02/9/18

What a debate about Pope Francis’s supposed liberalism says about the future of Catholicism

Ross Douthat and Massimo Faggioli argued over Francis’s legacy last week.

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Two high-profile Catholic thought leaders duked it out last week in a debate over the five-year legacy of Pope Francis — and what his papacy means for a church in crisis.

Longtime intellectual rivals Villanova professor Massimo Faggioli and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat engaged in a conversation on Pope Francis, hosted by Fordham University in New York. The debate ultimately developed into a far broader question: How far should the church change in dialogue with modern sexual ethics when it comes to issues like women priests, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage?

And — perhaps even more importantly — the conversation turned broader still, as both participants asked if change should be seen as a theologically necessary part of the Catholic tradition.

Faggioli, a self-professed liberal Catholic, and Douthat, a conservative, have long expressed differing views on Francis’s papacy, and on the trajectory of the Catholic Church more generally through bold rhetoric on Twitter.

Since the beginning of Francis’s time as pope, much secular media attention has focused on what, to non-Catholics, have appeared to be relaxed stances on usually taboo issues for Catholics. Francis’s papacy, while changing little in terms of Catholic doctrine, has nevertheless made welcoming those who fail to follow that doctrine (whether on abortion, LGBTQ issues, or divorce) into the Catholic community a priority.

For example, Francis opened a temporary window for women who have had abortions to seek forgiveness from the church in 2015. One of his most famous early statements may have been asking “Who am I to judge?” when it comes to homosexuality, although Francis has elsewhere maintained traditional Catholic doctrine.

Douthat, a Catholic convert, has frequently been critical of what he deems Francis’s divisive tactics, including using unofficial or “leaked” communications to the media to informally express more controversial views. He also opposes a willingness to, in his view, upend church tradition for the sake of pacifying liberal attitudes and retaining church membership.

For his part, Faggioli, an admirer of the Francis pontificate, has frequently condemned Douthat as an intellectual dilettante, criticizing his lack of formal theological training and what he sees as Douthat’s partisan perspective on church issues.

Their personal disagreement masks a wider debate, not simply between “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics, or between “progressives” who want to change the church to fit contemporary cultural mores and “traditionalists” who want to preserve the church exactly as it was.

It’s a debate between those who see a degree of dynamism as already part and parcel of what it means to be Catholic, and those who see it as an exterior, dangerous force.

The debate on Francis is also a debate on the aftermath of Vatican II

Although Faggioli and Douthat’s debate was about the pope, it wasn’t just about the pope. Central to their disagreements were their perceptions of the effects of Vatican II (formally known as the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965), which explored if and how the church should adapt to a changing world.

At that point, Catholics the world over were still responding to the aftermath of World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, leading some Catholics to question the language and tone with which the church approached interfaith issues.

Those changes under Vatican II included an increased focus on ecumenical relations, and on Catholic-Jewish relations. But the relative liberalization of Vatican II (for example, eschewing Latin during Mass) has often been seen by later critics as paving the way for an acceptance of more extreme elements of “modernity,” such as the sexual revolution. That movement challenged the formal Vatican positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce, and premarital sex more generally.

Official church doctrine has never changed on any of these positions (nor, should it be noted, has even the “liberal” Pope Francis ever sought to change them).

Still, the “spirit of Vatican II,” or its overall ecumenical ethos, is cited by proponents and critics alike to refer to post-Vatican-II liberalizing tendencies that exceed the remit of Vatican II’s more narrow reforms. To Vatican II’s critics, a broad definition of this spirit is responsible for a more general “liberalization” in the church.

The subsequent half-century or so of the Catholic Church has been marked by various popes’ differing responses to and reckoning with Vatican II, its spirit, and the question of what “moving forward” even means within a Catholic context. That brings us to the current debate — last week’s and among Catholics in general — around Pope Francis’s somewhat lax views.

Faggioli and Douthat’s debate reflected broader divides

Douthat, a perhaps more natural debater, took a more aggressive approach, referring to a coming “schism” and a “civil war” in the church, and saying that Francis’s approach risked fomenting a “crisis of papal authority itself.”

Speaking specifically about Francis’s opening to providing communion to remarried couples, Douthat warned that, by relaxing rules around communion, Francis risked promulgating the idea that “the papacy allows for changes around these contested issues of sexual ethic,” and thus challenging the idea — central to Catholic theology — that the church’s continuity on issues remains unchanged.

Faggioli, though, rejected Douthat’s very premise. Focusing on continuity as a metric for a “good” pope, he says, and “looking at Catholic doctrine in terms of continuity or discontinuity, in my mind, assumes one thing: that Christianity, at some point … was complete.”

Furthermore, Faggioli said his assessment of Francis’s perspective centered not on doctrine but on pastoral care. The church need not change its teachings, he said, but rather ask itself, “What can the Catholic Church do to make the faithful able to receive sacraments?”

For Douthat, Pope Francis represents a break with tradition so profound that it risks rendering a fundamental principle of Catholic thought irrelevant: the idea that the church exists in continuity with its past traditions and perspectives.

Citing the case of allowing parish priests license to grant communion to remarried Catholics, which Francis has quietly campaigned for, Douthat argued that such a procedure would, in practice, vitiate the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage (because, in Catholic tradition, marriage is seen as an irreversible sacrament between the couple and God, divorce is not seen as legitimate).

It is, for Douthat and other Catholic conservatives, a back-door form of Catholic-sanctioned divorce. By advocating for it and similar reforms, Francis, in Douthat’s view, represents a dangerous figure for the church: one too willing to cede ground to modern liberalism.

Faggioli, though, argued that Douthat’s perspective — of “continuity” and “discontinuity” within church tradition — was flawed and ahistoric. He pointed out that Francis is not seeking to allow divorce — something that would be a striking change in church teaching — but only advocating that divorced and remarried couples be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion — and thus participate fully in church life.

Instead, Faggioli said, Douthat’s view failed to reflect the way in which Catholic tradition has long existed in dialogue with itself, and how interpretations of Scripture have consistently grown and developed over time. The Catholic tradition, Faggioli said, “is not a mineral, it’s an animal. It moves. It adapts. It grows.”

Decades after Vatican II, the church faces demographic and social upheaval

While Douthat and Faggioli differ on the degree to which the Catholic Church is in danger, it’s fair to argue that it is — if not in crisis — at least in flux.

Decades of sex abuse scandals have eroded public trust in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Mass attendance has drastically fallen in America and Europe, especially among young adults. There is an increasingly severe shortage of Catholic priests. And the face of Catholicism is changing, too. Catholicism is in decline in Western Europe and America, but drastically on the rise in Africa. Like it or not, the church is changing in demographics if not doctrine.

But the question remains: Where do we go from here?

The debaters’ differing perspectives may be as attributable to their methods as their politics. Douthat’s interest lies in the church as an institution; the questions he asks focus on that institution’s survival and transformation.

In many of his columns, as well as in his forthcoming book, To Change the Church?, Douthat approaches the church as a political scientist might, looking at how different conservative or modernizing factions have jockeyed for support and survival. His questions of “continuity” and “discontinuity” are questions one asks of an institution, rather than a faith.

Douthat comes to the study of the church as a zealous outsider, and that perspective — one that tends to see the church as a holistic, uniform body that, while sometimes under temporary threat, nevertheless remains intact — suffuses his work. That Francis seems to endanger that perceived unity makes him a threat.

Frequently during the debate, Douthat warned of the potential of a schism within the Catholic Church as a result of Francis’s developments: “Things can break … there is a deep conflict.”

Faggioli, however, is both a church historian and a trained theologian, whose concern is both with the church as an institution and with theology as a living, dynamic body of discourse, constantly being shaped by new questions and voices both inside and outside the academy.

As a theologian, he appears more comfortable with the often-murky process by which the exploration of ideas — theological debate — becomes calcified into church doctrine, and the way in which these ideas morph and change over time. Rather than arguing whether or not the church should adapt to shifting culture, he argued that a degree of dynamism is part and parcel of church tradition and always has been.

The Catholic Church’s priority should be on finding ways for the faithful to remain within the church, not expelling those who do not follow its teachings, he says. (And it’s important to stress, in this debate, neither Faggioli nor Francis is necessarily saying that its teachings should change. Faggioli’s point is about access, not ideas).

Both Douthat and Faggioli ask vital questions. And Douthat’s challenge — how does an institution address cultural change without losing its founding principles — is completely valid. Any answer that does not take seriously that for faithful Catholics, the doctrine being debated is a matter of weighty metaphysical truth, not just politics or optics, fails to appreciate the gravity of the question being asked.

Faggioli’s response — that “in order to get close to Jesus, there has to be some kind of discontinuity” — may provide “liberal” Catholics a viable alternative to Douthat’s reactionary historicism, and a way forward for a church that is both weighed down and grounded by its past.

Complete Article HERE!

08/26/17

Majority of Catholics support same-sex marriage in Australia: Equality Campaign poll

A MAJORITY of Catholics, Christians and other religious people support gay marriage and will likely vote for it in the postal survey, according to a new poll.

marriage equality.jpg

The research shows 58 per cent of people of faith back the “yes” campaign, compared with 79 per cent of non-religious Australians.

Catholics and non-Christians were more likely to support same-sex marriage, with two thirds of both of those groups saying they were in favour.

The polling, commissioned by the Equality Campaign, was conducted last week by Jim Reed of Newgate Research who surveyed 1000 people online, Fairfax reports.

t comes as the Archbishop of Melbourne urged Catholics to vote against same-sex marriage “for the health and future” of society.

Denis Hart last week wrote an open letter urging Catholics to vote in the optional postal survey when forms go out in September.

“We sincerely believe that there is a core and fundamental wisdom and truth in the traditional definition and understanding of marriage that should not be ignored and is worth keeping for the health and future of our society,” he wrote.

He warned future gay marriage legislation could infringe rights of freedom of religion and conscience.

“It could result in restrictions on the right of ministers of religion and religious bodies and organisations having the freedom to teach, preach and speak about marriage between persons of the same sex being contrary to their religious or conscientious beliefs,” he wrote.

Archbishop Denis Hart

Archbishop Denis Hart urged Catholics to vote against same-sex marriage.

Archbishop Hart called for an “active and respectful” debate, urging Catholics to welcome gay Australians as brothers and sisters.

“Like all human beings they are created in the image and likeness of God,” he wrote. “They have a right to expect to be loved and welcomed and not subject to unjust discrimination.”

He told ABC radio on Wednesday homophobic material disseminated as part of the campaign against same-sex marriage was “totally inappropriate”, insisting both sides should express their ideas with conviction instead of creating a campaign of hate.

Meanwhile, a recent Newspoll found 67 per cent of respondents “definitely will” vote in the poll.

Fifteen per cent said they probably will fill out the ballot while three per cent are planning to abstain.

Support for same-sex marriage remains relatively unchanged from a survey last September, with 63 per cent of those polled saying they would vote “yes: — compared to 62 per cent a year ago.

Nearly half of the 1675 respondents say they support the postal ballot, similar to an Essential poll last week.

Complete Article HERE!

07/20/17

First same-sex marriage at Anglican church in UK to be held this summer

St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow will conduct wedding ceremony for couple from England, provost says

St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow

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The first same-sex marriage at an Anglican church in the UK is expected to take place in Glasgow later this summer.

St Mary’s Cathedral has become the first in the country to be given permission to conduct gay weddings, a month after the Scottish Episcopal church general synod voted overwhelmingly to allow its churches to host the ceremonies.

The vote resulted in canon law being changed to remove a doctrinal clause stating that marriage was between a man and a woman. On Thursday the Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, provost of St Mary’s, became the first Anglican celebrant to be registered to perform same-sex weddings.

Holdsworth said the cathedral had already had one booking from a same-sex couple in England who could not get married in their local Church of England parish. “We are glad to be able to welcome them and expect there will be many others who will follow them,” he said.

The congregation at St Mary’s were active in the campaign to allow gay marriage in Scotland. “I’m a gay man myself and so initially for me it was about coming out and then, having come out, it was about helping the church to come out,” said Holdsworth.

“The church was always a place that was good for me when I came out. It was a very supportive place and it seemed to me important to get the church to tell the truth that it was accepting about people in same-sex relationships and then gradually members in this congregation started to help in the push for gay marriage.”

Holdsworth said the cathedral was one of the most beautiful church buildings in the country and that the surrounding area was “buzzing”. “It’s a fantastic place to get married,” he said.

Following the vote in June, the bishop Andy Lines from Gafcon, which represents conservative Anglicans worldwide, told a press conference that the church was “not at liberty to tamper with [God’s] words” and that he would offer support to those “who wish to maintain the authority of the Bible”.

Despite opposition within the Anglican church to the Scottish decision, Holdsworth said he had encountered no opposition to the move from the local community. “People sometimes say that support for gay marriage is the biggest change in social attitudes that has ever been measured,” he said.

“People used to disagree with gay relationships quite strongly and now they support them very strongly. All the time as we’ve been pushing for more and more equality, we’ve been seeing people becoming more accepting.”

He said the move to allow same-sex couples to marry in Scottish Anglican churches was not just important to gay people. “I think there are lots of straight people who want to get married in churches that are practising equality,” he said. “I find that the more that I go on about equality for gay folk, the more I get young families coming here because they want their kids to grow up in that kind of church.”

Complete Article HERE!

07/12/17

Malta votes to legalise same-sex marriage by 66-1

Gay couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2014

LGBT equality campaigners in Malta last had cause to celebrate in 2014 when the government passed a bill allowing civil unions

By Tom Batchelor

MPs on the predominantly Catholic island of Malta have voted to legalise same-sex marriage.

In a vote passed by 66-1, Malta’s parliament approved legislation replacing the traditional “you are now husband and wife” declaration in civil ceremonies with “you are now spouses”.

The sole MP who voted against the change said he did so because of his faith.

“A Christian politician cannot leave his conscience outside the door” when he enters parliament, Edwin Vassallo said.

It follows the passage of a bill in 2014 that granted gay couples in Malta the right to civil partnerships.

Adoption by same-sex couples has also been legal since that date, although abortion remains banned.

Last year, the number of exclusively civil marriages eclipsed the number of church weddings for the first time.

The move is further evidence of Malta’s transformation from a once-conservative nation of about 440,000 people, where divorce was illegal until 2011.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said it would be “discriminatory” to have separate laws for mixed and same-sex couples. The amendments to existing laws replace references to “husband and wife” with the gender-neutral term “spouse”.

The law also calls for the removal of the terms “father” and “mother”, to be substituted by “parents”. Lesbian couples who have children via medical interventions are distinguished by the terms “the person who gave birth” and “the other parent”.

Other changes concern heterosexual marriages: Any reference to “maiden name” is replaced with “surname at birth”, while couples can now choose what surname to take after marriage.

More than a dozen European countries have legalised same-sex marriage, all in the western part of the continent.

Almost a dozen others, including Italy, have some sort of same-sex unions or civil partnerships.

Complete Article HERE!

06/23/17

Illinois Catholic bishop decrees no Holy Communion, funerals for same-sex couples

Bishop Thomas Paprocki leads the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill.

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.

The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.

At the same time, Paprocki said that children living with a Catholic parent or parents in a same-sex marriage may be baptized. But when it comes to same-sex unions, priests cannot bless couples, church property cannot be used for ceremonies and diocesan employees are forbidden from participating, the decree said.

The bishop’s decree has not yet been made public by the diocese, but was sent to clergy and diocesan staff in an email last week. That email, in turn, was shared with other clergy around the country, as well as Catholic LGBT organizations, which posted the document and condemned it as unduly harsh, particularly in light of Pope Francis’s more compassionate posture.

“Although some other bishops and dioceses have instituted similar policies in part, this document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme,” Christopher Pett, incoming president of DignityUSA, said in a news release by the organization that rallies the church for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

Although same-sex marriages have been legal across the United States since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the decree reiterates church teaching that marriage is a “covenant between one man and one woman.” The church’s official catechism states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

Four years ago, after gay marriage was legally recognized in Illinois, Paprocki “performed an exorcism in response to the law, suggesting politicians were ‘morally complicit’ in assisting the sins of same-sex couples,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

The 64-year-old bishop, trained as a lawyer as well as priest, has served the Springfield diocese since 2010. He was previously a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and is known for his passion for running and penchant for playing hockey.

In a statement provided to The Post, the bishop said of the decree: “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.” The decree states:

Jesus Christ himself affirmed the privileged place of marriage in human and Christian society by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament. Consequently, the church not only has the authority, but the serious obligation to affirm its authentic teaching on marriage to preserve and foster the sacred value of the married state.

Last year, the pope released a 256-page document, “The Joy of Love,” which affirmed the church’s traditional views on marriage, as The Post reported. At the same time, the pope said unconventional unions are not without their “constructive elements.” He called on the church’s clergy to be pastoral and not to use doctrine as a weapon.

Other clergy have also embraced a more welcoming approach. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, recently welcomed dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics to worship. “I am Joseph your brother,” Tobin told the group, according to a New York Times report. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”

The Rev. James Martin’s latest book — “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T. Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity” — also calls for a gentler approach. Of the Paprocki decree, the noted Jesuit author, said in a pointed Facebook post:

If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. They must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, women who has or man who fathers a child out of wedlock, members of straight couples who are living together before marriage, and anyone using birth control. For those are all against church teaching as well. Moreover, they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a “sign of unjust discrimination.”

Complete Article HERE!