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!

02/2/17

German Bishops Open Way to Communion for Divorced Catholics

The Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, a Roman Catholic church in Frankfurt. Many German bishops are generally considered to be within the more liberal wing of the Catholic Church.

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Catholics in Germany who have divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment may receive communion on a case-by-case basis, the German bishops’ conference announced on Wednesday. The decision is a major acceleration of a more welcoming — but disputed — stance on family life adopted by the Vatican under Pope Francis.

The decision was not unexpected; many German bishops are generally considered to be within the more liberal wing of the Roman Catholic Church. It was they who, at a 2015 synod on family life, proposed inviting divorced and remarried Catholics who had not had their first marriages annulled to seek the counsel of a priest to determine their future participation in church life.

But several German bishops have dissented, insisting that Catholics who have divorced and remarried must abstain from sex if they wish to receive the eucharist.

After that synod, the pope released a sweeping document on family issues last April that signaled a more welcoming stance toward divorced Catholics. The document — titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” and known as an apostolic exhortation — did not require churches to offer communion to the divorced, but it left the door open for bishops and priests to determine.

Bishops in Argentina and Malta subsequently adopted guidelines allowing divorced Catholics to receive the sacrament of communion; Germany has now become the most populous country to do so.

“Catholics who have been remarried under civil law after a divorce are invited to go to the church, participate in their lives and mature as living members of the church,” the German bishops’ conference said in a statement on Wednesday, summarizing the conclusions reached at a Jan. 23 meeting of the bishops in Würzburg to discuss the Vatican’s apostolic letter.

The statement offers “no general rule,” and it does not insist that priests offer communion to divorced people, but it calls for “differentiated solutions, which are appropriate to the individual case.”

Historically, the church holds that unless divorced Catholics have received an annulment, they are committing adultery by remarrying and cannot receive the sacrament of communion. Annulments are often difficult to obtain.

The April apostolic exhortation also called for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together, but it affirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, insisting that gay relationships cannot be seen as equivalent to heterosexual unions.

The German bishops who disagreed with their conference’s decision included Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the former archbishop of Cologne; Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, a scholar of church history; and Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is Francis’ chief authority on church doctrine.

Cardinal Müller told the Italian publication Il Timone that church doctrine clearly prohibits divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving communion unless they abstain from sex, a position laid out in a 1981 exhortation by Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Müller also pointed to a 1993 encyclical from John Paul that warned against moral relativism.

“The Word of God is very clear, and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage,” Cardinal Müller said, according to a translation of the interview provided by the weekly newsmagazine L’Espresso. “The task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity.”

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who is now the pope emeritus, has long opposed communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried, a position he laid out in 1994 when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during John Paul’s papacy.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not taken a position on the issue. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, a doctrinal conservative, issued guidelines last year that insist that divorced Catholics who have remarried must live “as brother and sister” if they wish to receive communion.

Complete Article HERE!

07/6/16

Remarried couples should abstain from sex, Philadelphia Catholic church says

File Under:  AS IF!

 

Archbishop Charles Chaput also stated that gay Catholics should also ‘live chastely’ in new rules issued after Pope Francis urged more acceptance of others

 

Charles Chaput, the Philadelphia archbishop, is known as one of the staunchest conservative leaders in the US Catholic church.

Charles Chaput, the Philadelphia archbishop, is known as one of the staunchest conservative leaders in the US Catholic church.

Catholics in Philadelphia who are divorced and civilly remarried will be welcome to accept Holy Communion – as long as they abstain from sex and live out their relationships like “brother and sister”.

New guidelines published by the conservative archbishop of Philadelphia this month also called on priests within the archdiocese to help Catholics who are attracted to people of the same sex and “find chastity very difficult”, saying such individuals should be advised to frequently seek penance. Because same-sex attraction takes “diverse forms”, the archdiocese also said that some people can still live out a vocation of heterosexual marriage with children, notwithstanding “some degree of same-sex attraction”.

The guidelines, which took effect on 1 July, come three months after Pope Francis urged bishops to be more accepting of Catholics who lived outside of the church’s social teaching and doctrine, including people who have divorced and remarried, and people in same-sex relationships. The pope’s views were published in April in a document titled Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), which was hailed as potentially groundbreaking. Because the document called on bishops to show greater mercy and flexibility to bring Catholics back to the church, while also calling on bishops not to veer from church doctrine, it was seen as giving both traditional and more progressively minded bishops the chance to interpret the document as they saw fit.

The Philadelphia archbishop, Charles Chaput, is known as one of the staunchest conservative leaders in the US Catholic church, a view that is reflected in the rules the archdiocese published.

John Allen, a veteran Vatican journalist, said he believed Philadelphia was among the first archdiocese to publish such rules based on its interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.

“My suspicion is that those who are inclined to a more progressive reading [of Amoris Laetitia] are not going to put out documents to say so. It will quietly be made clear to priests that it is OK under certain circumstances, for example, to allow some people to quietly come back to communion,” Allen told the Guardian. “My suspicion is that the more traditional line [adopted by some bishops] will be more public.”

Allen said that he did not think Pope Francis would be surprised by Chaput’s reading of the papal document, since he is likely aware of traditional interpretations of his document.

In its examination of homosexuality, the Philadelphia guidelines state that two people in an “active, public same-sex relationship, no matter how sincere, offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community.

“Those with predominant same-sex attractions are therefore called to struggle to live chastely for the kingdom of God. In this endeavor they have need of support, friendship and understanding if they fail,” the rules state.

But the greatest attention in the guidelines are focused on couples who are divorced and civilly remarried who have not obtained an annulment of their first marriage.

While divorced and remarried couples should be welcomed by the Catholic community, and not be seen as outside the church, the archdiocese said they are required by church teaching to refrain from all sexual intimacy.

“This applies even if they must (for the care of their children) continue to live under one roof. Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly-remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist,” the archdiocese said.

Priests are also directed to consider Catholic couples who are living together but are not married, including whether the couple have had children born in these “irregular unions”. If a priest senses that one person in the couple is reluctant to take the plunge, the archdiocese recommended trying to break up the pair.

“Often cohabiting couples refrain from making final commitments because one or both persons is seriously lacking in maturity or has other significant obstacles to entering a valid union. Here, prudence plays a vital role. Where one or another person is not capable of, or is not willing to commit to, a marriage, the pastor should urge them to separate,” the guidelines state.

If the cohabitating couple seems ready to tie the knot but is just a bit slow, the priest should encourage them to practice chastity.

“They will find this challenging, but again, with the help of grace, mastering the self is possible – and this fasting from physical intimacy is a strong element of spiritual preparation for an enduring life together,” it said.

 Complete Article HERE!

10/24/15

Vatican synod calls for a more welcoming Catholic Church

Bishops chat at the end of the afternoon session of the synod in Vatican City on Oct. 24.

Deeply divided clerics at a landmark Vatican summit echoed the more inclusive tone of Pope Francis on Saturday, extending more welcoming language to divorced and gay Catholics but stopping short of calling for clear alterations in policy and leaving the extent of any change in the hands of the mercurial pontiff.

The meeting — known as a synod — marked the culmination of a two-year process to recalibrate the faith’s approach to families in the 21st century and broke new ground by tackling issues once considered taboo in the Roman Catholic Church. In the most significant pronouncement, the clerics cracked open the door for divorced and remarried Catholics, who the church teaches are technically living in adultery, to receive Communion — a sacrament from which they are currently officially barred.

But the synod did not explicitly condone a change either, leaving Francis room to interpret the will of his hierarchy. The document also recognized the “dignity” of homosexuals, while also saying there was not even a “remote” similarity between same-sex unions and “God’s design on matrimony and family.”

The final communiqué, while a significant bellwether of the hierarchy’s thinking, nevertheless amounts only to a recommendation to Francis. As pope in the benevolent autocracy that is Vatican City, Francis now has the final say.

Liberals at the synod were pragmatic, saying they were impressed they got as far as they did given significant conservative resistance. But the staunch opposition to fast change suggested how difficult it may now be for Francis to translate his revolutionary style into substance.

It also puts him in a highly difficult position. If he fails to change the status quo, he risks disappointing liberal Catholics — as well as many non-Catholics — who have heralded him worldwide as an agent of change. Yet going too far beyond the recommendations could alienate many in his own divided church, triggering an even stronger backlash among conservatives — some of whom are already openly questioning the direction of his papacy.

“What the pope has to do now is take all of this in and decide how to we use it,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. “He may decide to use bits and pieces in different ways.”

Complete Article HERE!