Pope Francis and his season of struggle

October 23, 2014

Pope Francis celebrates a mass in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican

This month, Pope Francis had to come clean.

Time’s Man of the Year for 2013, the object of seemingly universal affection, is a liberal: and that means a season – perhaps a papacy – of struggle. His honeymoon as the Amiable Argentinian is over.

He’s not a simple liberal, to be sure. He believes, in a concrete, physical way, in bodies rising from the dead, and in the existence of the Devil. These are concepts with which evangelical Protestants – in the ascendant in the pope’s native Argentina – are both familiar, and in which they believe. His modern-thinking colleagues quietly squirm.

But he combines, in a way the world hasn’t seen for decades — even centuries — a belief in these manifestations while at the same time being a social liberal. In the Catholic hierarchy, to be a social liberal is to argue that while doctrine is all very well, it has to move with the times. This means recognizing that the times, and many Catholics, are closer to contemporary mores on the family and on sexual behaviour than they are to scriptural fundamentalism.

Thus the expectation, when Francis called the hierarchy of the Church together in Rome in the first half of this month in a synod devoted to the discussion of sex and the family, was that the outcome would be a much-liberalized Church. Catholic gays were especially hopeful of a significant shift, as were groups who want divorce to be made possible under certain conditions. All, when the synod ended last weekend, were disappointed.

The news media, in the main, got it wrong: a fact that the bishops and cardinals, especially the conservatives among them, dwelled on with some venom. They had an excuse: a mid-synod bulletin used language unheard of in the Church before — that gays had ‘gifts and qualities” to offer the Church and that their unions, though they could not be approved, did offer “precious” support. Civil marriages and even cohabitation could be “positive” (though should lead to the commitment of a wedding). It didn’t say that divorcees would be allowed to take communion, but did talk about the need to assist those “damaged” by divorce. Human sympathy was more in evidence than scriptural judgment. The headlines and bulletins heralded a great movement.

But by the end of the synod, the lurch to liberalism had been corrected. The conservatives didn’t win, but they denied victory to the liberals and kept the hierarchy in tension between conservative and liberal positions.  At the same time, they came out, more overtly than before, against Francis. This was especially true of the blunt-speaking American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who presently holds the high Vatican position of head of the office of Canon Law — but who expects, because of his opposition to Francis, to be demoted to being Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a powerless sinecure.

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Burke delivered a sharp warning to Francis of the limits of his powers. He was not, he said, “free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the indissolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith … a change in the Church’s teaching … is impossible.”

 

With others, Burke has authored a book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” that laments (as Cardinal Gerhard Mueller put it) “Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage,” and argues that the Church must resist “pragmatically accommodating the supposedly inevitable.” The conservatives are perfectly aware that contemporary beliefs don’t favor their insistence on doctrine and discipline, but are committed to what they call the Church’s ‘prophetic mission’ — that is, to remain true to the fundamentals because they are God-given, and will be proven right on judgment day.

Their main target is the liberal German Cardinal Walter Kasper, among the most outspoken of the liberals and one said to be close to Francis. (The cardinal has downplayed this, saying that “the pope has read a book by me.”). In an interview he gave to the German daily Die Welt, he said that, though the voting against the liberal positions in the synod was “totally weird,” still the Church would move to soften its attitude to gays. “I am convinced, that in the end we will achieve a wide consensus and make a step towards homosexuals…(they) also have something to contribute in the Church … they are children of God and belong to the family of God.”

These debates have a rich fascination beyond the Catholic community, in part because they mirror more worldly attitudes to homosexuality, which run the gamut through generous acceptance through reluctant acquiescence to strong condemnation. Yet the largest problem for the Church is twofold: first, as it recognizes, many Catholics in the West simply ignore the more severe teachings, or where they are applied, prefer to leave the church than submit.

Second, and more seriously, the modern eye, and the eye of most media see in the synod a gathering of ageing men with no experience of active sexuality (presumably) or marriage, attempting to enforce prohibitions on those who have, and who have developed ways of integrating these troublesome matters into their lives. At the same time, these ageing men did — and still do — have a serious sex scandal within their ranks – one which they have, in the main, dealt with badly.

Cardinal Kasper may be right — that the Church, prompted by its Pope, will open more fully to those it has marginalized for sexual deviance. It’s good that this synod was convened, and that suppressed opinions were aired. But for most, including very many Catholics, it just doesn’t matter. In the old question, of to whom to render the central dilemmas of our lives — to Caesar or God — these issues are subject to neither. For good and ill, they’re up to us, as humans finding, or losing, our way to responsibility.

 

 

PHOTO: Pope Francis celebrates a mass in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

6 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

No one can seem to figure out what this guy ever says. And He always says the day after – that nobody really understood what he just said …even though …all sides seem to agree that they heard him say what he said.

So everybody seems to agree – that he is “gods gift” to gays and anti-Catholics and that he can’t judge gay men at all and That the Catholic church is full of a lot of “hateful faithful” ..following after “little monster priests” … who are simply ..”meanies” .

He seems to like atheists and gays a lot more than Catholics and he is loathe to ever utter an ounce of criticism of their choices and lifestyles and he appears to believe that they go to heaven almost ahead of the meanie , hateful faithful.

Now he is moved off of pooh-poohing Catholic rejection of homosexuality and appears to be thinking/saying that …”sin ain’t so bad” …at least not as bad as the corruption of driving a Mercedes or voting republican.

I think that clearly, the old question ..”Is the Pope Catholic” ..now has to be consigned to the dustbin of history …cause this Pope is definitely not.

Posted by jeffharris | Report as abusive

When I first read this article, the last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. I slept on it for a little while last night, and then it came to me.

I am one of those Catholics’ who have decided to stay with my church. My church, of the human family, the Catholic church.

Sometime ago I went through a horrible event in my life. After more than 20 years of marriage my wife asked for a divorce. Catholic’s don’t get divorced?

A few months after the filing I had a life altering event….a near fatal heart attack. During the heart attack I lost consiousnous and went into full cardiac arrest. I died. I had a near death experience of which many others like myself have described. I had seen Heaven’s Gate and was revived through a Surgeon’s gifted hands, to live out more years here on Earth.

A few years later I applied for an annulment. A few years after that, I met and fell in love with a wonderful woman, whom with I wanted to experience “full” love and life with. We were married civilly…..not in a Catholic church. We could not live our lives according to the current Church doctrine.

As far as I am concerned, I have lived my first marriage unto death…however my fellow man judges this. I don’t need an annulment to tell me that it never happened, I have to beautiful children as a Testament to that life, and their wonderful mother.

The annulment is still ongoing, the celibate clergy is still judging that, my new life is ongoing. Pay onto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s give unto God what is God’s.

This Christmas I will be in St. Peter’s square to receive our Holy Father’s blessing, and I intend to take communion with all my fellow man regardless of what the current doctrine says.

I have already been judged.

Pray for him.

Posted by WhoamItojudge | Report as abusive

When I first read this article, the last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. I slept on it for a little while last night, and then it came to me.

I am one of those Catholics’ who have decided to stay with my church. My church, of the human family, the Catholic church.

Sometime ago, I went through a horrible event in my life. After more than 20 years of marriage my wife asked for a divorce. Catholic’s don’t get divorced?

A few months after the filing I had a life altering event….a near fatal heart attack. During the heart attack I lost consiousnous and went into full cardiac arrest. I died. I had a near death experience of which many others, before me, have described. I had seen Heaven’s Gate and was revived through a Surgeon’s gifted hands, to live out more years here on Earth.

A few years later I applied for an annulment. A few years after that, I met, and fell in love with a wonderful woman, whom with I wanted to experience “full” love and life with. We were married civilly…..not in a Catholic church. We could not live our lives according to the current Church doctrine.

As far as I am concerned, I have lived my first marriage unto death…however my fellow man judges this. I don’t need an annulment to tell me that it never happened, I have to beautiful children as a Testament to that life, and their wonderful mother.

The annulment is still ongoing, the celibate clergy is still judging that, my new life is ongoing.

Pay onto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s….. give unto God what is God’s.

This Christmas I will be in St. Peter’s square to receive our Holy Father’s blessing, and I intend to take communion with all my fellow man regardless of what the current doctrine says.

I have already been judged.

Pray for him.

Posted by WhoamItojudge | Report as abusive

I think this Pope is wonderful. He is taking the church out of the dark ages!!! He reminds me so much of Pope John xxxiii

Posted by HKB2014 | Report as abusive

I think that clearly the real question “Is the Pope Christian?” can now be answered. This Pope definitely is.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

How can the Pope be Christian? How can he be even Catholic? He says that God is about change. God is the same as he ever was. The Bible is clear about homosexual marriage. Pope Francis an agent for Satan. The Catholic church according to Malachi Martin is a fallen church. Catholics you would do well to Listen to God, Revelation 18:4: Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
Stay in that church and suffer her plagues.

Posted by Johhnyjjs | Report as abusive