Monday, March 19, 2018

"I am a sinner" - Deeper Currents In The Papacy of Pope Francis And Women's Ordination

I missed James Carroll's piece in the New Yorker about the fifth anniversary of the beginning if Pope Francis's appointment to be Pope.   It is one of the few things I've read that seems to really get to what his papacy is all about and what he's all about.   This passage leading into two issues, one the Chilean bishop that has caused a serious scandal in Francis's time in office.   It doesn't read like your typical news story about it,  Carroll leads into a wider and deeper context as to the issue and what both him getting into it and dealing with the aftermath of scandal tells us about Pope Francis and sin in general:

“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he was asked early in his pontificate. He replied, “I am a sinner. That is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” The Pope’s detractors—from the right, where he is derided as a moral relativist, and the left, where he is seen as an instinctive defender of patriarchy—were thus put on notice right at the start.

The language of sin comes naturally to Francis, but he might equally have cited Montaigne’s dictum “I feel oppressed by an error of mind. . . . I try to correct it, but I cannot root it out.” What the world has witnessed since 2013 is nothing less than Francis’s great struggle with the Church’s monumental error of mind. That error boils down to a preference for the traditionalist worldview, which sees existence as complete, ordered, and in harmony with unchanging divine purpose, over what might be called the historical worldview, which assumes change, contingency, and randomness—all the lessons of evolution. Clericalism, enshrined in the defensive, all-male mores of the priesthood (notwithstanding the many selfless priests), defines this error, and Francis, despite having railed against clericalism, showed himself to be stuck in it when, earlier this year, he defended Juan Barros Madrid, a Chilean bishop who has been accused of covering up sex abuse. After hearing the outraged objections of survivors, Francis promptly backed off his position and ordered a new investigation, demonstrating that he knew he’d been wrong. He didn’t say, at the time, “I am a sinner.” But he might have.

Among the most important things about that, one which would be left out of most news reporting on it is that he listened to and took seriously the reaction of The People to his lapse in judgement.  At the same time, by ordering a new investigation into the accusations against the bishop he signaled that he wasn't going to just take that into account but takes seriously the rights of the accused.   If the experience will lead to him giving up more of the habits of clericalism which are so deeply embedded in clerical institutions, we'll have to see.

Carroll also pointed out how this has a direct effect in another issue, the equality of Women and their ordination:

The most potent instance of the traditionalist error is the unrelenting relegation of Catholic women to a position of inferiority, embodied in the prohibition of female ordination. The Vatican justifies the ban with absurdly literalist readings of Scripture (there were no women among the twelve apostles), which are wholly out of synch with the Church’s otherwise ample commitment to accommodating the theological contradictions and inconsistencies found in the four Gospels. In the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, this sanctified discrimination can finally be seen for what it is—less an error of mind, perhaps, than a willful error of soul. Though Francis sided, early on, with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of American nuns, in its fight against Vatican interference, he has shown no readiness to root out the deeper prejudice.

But if this blatant papal blind spot does not disqualify Francis as an avatar of post-religious possibility it is because he has clearly set in motion positive currents of change that run deeper than anything he might himself intend. He has made spiritual imagination—faith that goes beyond the material and the established; goodness that can be striven for and accomplished—seem consistent with secular preoccupation. It is toward that larger significance that his narrow institutional role points. Change is coming to the Catholic Church, and if it can happen there it can happen anywhere.

That became clear when, early on, the Pope insisted—again, in both word and deed—that experience takes priority over doctrine, mercy over rules, which is a pious way of affirming nothing less than the scientific method, the testability of truth. The Pope may not actually be changing doctrine as such, but emphasizing experience over doctrine changes the way that doctrine is regarded. To cite the most discussed example, divorced people should feel free to receive Communion, whatever complications result for “the tradition.” This principle may ultimately transform the way that many Catholic teachings are applied. The Church’s firm opposition to birth control, for instance, could be softened by an acceptance of condom use to protect health, or by a practical preference for contraception over abortion. Similarly, the Vatican’s absolutist stance on euthanasia could be mitigated by a refusal to promote “extraordinary” efforts to prolong life in the face of pointless suffering. As revolutions in biology and genetics change techniques of human reproduction, so the meaning of reproduction changes, too—and, after Francis, the Church can find ways to adjust to that. The conservatives, in other words, are right to warn that this Pope is altering the anatomy of Catholic life and thought.

Which brings to mind something I wrote about,  Sr. Simone Campbell of Nuns On A Bus, who was asked about Pope Francis's intentions for change.

MR. GILLISS: Over the next five years, how do you see the Catholic church evolving in its role for women?

SR. SIMONE: Alright. Any crowd that took 350 years to figure out Galileo might be right is not noted for rapid change. So let's put it in perspective. But what is happening is that some things that people aren't hearing about — Pope Francis appointed a woman to head one of the pontifical theological schools in Rome. This was fairly earth-shattering in theological realm — those studies areas because it was always thought only boys had big enough brains to do that or something. I don't know. And so — and women have been appointed to this council that's working on the issue of abuse. Women are gradually getting more positions. But here, Pope Francis is not going to change the rules. He's trying to build peace in a church that’s been so divided, so hurt, so split apart by certitude and turf, by preferring the fight as opposed to — not hearing the stories of real people and not having everybody at the table. He’s trying to do the opposite. And so that, to me, is way more important than some juridical edict about women. Because it's a better building for the future, I hope.

Just as the real meaning of what is done by this pope won't fit into the x number of words and column inches of journalistic convention, the clock and calendar of time for change doesn't fit into the conventions of TV reality in the United States.   Things don't get wrapped up in a half hour or an hour - minus the many minutes of commercials - or even in the length of a mini-series.   Neither does it fit into the conventions of fiction in which there are good and bad guys,  especially the absurdly unrealistic convention in which a hero must be infallible.   I find it really funny how those who are quickest to deride the claims of papal infallibility are the first to jump on a Pope when he demonstrates himself to be what they claim to believe he is, anyway, fallible.   Not that they really understand that even the claim of papal infallibility never meant everything a Pope did or said was fallible, which I would say Francis and others who claim what John Paul II said about Women's' ordination is settled.  It doesn't even pass muster as something that fits the definition of an "infallible" teaching. 

The childish notion that good guys must always be good or they're shit is rampant among the secularists of the internet, you see the same thing in their rejection of even genuinely liberal politicians who from time to time act out of either pragmatism or within the realm of the possible instead of purist nonsense which has failed to produce much of anything. 

Francis will not be anything but the Catholic Pope, as Sr. Campbell said he's not going to do anything to damage the unity of the Catholic church which his predecessors did so much to damage, knowing that any change as monumental as acknowledging women as priests and bishops would likely split the church.   If that change is going to come it will come gradually.   Too gradually for us today.   In the mean time I would recommend the ideas and work of the Roman Catholic Women Priests for your consideration.   I find most of what they say quite credible and foresee a time when their ordination, now, will be accepted as legitimate, probably long after all of those in the movement, now, are dead.

Our minds are deceived by watching too many shows into believing that all change can be effected immediately and our ignorance of the real history of change makes some of the changes of the past seem deceptively rapid.  Even in science, as Max Planck famously pointed out, no matter what the claims of science romantics hold, progress in science depends on the old guard dying before people with new ideas can take over.  The same is as true in religion.  James Carroll's point about the deceptively slow rate of change under Francis is, actually, quite radical in that context.  I see it as of a piece with the far longer history of advocacy of Women's ordination which was an issue in the life of St. Teresa of Lisieux and which started as a formal movement in 1911 when the St. Joan's Alliance struggled for both Women's' suffrage and the ordination of Women. 

See Also:  Bridget Mary's Blog.

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