His Own Pope?
Below, Grant Gallicho links us to David Gibson’s op-ed in the today’s New York Times. Gibson—a former reporter at Vatican Radio, author of two books on Catholicism, and an occasional occupant of DotCommonweal’s comboxes—is generally a thoughtful commentator on church affairs.
But I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed in David’s op-ed. He marshals a lot of evidence to convince us that Benedict is a more conservative pope than his public image suggests. That’s probably true, but his treatment of the evidence is more superficial than I’m comfortable with.
Consider his comment that the Pope plans to allow “widespread use of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, in which the priest faces away from the congregation.” It’s unlikely that the motu proprio will lead to the “widespread use” of the pre-Vatican II rite. In the United States, at least, a large share of dioceses already have a parish or two that offers the older rite and there is unlikely to be a significant increase in demand for it. I’d also note that the issue of the appropriate direction of liturgical prayer is a complicated one and shouldn’t be reduced to slogans about the priest having his back to the people. Some explanation of the historical debates around celebration “versus populum” versus “ad orientem” would be helpful.
As to Benedict’s renewal of the stands against married clergy and re-married persons receiving communion, I would note that at the Synod on the Eucharist, Benedict seemed more willing than his predecessor to entertain serious discussion of these issues. The final positions taken in his Apostolic Exhortation appear to represent the position of a majority of bishops at the Synod, particularly on the issue of married clergy. Does David believe the pope should have overridden that majority by papal fiat? If you’re going to affirm collegiality, you have to be willing to live with the results.
I’m also mystified by David’s comment that Benedict has “reinforced the primacy of the pope — an issue his predecessor had opened for debate.” I’m assuming that David is referring to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint, which called upon Christians of all denominations to help him think about how papal primacy should be exercised. That encyclical has sparked a good deal of helpful discussion, although concrete changes probably remain far in the future. But I fail to see how Benedict has done anything to undermine that work. Indeed, as far as I can tell Benedict seems more self-consciously collegial than his predecessor.
Finally, the coda to David’s op-ed seems to suggest that Benedict’s failure to implement the reforms he advocates is contributing to a “crisis of church” in the
If you’re reading David, feel free to rebut…:-)