Theology Has Consequences: What Policies Will Pope Francis Champion?

By Mary E. Hunt

Now that the smoke has cleared from St. Peter’s Square, the future of the Roman Catholic Church is on the minds of many. Catholics are eternally hopeful, so the news of the papal election of an Argentine Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a man of simple personal ways, engendered a certain enthusiasm.

My first official act in the new pontificate was to call a wise octogenarian friend in Buenos Aires, my favorite city in the world, to join in that country’s pride and get an initial assessment of the man. Her reaction was what I would have expected from a Catholic in Boston if Cardinal Bernard Law had been elected. Her one word that stood out was “scary.”

Francis smilingProgressive Catholics had low expectations of the conclave since only what went in would come out, only hand-picked conservative, toe-the-party-line types were electors. Moreover, the process was flawed on the face of it by the lack of women, young people, and lay people. It was flawed by a dearth of democracy. Not even the seagull that sat on the chimney awaiting the decision was enough to persuade that the Holy Spirit was really in charge.

Structural changes in the kyriarchal model of church are needed so that many voices can be heard and many people can participate in decision-making in base communities, parishes, regions, and indeed in global conversations among the more than one billion Catholics. Short of this, no amount of cleaning up the curia or leading by personal asceticism, which are both expected of Pope Francis, will suffice for more than cosmetic changes. Leaving aside the ermine-lined cloak that his predecessor favored is symbolically notable but not institution changing.

The papal selection process, long thought to be secret, is now quite transparent. Once the white smoke rose, but before the name was announced, the Italian Bishops’ Conference tipped off the world in their email of congratulations to Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. Oops! He was not elected pope, even though he was widely considered the choice of the Pope Emeritus and those who want the curia reformed. Instead, the second highest vote getter at the previous conclave (2005) that picked Benedict XVI was chosen this time. Cardinal Bergoglio was apparently more acceptable to left, right, and center of a very conservative group of electors.

Geography is destiny. A cursory look at the Roman Catholic Church worldwide shows more than 400 million Catholics in Latin America, 125 million each in Asia and Africa, 265 million in Europe, 100 million in North America, and 8 million in Oceana. A Latin American pope is a good business decision, consistent with what an economist suggested as part of a wholesale makeover of the institution. The European Catholic Church has simply lost market share (from 65 percent a century ago to 24 percent now). The Global South is the church’s future. So a Latin American pope is a logical choice. But let the record show that this one comes from a country where Mass attendance numbers are more like France today than Italy of old. Argentina is an increasingly secular democracy where Cardinal Bergoglio grew used to being on the losing side of social change efforts, including divorce and same-sex marriage, which are now legal there. Argentina is Argentina.

After completing a doctoral dissertation in which I compared Latin American liberation theology and U.S. feminist theology, I spent 1980-81 as a visiting professor at ISEDET, the ecumenical Protestant seminary in Buenos Aires. I volunteered at Servicio Paz y Justicia led by Adolfo Perez Esquivel, where I got an education about social justice. The “Dirty War” was raging. Religious people were working feverishly to find thousands of people who had been “disappeared” and prevent others from suffering the same fate. Many Catholic priests perished; Jews suffered disproportionately to their numbers in the population.

Our faculty, some members of the Lutheran school, and those of Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano led brilliantly by Conservative Rabbi Marshall Myer (to whom Jacobo Timmerman dedicated his stirring book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number) met monthly for lunch and discussion of how we could be useful in a difficult situation. I do not recall any Jesuits in attendance. Plans to host a weekend meeting at our school focused on human rights and youth resulted in the firebombing of the ISEDET library in November 1980 with the loss of 2,000 books. I learned close up and personal that theology has consequences.

The controversy over then Cardinal Bergoglio’s role in the kidnapping of two Jesuits during this period is instructive. As a Jesuit leader, Padre Jorge, as he liked to be known informally, opposed liberation theology and the ecclesial model of base communities that was consistent with it. In my view, he opposed the most creative, politically-useful, scripturally-sound way of thinking about how people who were made poor by the avarice of others could change their context and bring about justice.

Instead of putting the public weight of the Jesuit order behind the efforts of some of his brothers in slums and shantytowns (and the women who were involved in both theological and pastoral work from this perspective), he ordered Jesuits to stick with parish assignments. The two priests in question chose to cast their lot with the poor instead of obey the dictates of the order.

Did the Jesuit superior-now-Pope Francis call the military dictators and agree to their kidnapping? No one is accusing him of this. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, a human rights champion and Nobel Peace Laureate (1980) knew the scene so I trust his word. He says that the now pope was not involved with the military. There were bishops who played tennis with the generals, but Bergoglio was not one of them. In fact, Padre Jorge is alleged to have intervened with military leaders for the release of the two Jesuits. But this is small comfort.

The larger conservative theological program—which was in public opposition to the best efforts of church people to bring about justice by living out liberation theology principles—helped to create the dangerous situation in the first place. To apologize thirty years later and say the institutional church did not do enough does not bring back the disappeared. Theology has consequences. Moral do-overs are few and far between.

The hierarchical church’s behavior was to Argentina what the sex abuse cases and episcopal cover-up have been for U.S. Catholics, namely the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am haunted by a picture of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, mothers of the disappeared, who went to the church center where the bishops were on retreat to clamor for their help in finding their children. The picture shows a line of police between the mothers and the bishops, the mothers on one side of the fence and the bishops on the other. The institutional church in Argentina has never recovered its credibility. To the contrary, it is further eroded by similar instances of being on the wrong side of the history of justice.

The election of a doctrinally conservative pope, even one with the winning simplicity of his namesake, is especially dangerous in today’s media-saturated world where image too often trumps substance. It is easy to rejoice in the lack of gross glitter that has come to characterize the institutional church while being distracted from how theological positions deepen and entrench social injustice. A kinder, gentler pope who puts the weight of the Roman Catholic hierarchal church behind efforts to prevent divorce, abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage—as Mr. Bergoglio did in his country—is, as my Argentine colleague observed, scary. While he may clean up some of the bureaucratic mess in the curia, he shows no evidence from his Argentina actions that he will be any more responsive than his predecessor to changing policies and structures that oppress the world’s poor, the majority of whom are women and children.

There is something perverse about opposing condom use and then washing the feet of people with HIV/AIDS. There is something suspect about opposing reproductive health care for women who may not want to get pregnant and then generously insisting on the legal baptism of children whose parents are not married. There is something dubious about calling the hierarchical church to a simpler way of being and ignoring the many women whose ministerial service would enhance its output. The Spanish expression that comes to mind is “what you give with the wrist, you erase with the elbow.” This seems to be the Jesuitical pattern of the new pope.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people kill themselves because Catholic hierarchs tell them that their sexuality is “intrinsically morally disordered.” Women die from unsafe, illegal abortions because the Catholic hierarchy spends millions of dollars opposing legislation that would make their choices safer. Survivors of sexual abuse by clergy live tortured lives because the cleric-centric structures of the church favor their abusers. While a few nuns famously ride the bus, the Vatican’s current crackdown on women religious makes most of them feel as if they have been thrown under the bus. Theology does indeed have consequences.

It is early to opine about the pontificate of Pope Francis. Catholics, including this one, are a hopeful lot. Five thousand journalists in Rome for the conclave should have asked more critical questions. My observation is that the recent papal election only serves to reinforce and reinscribe the Vatican’s power. In the absence of a religious counter-narrative, at a time when progressive Catholic voices are all but silenced, the papal theatrics—complete with an appealing hero triumphing in the end—keep the focus on the personal and spiritual, off the political and theological. It is time to reverse that pattern before any more people disappear.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Carlo Martini says Church ‘200 years behind’

Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini has described the Roman Catholic Church as being “200 years behind” the times.

The cardinal died on Friday, aged 85.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has published his last interview, recorded in August, in which he said: “The Church is tired… our prayer rooms are empty.”

Martini, once tipped as a future pope, urged the Church to recognise its errors and to embark on a radical path of change, beginning with the Pope.

Cardinal Martini
Thousands of people have been filing past his coffin at Milan’s cathedral, where he was archbishop for more than 20 years.

The cardinal, who had retired from the post in 2002, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, is to be buried on Monday.

‘Old culture’

Martini, a popular figure with liberal stances on many issues, commanded great respect from both Pope John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI.

The cardinal – a member of the Jesuit religious order – was often critical in his writings and comments on Church teaching, says the BBC’s David Willey in Rome.

He was a courageous and outspoken figure during the years he headed Europe’s largest Catholic diocese, our correspondent says.

Cardinal Martini gave his last interview to a fellow Jesuit priest, Georg Sporschill, and to a journalist at the beginning of August when he knew his death was approaching.

The cardinal had returned to Italy from Jerusalem, where he had settled on retirement in 2002 to continue his biblical studies.

Catholics lacked confidence in the Church, he said in the interview. “Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our religious rites and the vestments we wear are pompous.”

Unless the Church adopted a more generous attitude towards divorced persons, it will lose the allegiance of future generations, the cardinal added. The question, he said, is not whether divorced couples can receive holy communion, but how the Church can help complex family situations.

And the advice he leaves behind to conquer the tiredness of the Church was a “radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops”.

“The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation,” Cardinal Martini says, referring to the child sex abuse that has rocked the Catholic Church in the past few years.

He was not afraid, our correspondent adds, to speak his mind on matters that the Vatican sometimes considered taboo, including the use of condoms to fight Aids and the role of women in the Church.

In 2008, for example, he criticised the Church’s prohibition of birth control, saying the stance had likely driven many faithful away, and publicly stated in 2006 that condoms could “in some situations, be a lesser evil”.

Complete Article HERE!

The Pope drops Catholic ban on condoms in historic shift

I wrote about this very thing in Part 4 of my five-part series on Catholic Moral Theology. Look for it —> Seismic Shift.

The Pope has signalled a historic shift in the position of the Roman Catholic Church by saying condoms can be morally justified.

After decades of fierce opposition to the use of all contraception, the Pontiff has ended the Church’s absolute ban on the use of condoms.

He said it was acceptable to use a prophylactic when the sole intention was to “reduce the risk of infection” from Aids.

While he restated the Catholic Church’s staunch objections to contraception because it believes that it interferes with the creation of life, he argued that using a condom to preserve life and avoid death could be a responsible act – even outside marriage.

Asked whether “the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms,” he replied: “It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution. In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”

He stressed that abstinence was the best policy in fighting the disease but in some circumstances it was better for a condom to be used if it protected human life.

“There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be … a first bit of responsibility, to redevelop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes.

“But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection.”

The announcement is in a book to be published by the Vatican this week based on the first face-to-face interview given by a pope.

In the interview, he admits he was stunned by the sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church and raises the possibility of the circumstances under which he would consider resigning. The 83-year-old Pontiff says in passages published exclusively in The Sunday Telegraph today that he is aware his “forces are diminishing”.

However, he appears determined to fight for the place of faith in the public domain.

His language in attacking the use of recreational drugs in the West and its impact on the rest of the world is particularly striking.

He describes drug trafficking as an “evil monster” that stems from the “boredom and the false freedom of the Western world”. Most significant, however, are his comments on condoms, which represent the first official relaxation in the Church’s attitude on the issue after rising calls for the Vatican to adopt a more practical approach to stopping the spread of HIV.

The Pope’s ruling is aimed specifically at stopping people infecting their partners, particularly in Africa where the disease is most prevalent.

However, it will inevitably be seized upon by liberal Catholics in Britain who oppose the Church’s stance against contraception.

High profile Catholics such as Cherie Blair have stated publicly that they use birth control.

The Pope’s comments are surprising because he caused controversy last year by suggesting that condom use could actually worsen the problem of Aids in Africa.

He described the epidemic in the continent as “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.

The Vatican amended an official version of the remarks to indicate that he said merely that condoms “risk” aggravating the problem.

However, there have been growing calls for the Church to clarify its position.

Theologians suggest that condoms are not a contraceptive if they are intended to prevent death rather than avoid life.

The Pope’s comments in the book, Light of the World, are likely to be welcomed by Catholic leaders in the West who have struggled to explain its current teaching.

Asked last year whether a married Catholic couple should use condoms where one of them had Aids, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Church in England and Wales, disclosed the confusion over the issue. “Obviously that’s a sensitive point and obviously there are different views on that,” he said.

Hardline Catholics are likely to be surprised and dismayed by the Pope’s comments as they argue that condoms can be used only as contraceptives.

There has been great anticipation before the book’s release, heightened by its author, Peter Seewald, who said in a teasing comment that it could be “a big sensation”.

“It is the first time that a Pope gives an account of himself in this form,” he said.
“It is the first personal interview with a pope in the Church’s history.”

The Pope gives his most personal account of the distress caused to him by the clerical sex abuse scandal, with particular reference to Germany and Ireland.

He says: “It was really almost like the crater of a volcano, out of which suddenly a tremendous cloud of filth came, darkening and soiling everything, so that above all the priesthood suddenly seemed to be a place of shame and every priest was under the suspicion of being one like that too.” He did not consider resigning over the crisis but does raise the possibility of a pope resigning if he were to lose his mental capacities.

“If a Pope clearly realises that he is no longer phys-ically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.” He tells of the last time he saw Pope John Paul II, his predecessor; talks of his reluctance to be Pontiff; and speaks of his increasing frailty.

“I had been so sure that this office was not my calling, but that God would now grant me some peace and quiet after strenuous years,” he says. While the Pope stresses the importance of dialogue with Islam, he nevertheless says the religion needs to “clarify … its relation to violence” and suggests it can be intolerant.

The Pontiff is highly critical of the “craving for happiness” in the West.

“I believe we do not always have an adequate idea of the power of this serpent of drug trafficking and consumption that spans the globe,” he says.

“It destroys youth, it destroys families, it leads to violence and endangers the future of entire nations.

“This, too, is one of the terrible responsibilities of the West: that it uses drugs and that it thereby creates countries that have to supply it, which in the end exhausts and destroys them.”

He continues: “A craving for happiness has developed that cannot content itself with things as they are.”

Talking about sex tourism, he says: “The destructive processes at work in that are extraordinary and are born from the arrogance and the boredom and the false freedom of the Western world.”

Complete Article HERE!