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In Slate, Paul Baumann on the fascination with Francis

If you read only one piece on the one-year anniversary of Francis’s papacy, make it “The Public Pope,” by Commonweal editor Paul Baumann, which is featured today at Slate.

An excerpt:

Whatever people think Pope Francis is offering, he is no magician; he can’t alter the course of secular history or bridge the church’s deepening ideological divisions simply by asserting what in truth are the papacy’s rather anemic powers. In this light, the inordinate attention paid to the papacy, while perhaps good for business, is not good for the church. Why not? Because it encourages the illusion that what ails the church can be cured by one man, especially by a new man. In truth no pope possesses that kind of power, thank God. The very first pope, let us recall, was a man of legendary weakness, denying his Lord three times before the cock crowed. And the most recent pope, Benedict XVI—a man of towering intellect and inspiring, if fusty, piety—retired from the ring, overmastered by palace intrigue within the Vatican. John Paul II, to be sure, was a media superstar and arguably played a historic role in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet even he could not effectively confront the most critical challenge facing his church, the clergy sexual-abuse scandals.

The truth is that the more the world flatters the Catholic Church by fixating on the papacy—and the more the internal Catholic conversation is monopolized by speculation about the intentions of one man—the less likely it is that the church will succeed in moving beyond the confusions and conflicts that have preoccupied it since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The church desperately needs to reclaim its cultural and spiritual equilibrium; it must find a density and richness of worship and mission and a renewed public presence, which far transcend mere loyalty to the pope. Lacking such equilibrium and self-possession, the church cannot find its true voice. But to find this voice, Catholics will have to turn not to Rome but toward one another, which is where both the problems and the solutions lie.

Read it all here, then come back here to discuss.

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As a longtime student of papal history as well as one who has lived through seven papacies, I welcome this much-needed caution. Over-emphasis on the role of the pope throws the whole system out of balance. I think Newman would agree.

At issue from an organization point of view is the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. Baumann quotes the Lutheran observer, Lindbeck:

George Lindbeck, an official Protestant observer at Vatican II, described the resulting dilemma as one in which “radical and fundamental ambiguities in the most authoritative” statements promulgated by the council—including those on papal infallibility, relations with other Christians, and the challenge of reconciling Catholic tradition with the Bible—enabled those on different sides of every neuralgic issue to find ample textual support for their interpretations. “When the supreme law of the land directly authorizes rival, perhaps contradictory, positions and provides no way of settling the disputes,” Lindbeck concluded with genuine regret, “conflict becomes inevitable and, unless changes are made in the supreme law, irresolvable.”

Benedict tried to tackle this head on with his "hermeneutic of continuity" but this is just simply not satsifactory as the Council, surely, modified and changed certain teachings. The other obvious change was to the mass. Here again, Benedict tried to resolve things by the new translation and his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum which has had mostly a divisiive impact, did not reconcile the SSPX and reignite the liturgical wars (the only thing just as controversial as sex in Catholic life).

But don't discount the value of symbolic and stylistic changes. Francis' washing of the feet of women prisoners, his "who am I to judge", his famous retort that the carnival is over when handlers wanted to dress him in anachronistic papal garb all will have their effect. They resonate and are just as important as any formal document as they directly impact practice. They constitute part of the "lex orandi" and will have an impact on the credendi.

While Baumann makes many good points in his article his timing could not have been worse. While caution is always neceessary, there has to be joy on earth and in heaven when the gospel is preached so well. Bauman's words intended to rain on the present parade (who is playing big daddy here) injects pessimism and forgets some elementary truths of the gospel . Namely, that one must "shine light before others and give glory to God." We also know that "if there is "no vision the people perish."

Far more helpful is the three part article by Drew Christensen which shows how effective leaders can change the church. http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/francis-reader-souls-part-ii

Ironically, Francis makes the point that Bauman is concerned about. That we are all sinners and have to learn from each other. This is why he is restoring collegiality and asking for input from every parish. He also warns people to '"get over him" which the WP phrased so well.  

The excitement is not because he is a liberal. It is because he exemplifys the gospel so well. 

While we are aware of the pitfalls of the human condition we need to project and aspire to the greatness that we can become. Rather than to the narrowness we have seen and may possibly return.  When the bishop of Rome can provide this witness how great is that. Sinner that he is. 

Paul tries to pick it up at the end by positing inspiration from the same sex couple and/or the Laiin traditionalists. Too late. We already gave up by that time. 

It's a wonderful article.  

I think we will find out, in this papacy, how "anemic" the pope's powers are.  Formally, the pope's powers are not anemic, but thankfully, Francis does not rule by fiat but by sign and example.  And  picking up on one of George's points: being a symbol of unity and universality is not nothing.  Catholicism is particularly attuned to the power of symbol and sign, and recognizes that it can be positively sacramental.  I believe Francis is the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

My belief is that Francis has now raised the bar for church leadership.  Going forward, Catholics will be much less docile when given a bishop or pastor who tries to rule as an absolute monarch.

When kids are confirmed, they take that special name. In our diocese, they are supposed to include in their letter to the bishop a reference to why thay took it - favorite saint, aunt or uncle, historical figure- and how that identioty influencces them. We have all presumed from only a few statments and perhasp our own vison of Francis, I think, on what Pope Francis means in having taken his name. Perhhaps some kind of apostolic letter or extended meditation on that would yield a more complete idea of how he sees himself and this papacy and his rolein "rebuilding my church." 

"In any event, the church’s unity and renewed vitality will be—must be—a gift that the faithful bring to the pope, and not the other way around." Paul Bauman

Many Protestants welcomed the Second Vatican Council. Mainly because they liked the unity that the pope symbolized.  Peter can perform a great service as long as he remembers that he has to wash the feet of the disciples. I guess the faithful will give Peter that gift when they insist that he mirrors the gospel. 

I can't help thinking articles like this are meant to deflect disappointment about Francis not yet making any concrete changes in he church.  It's not that I think popes *should* be very powerful - I dn't -  but it seems to me that they have been.  What about canon 331 ... http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P16.HTM ... what about John XXIII calling the council, Paul VI deciding against almost the guys at V2 and the ponitifical commission that contraception was bad, JPII deciding women could not ever be priests against the advice of the biblical commission, B16 changing the catechism to deem homosexuals diordered?  I think Francis could make serious changes, but he does not want to.  

 

Bauman's piece is a disappointment. It's fundamentally a political analysis. What I find most striking about Pope Francis' first year is his effort to move us, the Chruch, from a monarchical model of service and organization to one that emphasizes how much we need each other to follow the Gospel as Jesus would have us. The pope offers us not a program or set of policies. What he offers instead is a call to join one another in a community of mutual respect, respect for both our weaknesses and for the gifts we have received.

Sooner or later, there will have to be policies, etc. But if the policies are adopted in hope and in recognition that none of them is perfect, then we can live and work with one another in a more constructive way than we have kn own in the past.

In short, I see Pope Francis as someone who sees that every policy or program has whateverletitamicy it has from its relationship to one fundamenta principle, namely to facilitate our loving one another as Jesus has love us.

Iknow that this sounds like pious claptrap. Nonetheless, for better or worse, it's what I think. The big move is away from norms construed as ultimates to the recognition that whatever binding cnaracter they have comes form the principle of unconditional love that Jesus enunciated.

I know that this sounds like pious claptrap.

Not to me it doesn't. Good and accurate points, along with Bill's above.

It's the belief that the important thing is loving one another as Jesus loves us that drives many of us who wish Francis would make more concrete changes.  I think it's hard for those who grew up in the church and have been Catholics all their lives to see the policies of the church from an outsider's point of view ...  the treatment of women, gays, the divorced, and abuse victims strikes most people outside the church as pretty horrible, and this is probably why as popular as Francis is, he hasn't brought more people into the Catholic church.

... it's hard for those who grew up in the church and have been Catholics all their lives to see the policies of the church from an outsider's point of view ...  the treatment of women, gays, the divorced, and abuse victims strikes most people outside the church as pretty horrible

Crystal, I agree - it's hard for cradle Catholics to step aside and see how the church looks from the outside. I am a cradle Catholic, married for more than 40 years to a Protestant.  Because of our "mixed" marriage (what a term for a marriage of two christians - one of the things that strikes those who are not Catholic as an insulting description) I quickly began to pick up the perspective of those who are not Catholic, at least of those who come from mainline Protestanism.  It is not an attractive picture for many.  

I think it's hard for those who grew up in the church and have been Catholics all their lives to see the policies of the church from an outsider's point of view ...  the treatment of women, gays, the divorced, and abuse victims strikes most people outside the church as pretty horrible

Crystal - it's an interesting point.  Let's all agree that the church can do better in its treatment of all the groups you've listed, and many, many other groups and individuals besides.  If the church really is supposed to be a field hospital for these groups and the rest of us, then we should be striving, and praying, to do better.  And we hope that Francis can provide some leadership that will help us to do better.

At the same time, we can also say, quite truthfully, that to categorize the treatment of members of these groups and other groups, uniformly, across the board, as "pretty horrible", is to not tell the full truth.  To some extent - and it may be a very large extent - the church really has been a field hospital for these groups.  This is surely so where the rubber meets the road: at the grassroots level, in parishes, in social service agencies, in prayer groups, in families, and so on.  I can make that claim because I've seen what happens in the church, from the inside.

We need to recognize that the characterization you've made - that laundry list of horribles - is a characterization that comes from outside the church.  And it is not a characterization that is made from a stance of neutrality, nor one that comes from a position of moral superiority.  It is a partisan characterization, one that the church's enemies have made their own, with a view to tearing down the church.  There are powerful forces in society that do not wish the church well; they wish it ill.  They don't particularly wish for the church to improve in the areas you've named, and to flourish; what they really wish is that the church itself be reduced and marginalized.  If the church were completely demolished, they would think it is for the good.  

One doesn't have to look far to find people who hate and loathe the church.  I'm sure nearly all of us know people who feel this way and don't particularly hide it.  Anyone who goes to college and hangs out with people who went to college, probably know such people.  It's sort of intellectually respectable to hate the church.  What perhaps is new in recent years is that these haters of the church feel a renewed permission to be vocal about their hatred.  The taboo against belittling religion, especially the Catholic Church, seems to be crumbling.

I believe that we who are within the church have an obligation, not only to call the church to responsibility, repentance and reform in the areas where this is necessary, but also to not be fellow-travelers and useful idiots for those who are enemies of the church.  

Francis, God bless him, isn't satisfied with this status quo.  He seems to believe that the church is not outmoded nor obsolete, is not a relic of the middle ages, is not primarily a construct to oppress the victims' group du jour.  He seems to believe that the church has Good News to proclaim, and that the world, perhaps especially those who revile the church, needs to hear it.  I want to be part of that project.  A necessary part of that project is leading the church itself to responsibility, repentance and reform.  Francis, we hope and pray, will continue to do this.  But that is very far from the point of the exercise.  The point of the exercise is to invite those outside, into the church, so they can be treated at this hospital for sinners.

 

As a follow-on to my previous comment: here is W Bradford Wilcox with some advice on how the church can address the needs of one of the groups Crystal mentioned, the divorced.  Wise, thought-provoking stuff that refuses to accommodate itself to the simplistic and superficial dichotomies ("permit divorce" / "don't permit divorce"; "allow to receive communion" / "don't allow to receive communion") that are foisted upon the church from the outside.

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/03/time-to-accommodate-th...

 

Agree with Mr Dauenhuaer's assessment.  And would add:

- the stress on empowering (especially via canon law) episcopal conferences (which is what VII called for and both JPII and Benedict feared and resisted)  (note - in a truly Jesuitical way, this would do the most in terms of reorienting any type of papal expectations and cult of personality and, one would hope, stop future popes from recentralizing power/control)

- the stress on *real* synods (the upcoming family life synod will be an example - already he has promoted openness and various viewpoints on remarriage, divorce, reception of communion, and annulments)   (note -again, VII called for real synods and both JPII and Benedict emasculated them to control the discussion and the final results)

- shifting the curia to a *service model* rather than the centralized highest point of control  (we will have to wait and see on this one but the decisions to decentralize are there)

- inclusion of women in the curia, etc.  (again, he is laying the groundwork and one would hope that these initiatives could not be reversed by future popes)

- remaking the curia such that *dicastery of state* is not the power behind the papacy - rather, it serves the function of the typical foreign policy departments e.g. ambassadors;  refashioning the power of the CDF - its role is not final judge and jury but as a service function to espiscopal conferences  (this hinges on law changes and then the actual initial decisions to reinforce the legal changes)

- refocusing on the VII goals - ecumensism, church of the poor; going on mission to the periphery (rather than cultural wars; doctrinal over-emphasis; etc.);   using VII and scriptural images for the church - bishop of Rome (vs. Supreme Pontiff); hospital for the sick (vs. idealized notion of those who are sinless, clean, meets certain ideologies); actually applying the VII concept of the people of God and priesthood as a ministry (not a higher or separate ontological state of being) - thus, preaching against airport bishops, careerism; clericalism; self-referential stances.

- addressing the long standing scandal of Vatican finances

That being said, do agree with Mr. Baumann's point about the personality cult threats - this goes along with decentralization......if we don't keep Francis in context, we will be disappointed.

There are two areas that I would separate from this overview - he appears to have a lot of catching up to do on the issue of sexual abuse (let's see what develops in his second year and in his proposed committee) and on the role of women (his call for a female theology reveals that he is not very aware of what has been done; the skills of folks already on hand, etc.)

Anne,  me too, in that I wasn't a Catholic or a Christian until I was an adult, and my best friend, my sister, still isn't, so I'm aware of how those outside the church percieve us.

Jim,  I think I see what you're saying.  It isn't just the difference between secularism and Catholicism, though.  It's the difference between Catholicism and almost all other Christian denomonations, incluind in some cases the Orrthodox too.  One can be Christian and accept divorce, accept gays, allow women priests, and not have a giant sex abuse problem .... so we in the Catholic church don't have the excuse that these problems are a by-product of being Christians opposed to the evils of secularism:  the problems are about Catholicism.

Hey, it's not just me  :)  A poll mentioned in the news today at The Tablet ...

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/541/0/papal-anniversary-top-marks-for-wa...

Crystal - you're right: the church does need to repent and reform.  The church needs to take responsibility for what it has done and what it has failed to do, and act so that it doesn't do those things anymore.  Francis may be able to help us do that.

The church can "accept divorce" - in fact, it does accept divorce.  But it's not able to change its fundamental teachings on marriage.  The most it can do is tweak whatever pastoral practices are based on that teaching.  Beyond that, and arguably much more importantly, the church also believes that the world, including people who respond to pollsters, would benefit tremendously by learning and taking to heart what the church teaches about marriage.  As a bit of a thought experiment on how that might play out, check out this article on the church, annulments and justice in marriage.  If this author's point of view seems strange and offputting to us, that may be because we've imbibed the wider culture's view of marriage.  The wider culture needs to be evangelized about marriage.

 

 

Re:  the church’s inability to change its fundamental teachings on marriage:

“During the 1966 Papal Birth Control Commission, at which Chicago Catholics and co-directors of the Christian Family Movement Patty Crowley & her husband Pat were members, a heated discussion about how the church could save face if it were to allow couples to decide how to limit offspring, Marcelino Zalba, a Spanish Jesuit member of the commission, asked, ‘What then with the millions we have sent to hell’ if the rules are relaxed? Patty immediately responded in what became perhaps her most memorable quote. ‘Fr. Zalba,” she said, “do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?’ ”

http://www.natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives2/2005d/120905/120905o.php

 

This church has change many of what it considered it’s “fundamental teachings” at the time:  slavery, usury, extra ecclesia nulla salus, etc.

Great link to an obituary for Pat Crowley. Truly a woman of outstanding ability and goodness. She paved the way for many. She deserves a place of honor and distinction in Catholic history. 

Not to me either.Piety is  a dirty word [among the catholic inteligensia?] but authentic  [there's that word again.iI can't get away from it] piety is not claptrap but the heart of our faith.What you expressed is at the heart of our faith.[imo]

Jim,

About the annulment article ... I understan the desire to preserve relationships that are in trouble, but I think the basic problem with the chruch's attitude toward divorce/annulments is that it believes it has both the right and the power to control the divorcing people's feelings and behavior. It's debatable whether it has the right, but practically speaking it doesn't have the power.

I know what it's like to be "unjustly" divorced  ;)  My ex had an affair and left me for another person.  I wanted to stay married and even went to a lawyer  to see if there was anything I could do to keep us married  -  he said no, that there is no legal way to force people who don't h want to do so to stay in a marriage, much less force them to love each other. The civil state has come to this realization but the church still hasn't.   I don't believe the refusal to grant an annulmet will force many Catholics to stay married when they don't have the will to do so.  Perhaps this is why only 15% of US Catholics getting divorced even apply for an annulment.

 

I know what it's like to be "unjustly" divorced

Hi, Crystal - I know this must be awkward to talk about in a public forum.  Most importantly, I just want to let you know how sorry I am to learn that you've been through that.  It must have been hellish.

Based on what you described, I don't think you are "unjustly divorced".  I don't think the author would, either.  He wrote:

There are legitimate cases for annulment by petitioners who have suffered gravely because of a spouse who did not understand marriage or act properly.  These petitioners should be given pastoral care along with the legal proceedings because of their emotional “wounds” which may have been occurring for years.

That would be my wish for you, too: pastoral care to help you heal - and a successful annulment petition if you desire to go forward with that process.

Regarding controlling feelings and behavior: the church recognizes that's not possible.  (Or it should; write to me off-line if you've experienced the church trying to do that).  The church would want to intervene in a troubled marriage before it reaches the point of no return, but not to try to control feelings and behavior, but rather to try to save the marriage, if it can be saved.  That intervention might have taken the form of a Retrouvaille weekend, or maybe some form of counseling.  As you've described your situation, I'd think that intervention would have been to try to get your now-ex to recognize his unacceptable behavior and persuade him to change his ways.  

At any rate - I'm sorry for what you've been through.

 

I agree with Paul Baumann's point that the pope alone is not going to solve our problems. I am not sure his solution hits the nail on the head, however.

The suggestion of church unity through prayer and worship echoes Orthodox and Anglican approaches to ecclesiology. But we Catholics do have a somewhat different tradition. Maintaining not only a liturgical tradition but a doctrinal unity through the means of a formal teaching authority is, for all its challenges, one of the keys to Catholicism's identity and self-understanding. Historically, as Paul well knows, this has never been an easy row to hoe. But it also has a rather strong theological foundation.

The Pope has a critical role to play in setting the tone and guiding the process by which people in the worldwide Catholic Church seek and find greater unity. We've seen examples of divisive popes, popes whose personal charisms aided in the quest for unity, and popes whose structural and systemic decision-making created (or undermined) the potential for unity. Everything doesn't depend on them. But we are at a time in history when a lot does depend on them, especially via the selection of bishops.

This doesn't mean reverting to a nineteenth century ultramontane vision of the papacy. The question today is, rather, how does the papal office function best in a situation of "liquid modernity"?

 

Yes, the Church needs the participation of the laity in decision-making, and it looks like Pope Franci will indeed further that cause. However, while things will probably improve, there will always be the possibility -- no, make that the a tualkty-- that some lay people in the Church structurr will be as ambitious, incompetent, dishonest, whatever as some of the clerics are,
My point: Paradise is not upon us, even if things do improve.

Crystal- I also appreciate your candor and admire your courage and will pray for whatever grace you need at tis time...

But I don't hink that your experience or that of many that I've known from when I did marriage counseling and served as an advocate in the tribunal, would support Jim P.'s contention that the Church has a real commitment to married couples to assist them and I don't know enough about the Retrouvaille experience to have an opinion on its approach or effectiveness.

But what I do know is that the basis for the vast majority of annulments is a false one that there was never a "valid marraige." That is really pish-posh. At the time of marriage- for the mature, the maturing, or the immature - most have the intention to marry this person, want to make it "work," and are at same time so often limited in their visions as are most in not knowing how they as a couple or an individual will react to life events. This is not to excuse affairs or abandonment, but it is a phony process to reconstruct this whole life together by a canon lawyer or judge at this point and say "invalid marriage." It is a commitment that somehow ended. It failed through the faults of either, both, neither, but it is over-- not that it never was valid. That would be a tautology.

Crystal- I also appreciate your candor and admire your courage and will pray for whatever grace you need at tis time...

But I don't hink that your experience or that of many that I've known from when I did marriage counseling and served as an advocate in the tribunal, would support Jim P.'s contention that the Church has a real commitment to married couples to assist them and I don't know enough about the Retrouvaille experience to have an opinion on its approach or effectiveness.

But what I do know is that the basis for the vast majority of annulments is a false one that there was never a "valid marraige." That is really pish-posh. At the time of marriage- for the mature, the maturing, or the immature - most have the intention to marry this person, want to make it "work," and are at same time so often limited in their visions as are most in not knowing how they as a couple or an individual will react to life events. This is not to excuse affairs or abandonment, but it is a phony process to reconstruct this whole life together by a canon lawyer or judge at this point and say "invalid marriage." It is a commitment that somehow ended. It failed through the faults of either, both, neither, but it is over-- not that it never was valid. That would be a tautology.

David P. --

Isn't the question in a marriage tribunal whether or not tbe marriage was an instance of a *sacramental* marriage? There is a difference, and I can see why annulments are sometimes (even often) appropriate when one or the other of the spouses did not realize just what •sacramental marriage• meant when they married.

I was struck by Baumann's line about the "infantilization of bishops." I once read an essay by Charles Taylor that used the phrase "infantilization of the laity" to describe the way that the institutional Church fails to take account of the views of laypeople when formulating its positions on moral questions, but I had never really thought about the fact that centralization has proceeded to such an extent that even bishops are shut out of the process. 

Taylor's model gives the sense that "the hierarchy" is some monolithic entity that places itself above the laity, but this ignores the fact that the hierarchy is in fact a *hierarchy.* In other words, it's infantilization all the way up!