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dotCommonweal Blog

Jesuits march ahead

The first laywoman to head a Jesuit school likely to be named soon!  Washington Post.

Confirmed: America.    HT: Gene Palumbo

Survey says.

Last week, Univision released a survey of twelve thousand Catholics in a dozen countries across five continents. The idea occurred to them after the Vatican asked the world's bishops conferences to find out what their people think about a range of social issues and report back. But, as the Univision survey's executive summary notes, "the papal questionnaire is not an opinion-gathering instrument." True, it's not exactly reader-friendly (several dioceses chose to adapt it in order to make it more intelligible to the people whose views it was designed to gather). Nor were its results easy to compile. So Univision sponsored a large-scale survey that would adhere to contemporary standards of data collection, and allow us to say with a measure of confidence: This what the world's Catholics think now.

The results won't shock you. (The German and Swiss bishops certainly weren't surprised.) They represent "an alarming trend for the Vatican," because the "majority of Catholics worldwide disagree with Catholic doctrine on divorce, abortion, and contraceptives," according to Bendixen and Amandi International--the communications firm that conducted the study. (It's been published a few ways: as an interactive feature, a slideshow, and an executive summary--which explains the survey's methodology.)

The country-by-country breakdown also holds few surprises. Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the less likely its Catholics are to fully agree with certain church teachings. So, while a significant majority of U.S. Catholics (59 percent) say that women should be ordained priests, 81 percent of Ugandan Catholics disagree (the breakdown is similar on the question of married priests). Of course huge majorities of American Catholics (88 percent) have no problem with the use of artificial contraception. Ninety-four percent of French Catholics support the use of contraceptives--edging out Brazil's 93 percent to take the top spot in that category. And when it comes to divorce, the percentages line up similarly: 60 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that being divorced and remarried outside the church should not bar one from receiving Communion, while 72 percent of Catholics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo agree with that church teaching. On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.

The abortion results are more interesting.

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If I didn't know better, I'd say Pope Francis is making George Weigel nervous

George Weigel's syndicated column is called "The Catholic Difference," presumably because in it Weigel lays out the proper way for Catholics to view the world -- and corrects the errors of those non-Catholics (or inadequately formed Catholics) who keep getting things wrong.

I often find that my view of things does not quite line up with what Weigel insists is the "Catholic" position. For example, the January 15 column, "What Popes Can and Can't Do," features this illustrative anecdote:

At an academic conference years ago, a distinguished Catholic philosopher remarked (perhaps hyperbolically) that “If the pope said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I’d believe him.” An even more distinguished Catholic philosopher gave the correct, and far more Catholic, response: “If the Holy Father said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I would say publicly, ‘Perhaps I have misunderstood His Holiness’s meaning.’ Privately, I would pray for his sanity.”

I, meanwhile, would have said the "correct" and "Catholic" response is "Sorry, Holy Father, but that's not right." I probably wouldn't be all that private about it, either.

With this little story, Weigel is attempting to explain that popes can't go around changing established church doctrine on a whim, which is true enough. (He also says, "it is very difficult for those who see Catholicism through political lenses to grasp this." Which of course is why we need George Weigel -- now more than ever!) They do have a little more influence on church doctrine than they do on basic math, but we'll set that aside. Weigel is also taking this opportunity to throw more cold water on the hopes so many non-conservatives have been nurturing since Pope Francis's election. But the occasion of Weigel's warning is odd -- and not just because it follows his proclaiming the Wall Street Journal "America's best newspaper" and praising "the openness of the Journal's op-ed pages to serious Catholic argument on numerous issues." (I've been waiting for their Francis-inspired editorial "Trickle-Down Economics Reconsidered," but I think I must have missed it.)

What has Weigel worked up is a one-sentence description of Pope Francis in a space-filling listicle that ran in the WSJ, "People to Watch in 2014."

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Band of Sisters: NYC Premiere

Band of Sisters, a new documentary film now showing at New York City's Cinema Village until January 30th, features sisters from eleven different congregations who all share the unique story of being American Catholic nuns who entered convents before Vatican II, and whose vocations were radically transformed by the council's documents.

American women religious are portrayed as themselves -- obedient risk-takers whose elevation from selfess servants to community leaders is natural and justified. The sisters narrate their story against a backdrop of juxtaposed images and stories: black-and-white footage of thousands of habits bending to pick lillies on convent grounds; today's sisters in overalls showcasing their organic farms; hundreds of pews full of heads bowed in prayer; nuns well into their eighties lobbying for access to immigrant detention centers; the letter from Pius XII urging U.S. congregations to create "a network" that would become the LCWR; Rome's investigation of the LCWR's "faithfulness to mission" under Benedict XVI; collared schoolmarms keeping order in classrooms; grey-haired women getting arrested at the School of the America's protest; and much more.

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"Give it something to eat": Pope Francis, lactivist

At RNS, David Gibson flags an overlooked tidbit from Francis's interview with La Stampa (noted elsewhere for his rejection of the idea of women cardinals):

There are so many children that cry because they are hungry. At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone. If we work with humanitarian organisations and are able to agree all together not to waste food, sending it instead to those who need it, we could do so much to help solve the problem of hunger in the world. I would like to repeat to humanity what I said to that mother: give food to those who are hungry! May the hope and tenderness of the Christmas of the Lord shake off our indifference.

Breastfeeding is a hot-button issue (ahem), but that shouldn't overshadow the beauty of the image, and the urgency of the message, here. David reminds readers that the image of the Virgin nursing the Christ child is an icon with a very long history, though not one we encounter often today -- see also this dotComm post from last year. He also says that the pope's "backing breastfeeding in public" will please "pro-nursing feminists and maybe raise a few eyebrows among the traditional set."

The first part, definitely -- this could perk up the ears of people who tend to assume that nothing a pope or a priest says could have any relevance for their lives. The second part, maybe, although I would guess any eyebrows raised would belong to older (probably male) traditionalists. Among young parents, in my experience, breastfeeding crosses ideological lines, and I would venture to say that it's even more widespread among conservative Catholics. Without any stats to back me up here, I'm guessing that conservative Catholic moms are probably more likely to stay at home with their babies, and to rely on the fertility-suppressing capacities of exclusive breastfeeding as a component of Natural Family Planning.... Ah, I see I've lost almost everybody. But if words like "breastfeeding" and "fertility" don't make you click "close tab," you're surely delighted to know that the pope has endorsed nursing babies whenever they are hungry, regardless of your stance in the intra-Catholic culture wars. This is something to keep in your back pocket for the next time someone shoots you a dirty look for feeding your baby at church. (That has never happened to me, by the way, or if it has I haven't noticed. I think people who say they oppose breastfeeding in public, or in church, tend to think breastfeeding is a lot more graphic and titillating than it actually is.)

But back to the pope's larger point: we can feed the hungry. And Jesus told us to feed the hungry. ("Give them something to eat yourselves.") Significantly, the pope is saying here that private charity doesn't suffice: there are ways to address the problem on a global scale. It's the will that seems to be lacking. This isn't exactly a new perspective, but perhaps Francis's way of saying it will break through in a new way. It is Christmas, after all.

Pope Francis on women: A quiz

Which of the following is not an actual quotation from Pope Francis about women?

A. "It pleases me to think that the Church is not ‘il Chiesa,’ it is ‘la Chiesa.’ The Church is a woman! The Church is a mother! And that’s beautiful, eh?"

B. "The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops."

C. "We will also talk about the role of women in the Church. Remember the Church is feminine."

D. "Oh, women, women, they are so important. The church herself is a woman, yes? And that is why women are really so much better than men, forgive me if I speak plainly! Without its women the church is like a bumblebee at the post office, as we say in Argentina."

It's a tough call, I know. But believe it or not, that last quote comes from the not-quite-authentic Commonweal interview with Pope Frank. (Here are the sources for A, B, and C.)

Which is why I was surprised to see this:

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Pope’s old friend, Rabbi Skorka, confirms Francis’s “total commitment” to the Jews

Tuesday night at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Rabbi Abraham Skorka spoke informally about his old friend, whom he calls “Bergoglio.” Talking in English on the topics of theology, Jewish-Christian relations, and the themes of Pope Francis’s pontificate, the Argentine Jewish leader combined memorable anecdotes with substantive reflections.

The event, “Pope Francis and the Jews,” was a unique opportunity for the mixed audience—mostly Jews—to hear behind-the-scenes stories about Francis, while also watching Skorka engage questions from Dr. Celia Deutsch, a Sister of Our Lady of Sion and professor of religion at Barnard College.

Since they co-authored a book of dialogues together, On Heaven and Earth (2010), the close relationship between the respective leaders of Jews and Catholics in Argentina has been well known. But recent months have shown the friendship to be deeper and more casual than many had realized. “Since he became pope, our friendship has become stronger,” Skorka said last night.

A long portion of the conversation focused on theology. Deutsch introduced a question by drawing a distinction between how theology is practiced in “the Global North,” especially North America and Europe, and what she sees in Skorka and Francis from the Global South. Theology in the Global North is often written by university professors for university professors, she noted, but “you two do accessible theology.” Skorka accepted the compliment: “Bergoglio and I agree, theology is not just for professionals.” The “task of theology” is easy to explain, he continued. “How to build a connection with God, respecting your neighbor.”

Skorka connected Francis’s “accessible” theology to his overall personality. Bergoglio is a “very pragmatic person,” he said. Yes, he “studied a lot,” but “first and foremost, he wants to pragmatize theology.” He has a “simple way, with simple words,” but a “very deep message.”

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Throwback Thursday: Sr. Janet Mead’s gold record

If you were near a radio in the mid-seventies you probably heard a lot of Janet Mead, even if you didn’t necessarily know who Janet Mead was. Her “rock” recording “The Lord’s Prayer” was, as they say in the business, burning up the charts in the late winter and early spring of 1974, peaking at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100--during Holy Week, as it happened.

Peaking, but never really going away, and not just because the song embodied what the word “earworm” must have been coined to describe. It became a Sunday-morning staple on New York’s WOR, to which the knob on my parents’ car radio was permanently fixed. The song seemed stuck in heavy rotation—programmed to play repeatedly during the hours we’d likely be on our way to and from Mass—in the years between my communion and confirmation, a period that spanned three presidencies, three papacies, and, closer to home, the loyal service of three different Plymouth station wagons.

What I didn’t know then was that Janet Mead was Sister Janet Mead, of the Sisters of Mercy order in Australia, where she taught music at a pair of Catholic schools. Originally recorded as a B-side, “The Lord’s Prayer” ultimately went gold—selling more than two million copies in the U.S. (more than three million internationally).

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Pope Francis: The church needs women in authority

I am encouraged by Francis's response to his interviewer's question about the role of women in the church. It's not totally clear what he means -- by "female machismo," for example, or "profound theology of the woman" -- but it is clear that he understands, and is not afraid to identify, a central problem that so many defenders of orthodoxy prefer to avoid or ignore.

"The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions," said the pope. "Feminine genius" is another one of those vague terms that justifiably make feminists suspicious -- so often talk of the "unique role" of women seems a polite way of saying "stay in your place." But in short, the pope seems to be saying here that women's input into "important decisions" in the church is necessary, indispensible. This is not a bromide. It's a criticism of the status quo.

He goes on, "The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.” Awkward translation aside -- does the pope really sound like such a Martian when he talks? -- I read in this a direct reference to, and call for reform of, the contradictions in the current situation of women in the church.

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Maryknollers, then and now

Sunday's New York Times featured a sweet essay on the Maryknoll Sisters, based in Ossining, NY, but found ministering to and standing in solidarity with suffering people all over the world. Even better are the photo gallery and audio clips that accompany the story at the NYT website.

There are some terrific archival photos, including images of Mother Mary Josephine Rogers, who founded the order in 1912. I'm used to black-and-white photos of nuns looking solemn, even dour (and not just nuns; anybody photographed pre-1950 is likely to look a bit grim). But in these pictures, Mother Mary Josephine and her sisters look joyful. They look like people you would want to know and work alongside. And they are pictured doing their work and witnessing to the faith in some remarkable settings.