Pope Francis’ cunning long game

By Damon Linker

Pope Francis’ stealth reform of the Roman Catholic Church shows no sign of slowing down — and may even be accelerating.

Stealth is key here. If the pope had declared earlier this month that henceforth the Roman Catholic Church would authoritatively teach that homosexuals should be happy being gay, that God made them homosexual, and that God himself (along with the pope) loves them just the way they are, it would have been a massive story in the history of Catholicism — and one that quite likely would have precipitated a major schism, with conservative bishops and priests (mainly in North America and Africa) formally breaking from Rome.

But because word of the pope saying these things comes to us second hand, in a report of a private conversation between Francis and a gay man named Juan Carlos Cruz who is also a victim of the clerical sex abuse crisis in Chile, the utterance will go down as just the latest example of the pope making unorthodox statements in settings in which he has plausible deniability and in which he can claim he was speaking as a pastor rather than as an expositor of the church’s official dogmas and doctrines.

Most popes view themselves as caretakers of the church’s authoritative teachings on faith and morals. When it comes to homosexuality, they would therefore be inclined to reaffirm the position laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which clearly states that homosexual desires are “intrinsically disordered” because they are not oriented to the end of procreation. (The same is true of masturbation and other non-procreative sex acts.)

If Pope Francis were a straightforward reformer, he would seek to change church doctrine regardless of the potentially dire consequences for church unity. But Francis is well aware of the limits of his power and the danger of pushing too far too fast. So he has set out on a different, and distinctive, path.

We first saw it early in his pontificate when the pope spoke to reporters about his views on homosexuality. In contrast to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), who declared in a 1986 letter to the bishops of the church that same-sex desires aim toward an “intrinsic moral evil,” Francis told the press that “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

It continued in September 2014 with a marriage ceremony over which Francis presided at St Peter’s. Some of the 20 couples involved had been previously married, while others had given birth to children out of wedlock or lived with their fiancées before marriage. That prior behavior placed them firmly out of step with the requirements of Catholic doctrine, and yet the pope participated and blessed the marriages.

And on it has gone, through the notorious footnote in the apostolic exhortation that was published at the conclusion of the 2015 Synod on the Family, seeming to give priests the pastoral leeway to offer the sacrament of communion to parishioners who have been divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment of their first marriages. It has made headlines most recently when an elderly Italian journalist asserted that in an interview with Francis the pope had denied the dogma of hell.

And now there is Francis’ apparent elaboration of his latitudinarian beliefs about homosexuality.

What unites all of these examples is a distinctive approach to church dogma and doctrine. Instead of acting as an expositor of these core teachings of the church, the pope selectively diverges from them in his actions and statements without deigning to change the teachings themselves. The implicit message is the same in every case: The pope himself thinks it’s possible to be a member of the church in good standing while failing to abide by all of the institution’s rules.

This is significantly different than the pope acknowledging that everyone is a sinner and will therefore break the rules from time to time. That standard view presumes that the divergence from the rule is a failing that requires repentance and reconciliation (the sacrament of confession), along with the intention on the part of the sinner to do better next time. Francis’ position is different — implying that the lack of conformity to church teaching is acceptable, requiring no change or improvement in behavior.

Juan Carlos Cruz is gay, that’s how God made him, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But of course church teaching contradicts this. Which puts Pope Francis in the position of effectively promulgating two truths — implicitly affirming the official, harsher doctrine while subtly undermining it with a less stringent pastoral teaching. Instead of seeking to change the underlying rules, which would risk divisiveness and even schism, he shows that it’s perfectly alright for a priest or layperson to diverge from or ignore the rule in the name of welcoming as many people as possible to Christ’s church.

Conservative Catholics like Ross Douthat (the author of a new book on this very topic) worry that Francis’ fudging of doctrinal truth will have bad consequences for the church because it simply defers a necessary debate about what the church actually believes. Better to have the argument sooner rather than later.

But I think the pope’s strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present.

That’s the great advantage of pursuing a strategy of stealth reform: The seed planted now with a minimum of conflict bears fruits in the future with even less.

It’s never been more obvious that this is precisely what Pope Francis has in mind.

Complete Article HERE!

Two trainee priests sent back to Ireland after being found in bed together

Future of the seminarians unclear after they are sent home from Irish College in Rome

In August 2016 the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said he would no longer send trainee priests from the diocese to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, because of a worrying ‘atmosphere’ at the national seminary.

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Two seminarians at the Irish College in Rome have been sent home by the rector after being found in bed together

It is understood both men had been drinking earlier at an event marking the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul V1’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned artificial means of contraception

It is unclear whether either man will be permitted to resume studies for the priesthood. A spokesman for the Catholic bishops said it was “not appropriate to comment about individuals” when asked about the matter.

In August 2016, the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said he would no longer send trainee priests from the diocese to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, because of a worrying “atmosphere” at the national seminary.

He said he intended instead sending trainees from Dublin to the Irish College in Rome as it offered “a good grounding” in the Catholic faith.

As regards Maynooth, he said “there seems to be an atmosphere of strange goings-on there, it seems like a quarrelsome place with anonymous letters being sent around”.

Speaking in Krakow, Poland, where he was attending World Youth Day, he said: “I don’t think this is a good place for students. However, when I informed the president of Maynooth of my decision, I did add ‘at least for the moment’.”

His decision followed anonymous allegations then being circulated about seminarian activities in Maynooth, including that some had been using a gay dating app.

Earlier in 2016, there was controversy at St Patrick’s College when a seminarian who claimed he found two colleagues in bed together was dismissed.

It followed an inquiry into allegations by the two seminarians alleged to have been in bed together that he was bullying them and talking about them.

More generally at the college it was claimed that a core of seminarians were active on the gay app Grindr and that some had been engaged in sexual activity with priests of the Dublin archdiocese.

In 2009, a complaint was made to Maynooth authorities by a seminarian from Dublin alleging sexual harassment against another adult at St Patrick’s College. An internal inquiry found the allegation unproven.

The complainant was asked to return to Maynooth but felt he could not. When he took the allegation to senior church figures outside Maynooth, it was proposed to him that he might go to Rome and complete his studies there. He decided not to do so.

Complete Article HERE!

Religion can make gay youth more likely to commit suicide

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A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last month found a link between religiosity and suicide among gay and questioning participants.

The study used data from the 2011 University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium, which surveyed 21,247 18- to 30-year-olds. 2.3% identified as gay or lesbian, 3.3% as bi, and 1.1% were questioning.

LGBQ youth reported that they had attempted suicide at least once in their lives at a higher rate than straight people. 5% of straight people said that they had attempted suicide, while the rates for LGBQ youth ranged from 14% to 20%.

While studies have already shown that queer youth are more likely to have attempted suicide, this study went a step further and asked participants to rate the importance of religion in their lives.

Gay and lesbian youth who said that religion was important to them were 38% more likely to report recent suicidal thoughts compared to gays and lesbians who said that religion wasn’t important to them.

The difference was more stark for questioning youth – they were three times more likely to report recent suicidal thoughts if they were religious.

Religiosity was not correlated with suicidal thoughts among bi youth, who reported high rates of suicidal thoughts no matter their religiosity.

For straight people, the correlation was the opposite: they were less likely to report suicidal thoughts if they were religious.

“Religion has typically been seen as something that would protect somebody from thoughts of suicide or trying to kill themselves, and in our study our evidence suggests that may not be the case for everyone, particularly for those we refer to as sexual minority people,” said John Blosnich of West Virginia University, one of the study’s authors.

“It can be very scary to be caught in a space where your religion tells you that you are a ‘sinner’ just for being who you are,” he said. “Sexual minority people may feel abandoned, they may experience deep sadness and anger, and they may worry what this means for their families ― especially if their families are very religious too.”

The study did not ask participants what their religion was, so there isn’t any data to show whether more supportive religions were less correlated with suicidal thoughts.

The authors conclude that faith-based suicide prevention services “should be willing and equipped to assist all people who seek their services, regardless of sexual orientation.”

The problem is that the “gay condemning” parts of a religion cannot be separated from the “suicide preventing” parts. Religious conservatives often say that they are appalled by suicide and want to help queer people, and they imagine that they can be supportive of LGBQ people while still condemning homosexuality.

That’s not how it works, but a lot of religious people aren’t willing to change their opinions, even when people’s lives literally depend on it.

Complete Article HERE!

Priests’ group demands Martin statement over editing of video

Words of welcome for gay people from Cork-born bishop removed from promo clip

Bishop David O’Connell speaking in the original version of a video promoting the World Meeting of Families 2018.

By Patsy McGarry

The Association of Catholic Priests has said it find it “impossible to understand” why words of Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles had been edited out of a promotional video for the World Meeting of Families 2018.

It has called on Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who is hosting the event which will take place at the end of August, to issue a statement clarifying the matter.

Words of welcome from the Cork-born Bishop David O’Connell for gay people raising children and people in second marriages were removed from the video.

“Pope Francis, he gets it. Today there are all sorts of configurations of families – mum and dad; mum or dad on their own; gay couple raising children; people in second marriages,” he said. These have been cut.

A spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families 2018 has insisted however that everyone will be welcome to the event which is being hosted by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at the end of August next.

She noted how, in Amoris laetitia, “Pope Francis specifically stresses that ‘every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration’ . . . as is repeated throughout the parish programme.

“The meeting has always been understood as a meeting open to all. This remains the position of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the association, which represents between a third and a half of Catholic priests in Ireland, said it was concerned that “following the earlier removal of photographs from a leaflet, the organisers of the World Meeting of Families have now also removed the words of Bishop O’Connell” from their promotional video.

“His words were such that we find it impossible to understand how anyone who supports the message of PopeFrancis could object to them.”

It was the case that “no clear statement has been made as to why these actions were taken, and on whose direction. Both leave themselves open to interpretations which are very damaging to the WMOF.”

It asked: “Who is making the decisions? Where is the funding coming from? Has the source of the funding anything to do with the decisions being made?

“Without clear explanations, questions like these, and many others, will continue to be asked.”

The ACP concluded: “We believe that it is important that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin makes a statement clarifying why these two alterations were made, who decided on them, and why. Otherwise any further effect to present the WMOF as a welcoming place for everyone will be seen for what it is, empty rhetoric.”

Complete Article HERE!