats ideas. (Yes, yes, yes.  I so hope Francis can treat ideas in exactly this way, or there is very little hope much of anything is going to change. The fact he can freely admit he's made mistakes is very hopeful, but the real question is, can he admit the Church made mistakes.)

Second, the compassion, humanity, and simple lifestyle that Pope Francis manifests is refreshing after decades of John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s personalities and actions. At the same time, Francis demonstrates in the interview that he is a highly cultured man. He takes music, art, literature, and film seriously as culture shapers, as rich gifts for enjoyment and insight into the human condition. He’s very Argentine that way. Going to the movies in Buenos Aires is as common as going to mass. Teatro Colon is a world-class opera house of which Portenos (residents of Buenos Aires) are justifiably proud. (He also seems to understand that these culture shapers have more influence on younger generations than the Catholic culture warrior shapers EPBenedict was so fond of and the USCCB is so full of.)

Third, postmodernity is not lost on Francis. Woven through the discourse of this lengthy interview are indications that the many sciences, not just theology and philosophy, are sources for religious reflection. Obviously his experience at the World Youth Day in Brazil was formative. He understands the differing roles of people of varying ages; he realizes that younger churches have unique characteristics, older churches their own charm; that vigor and wisdom, ancient and new, all have their place; and he affirms “real, not ceremonial consultation” as the way forward. These are contemporary ideas that his immediate predecessors did not understand—or if they did, they did not accept them.
(I was really struck with this observation of Pope Francis' because his two predecessors demonstrated a decided lack of enthusiasm for much of the culture of the younger churches, most certainly giving place of preference to the traditional Eurocentric Church. I never understood why a Pope would preference that part of the Church on life support over and above that part of the Church running at full speed.  I have my suspicions as to why that was so, but am glad to see Francis' ego isn't in the same place.  And before anyone points out that the younger churches are more conservative on moral issues, rest assured I get that.  I also get that South America used to be that way before the educational levels of women began rise.)
...And Three Cold
The weakest part of the interview is the section on women. It is amazing how little this pope seems to know about women, other than his grandmother Rosa whom he places right next to the Virgin Mary. The very fact that women are set apart as special, different, seems to imply that everything else he says about church, morality etc. is for and about men. This is a serious methodological flaw. Either women are part of “the holy, faithful people of God,” and thus the church in the full sense, or they are not. 
If women are human beings like men, not different from men in some mystical way that can result in discrimination, then ordination, reproductive justice, contraception and the like are choices women can and should make. Catholics do not need “a profound theology of the woman,” but a clear, engaged reading of feminist work in religion that is among the most exciting theological production today. The very framing of the question about women is dubious. Difference unto discrimination is a slippery slope..... (These lines clarified something rolling in the fog in the back of my head.  It's this, I have without really processing it, let much of what the male church says go in one ear and out the other because I have never felt the men were talking to women--outside of pelvic issues and in this case it's down to women.  It always seemed to me they were talking to men, and about women to men. Women were just along for the ride, sort of in the passenger seat with their seat belts on, there not to drive or even navigate, but just to keep the kids in the backseat in line---oh yea, and to make sure there were actually kids in the backseat.  And now back to Mary.)

......It is intellectually embarrassing to hear a man who is so conversant with music, literature, and poetry have such a paltry vocabulary when it comes to women. Thus far, Francis has not had any public conversation with a woman church leader of any sort. The continued oppression of U.S. women religious, allegedly approved by him, is a negative sign as well. But maybe it will fall into the category of small things to which he will pay little attention....(One can only hope. I will say one other thing about this section on women.  It may very well be that Francis knows he really doesn't get women as much more than an icon of motherhood and that is why he keeps stating we need 'a deeper theology of women'. It may just be that he realizes he himself needs a deeper theology of women.)
A second issue I find troubling is the lack of transparency about the shape of the institutional church. The cardinals realized on the resignation of Benedict XVI that the institutional church was in ruins. Its creditability is gone due to financial scandals, pedophilia by priests, and cover-ups by bishops. Frankly, no one cares much what the Catholic Church officials think on the big issues—war, the economy, racism, ecology, etc. Sometimes I wish they did! So from a purely business perspective, they have chosen a CEO who is leading a charm offensive that is working. Why not admit it? Perhaps this will be the subject of the next interview if the Jesuits have the gumption to ask him.
Moreover, it’s important to realize that “election” of a pope is not very different from election of a president or other top-ranking official in a hierarchical organization. S/he brings with her/him a whole entourage of lower ranking officials, much like in the U.S. when the Republicans are defeated by the Democrats or vice versa. The winner brings a team. So now it’s time for the people who lost the election to get out of the way and let Francis govern.... (Unfortunately the Obama presidency has shown in spades that a certain type of conservative does not get out of the way.  They appoint themselves the mission of becoming the biggest obstacle. I don't see the Church version of this conservative bent acting any different.)

....My hope is that out of all of this will come not more emphasis on Good Pope Francis, and by extension more papal power, but a new model of church in which his role as pope is as a symbol of unity, not authority. (I kind of think this is exactly how Francis sees the papacy.  Maybe the bigger question is whether the rest of the Church will let him execute this vision of the papacy.)

A third area of concern is the major matter of church doctrine—what this pope jesuitically says he affirms as a “son” of the church. If that’s the case, what hope is there that things will be substantively and structurally different in years to come? If some issues are closed—not just the ordination of women but how other faith traditions are understood; not just same-sex love, but what we mean by Eucharist—is this interview simply a puff piece, a case of the Jesuits promoting their own and their own promoting Jesuits? Is it meant as a way to attract people back to a church that may have a kinder face but just as steely a heart? Is the good will it has engendered trustworthy? The Roman Catholic Church has been around for several thousand years for a reason. I hope this interview is a beginning not an end of a new moment. (I had all those thoughts myself, especially the Jesuit self promotion one, but this interview had too much in it to just be a puff piece. It spoke of a real change of direction, so I hope Mary's final thought is the correct one--that the interview does signal a new moment in a long history.)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The 'Mess' At America Magazine And How To Solve Some Thorny Papal Problems Regarding Women And Ordination

Thanks for the thumbs up.  Dispensing qualified Catholics from the lay state and granting them some priestly faculties in some situations might solve a multitude of problems associated with the ordained priesthood.

I spent the morning reading the comments to the National Catholic Reporter articles on the editorial mistake America magazine made with Pope Francis' interview for the English language Jesuit publications.  I really appreciated the fact the Dr Phyllis Zagano reported on the lines from the interview that America editors state were accidentally drop kicked into the garbage icon.  Those lines clarified a part of this interview that made no sense to me.  The America translation was the one I read and Francis' take on women and their place in the Church, especially with the words 'feminine machismo' made no sense to me, as they came across as an attack on women who seek other than the usual allotted roles.  I found this so out of context with the rest of the paragraph and interview that I determined he must have meant 'machismo' limited women's roles.  So I was glad the lines Phyllis found in Spanish and Italian translations clarified Francis' meaning as pretty much what I thought.  In reality Francis is calling for a far more incisive role for women in the Church and again, for a much deeper theology of women.  

But the give and take between Phyllis and some of the editors and translators of America's version in the comments section was something to behold.  I think all sturm and angst point to more than just who wrote what about what, and what was really done, and why accidently doing what was done really was an accident and not a reason for impugning America's journalistic creds.  I think it was the Holy Spirit that might have seen to the drop kicking of some important lines about women into that garbage icon on one of America's computer screens.  Perhaps it was a case of forcing some Jesuit discernment.  Perhaps it was a method of outlining just how fragile the relationship is between Holy Mother Church and her real women.  It's pretty fragile, and it's a situation Pope Francis seems very much aware.  He has not stated a word about how much his male relatives influenced his own relationship with the Church, but he has stated a great deal about how his grandmother, mother, and sister have effected his relationship with the Church.  He knows when women walk out the doors, generations leave with them.

I have not suddenly decided Francis understands the role of women any deeper than I did in my post about mothers and sons and mothers and daughters, but I do think he knows his view is not particularly deep, and that the real situation on the ground is that the Church's very survival is wrapped up in women not walking out the doors.  He seems really willing to prevent that by any means short of ordination.  And so lots of people are suddenly talking about the potential for opening the deaconate to women and elevating women to the position of cardinal.  These are nice, long overdue concepts for giving women a more incisive place in the Church.  They would be easy to enact and not require much of a change in Canon Law.  Those are the pluses.  The negatives are two fold.  They leave the celibate male clerical structure in place with all it's attendant problems and they still leave women (and married men) with a second class status vis a vis baptism.  In other words, close but no cigars.

And yet the path to full equality has been seriously blocked by both his predecessors and Francis hasn't said one thing that indicates he will buck Ordinatio Sarcedotalis.  Not even on the celibacy rule.  So what does a Pope do?  If he's serious about elevating women and removing narcissistic clericalism he could consider bypassing the whole question of ordination to the priesthood and invent a different path.  He could give special dispensations to any qualified lay Catholics to exercise certain priestly faculties in limited or emergency situations.  Lay Catholics can already do this with the Sacrament of Baptism.  There is precedent. This might solve a lot of problems.  Not just the issue of women's ordination, but this would also provide sacraments in priestless parishes and areas in which the priest to lay ratio means no Eucharistic celebration and no opportunity to enjoy God's mercy through confession.  A pope could get really creative with these dispensations.  They could be powerful signs of God's mercy and provide lots of nurses for working in God's field hospital.  It could start with laicized married priests and vowed religious, but it wouldn't have to stop there.  It could evolve in it's own way and eventually we might find there is no longer any need for the ordained priesthood that the Church can't ordain women into and that men have to be celibate for--viola problems solved. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pope Francis Sermonizes On The Church As "Mommy" And I Sigh---Again

Funny how the Church has ignored Mary's presence at Pentecost.  She too was 'annointed' by the Holy Spirit at the very beginning of things.  Maybe God was recognizing her for more than motherhood.

I decided to take a break, a self imposed sabbatical if you will, because I could not make up my mind about Pope Francis. (Well, truthfully, my real job had a lot to do with it as well.)  I still can't make up my mind about Francis, and I will get into some of the reasons for this state later in other posts, but for now I will address one issue which has the potential to make or break any reform of/or future for Roman Catholicism.  That issue is women, their place in the Church, and the conceptualization this pope in particular has of women.  Let me start by offering the following quote from a sermon Pope Francis gave Tuesday morning:

“This dimension of widowhood of the Church, who is journeying through history, hoping to meet, to find her Husband… Our Mother the Church is thus! She is a Church that, when she is faithful, knows how to cry. When the Church does not cry, something is not right. She weeps for her children, and prays! A Church that goes forward and does rear her children, gives them strength and accompanies them until the final farewell in order to leave them in the hands of her Spouse, who at the end will come to encounter her. This is our Mother Church! I see her in this weeping widow. And what does the Lord say to the Church? “Do not cry. I am with you, I’ll take you, I’ll wait for you there, in the wedding, the last nuptials, those of the Lamb. Stop [your tears]: this son of yours was dead, now he lives.”

And this , he continued, “is the dialogue of the Lord with the Church.” She, “defends the children, but when she sees that the children are dead, she crys, and the Lord says to her: ‘I am with you and your son is with me.’” As he told the boy at Naim to get up from his deathbed, the Pope added, many times Jesus also tells us to get up, “when we are dead because of sin and we are going to ask for forgiveness.” And then what does Jesus “when He forgives us, when He gives us back our life?” He Returns us to our mother:
“Our reconciliation with the Lord end in the dialogue ‘You, me and the priest who gives me pardon’; it ends when He restores us to our mother. There ends reconciliation, because there is no path of life, there is no forgiveness, there is no reconciliation outside of Mother Church. So, seeing this poor widow, all these things come to me somewhat randomly - But I see in this widow the icon of the widowhood of the Church who is on a journey to find her Bridegroom. I get the urge to ask the Lord for the grace to be always confident of this “mommy” who defends us, teaches us, helps us grow and [teaches] us to speak the dialect.”

I have come to the conclusion that it has never dawned on Pope Francis that daughters do not relate to their mothers the way sons relate to their mothers.  He has an idealistic concept of motherhood that most daughters would not espouse about their own mothers. The mother/daughter relationship is not the mother/son relationship.  Maybe he could expand his thinking if he entertained the notion that all of the Church's metaphors about Mary and motherhood and brides and bridegrooms might never have developed at all if Mary had had a daughter and not a son.  I think he can make this mental leap based on some of the things he stated in his recent interview with his Jesuit compatriots.  I think he needs to make this mental leap or his stated desire for a 'deep theology' of women will never come to pass because it will be blocked and stymied by our exclusively male hierarchy who have an exclusively male concept of that very quintessential female vocation--motherhood.  Mothers are the ones who know they aren't always what the Church fathers think we are, or should be, or idealize us as, and for sure, real mothers know Holy Mother Church isn't any representation of mothering at all--especially as it's teachings impact real women and real children.

This is one 'mommy' that wishes Pope Francis would cease and desist with all the 'mommy' talk and get on with the adult business of reforming the Church.  He could start with adding some real 'mommies' to the governing and teaching structure of the Church. If he needs a scriptural basis for including women all he need do is refresh himself with the scriptural FACT that Mary herself was present at Pentecost and received the same Holy Spirit the Apostles did.  She wasn't just a mother, she was also a Holy Spirit appointed founder of what we have all come to know as the Roman Catholic Church.  That would be a good place for him to start his evolution in his understanding of women as spiritual beings in their own right and not just the mothers of sons.

For another really well expressed take on Francis and motherhood and this business of how women are treated in the real world of Roman Catholicism, this post at Questions from a Ewe is well worth the read.