A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Web exclusives: Bacevich on Kagan, Faggioli on Francis

We have two new web exclusives featured on the homepage. First, in "The Duplicity of the Ideologues," Andrew J. Bacevich responds to Robert Kagan's recent New Republic essay, "Superpowers Don't Get to Retire."

Writing in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks hails Kagan’s New Republic essay as “brilliant.” A more accurate appraisal would be slickly mendacious. Still, Kagan’s essay also qualifies as instructive: Here in some 12,700 carefully polished words the impoverished state of foreign-policy discourse is laid bare. If the problem hobbling U. S. policy is an intellectual one, then Kagan himself, purveyor of a fictive past, exhibits that problem in spades.

That Robert Kagan, a bona fide Washington insider, currently housed at the Brookings Institution, possesses very considerable talents is doubtless the case. A well-regarded historian, he is also a skilled polemicist and an ideologue. Here he combines all three callings to fashion a historical narrative that advances two claims. The first enshrines the entire period since 1945—until Obama sounded retreat anyway—as a kind of golden age when freedom, democracy, and liberal values flourished as never before. The second attributes this golden age almost entirely to enlightened American leadership. Policymakers in Washington, he writes, manifested a “sense of global responsibility that equated American interests with the interests of many others around the world.”

Neither one of these claims stands up to even casual scrutiny. Rather than describing the prevailing realities of the post-1945 era, phrases like “world order” and “global responsibility” obfuscate. Purporting to clarify, they merely gloss over. Kagan employs these as devices to beguile, while constructing a version of “truth” that ignores inconvenient facts. There’s a name for this technique: It’s called propaganda.

Read the whole thing here.

In "The Italian Job," Massimo Faggioli asks how Francis, as he seeks to reform the Curia, might be able to manage the bishops in Italy.

Francis’s first year has been characterized by a carefully coded fight for the ground between the old guard and the new. An abstract debate about the “continuity or discontinuity” of Vatican II has been replaced by a conversation about concrete issues such as poverty and inequality. Francis has shown a willingness to discontinue old practices—for example, the Vatican officially prohibits priests from washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday, but that’s exactly what he did just weeks after his election. Francis’s new language and style have not been universally welcomed by the bishops, especially those in his backyard. Some of them silently resist these changes.

In Italy, for example, the old guard seems especially recalcitrant. The most prominent Italian bishops—the cardinals of Venice, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Florence, Naples, and Palermo—were all appointed by John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Now it seems that many of the most powerful and visible Italian bishops have little to say about Francis’s agenda. Only Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna—a drafter of John Paul’s most important document on life issues—has been willing to publicly comment, if only to oppose Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist. The rest of the Italian bishops have been more or less absent from the public debate about family and marriage in advance of next October’s episcopal Synod. 

Read the whole thing here.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Faggioli's piece is the most illuminating thing I have read about Pope Francis. I am particularly heartened to learn that he made bishops of three marginalized followers of his great Jesuit confrere C. M. Martini and that he is both restoring to the Italian bishop's conference their legitimate autonomy and foiling the resistance of the Caffarras etc.

The complaint about his "lack of theological clarity" is ironic. Benedict XVI was theological clarity in person, but a clarity often misapplied, too much point-scoring and Besserwissen, too little sense of the enveloping pastoral context. Such clarity easily becomes a permanent ideological rant.

Francis has a more integral pastoral outlook. And "pastoral" does not mean "fluffy" or "lacking in authority", as conservatives insinuate when they dismiss Vatican II as a merely "pastoral" council, unlike the sharply dogmatic Trent.

Pastoral theology is the truest and fullest theology, because it places all dogmas and teachings in their proper, functional place, at the service of the gospel healing and enlightenment. Vatican II was sparing in the formulation of new teaching but it did a wonderful job of putting the old teachings in a broad perspective of pastoral care for the people of God, in dialogue with the moden world, and in retrieval fo the accents and outlooks of Scripture as received and interpreted in Tradition.

Now we need more and more pastors in the image of Francis and Martini. The harvest is great but the laborers are few.

The next thing I would like Francis to do is to speak out about the overt approval of rape in India. Second to send all the Indian priests here back to India to work for humane treatment of women. Thirdly, I request that Commonweal commission someone to write about India Catholicism and itse need to reform the Catholic church in that country. 

What makes you think the Catholic Church in India is in dire need of reform?


The first question is this. With all the needs of the Indian people why are they sending an abundance of priests here? Secondly, With the killing of women who do not obey their famiies wish to marry, why is the Indian Catholic church not speaking out about it? Third. As I understand it priests live like kings in India. 

Thanks for luring Faggioli into Commonweal.  Not even the esteemed John Allen understand the Vatican better.

Glan to agree with Joseph O'Leary of the Faggioli article. A must read. As Joseph pointet out Francis made bishops out of three of Martini's followers. And how about Francis making a bishop someone who was a target of the CDF.

"Fernández was one of the theologians who helped then-Archbishop Bergoglio draft the final document of the Fifth Assembly of the Latin American Episcopate at Aparecida (Brazil) in 2007. So he is a key witness to the paradigm shift embodied by the Argentine Jesuit. In the book’s conclusion, Fernández reveals that a few years before the 2013 conclave, he was anonymously reported to the CDF for doctrinal shortcomings. He replied to the CDF, but that didn’t satisfy his critics. At that point, Fernández explains, Bergoglio “insisted that I keep my head up and…not let them [the CDF] take my dignity from me.”

Francis has his hands full with the old guard of Italian bishops who are terrified at losing all their privileges and powers. A long time in coming. What John XXIII could not do, Francis seems to be able to. Striking are all the vested interests in publishing and the clergy who were rabid restorationists.

Pray for this great pope.

Yesterday, someone who knows the Vatican scene extremely well said to me that the Faggioli piece is "brilliant." I agree.

I  would also recommend Archbishop (Indianapolis) Joseph Tobin's talk, given some days ago at the College Theology Society meeting.  Archbishop Tobin would make a good archbishop of Chicago. A long shot no doubt, but then he's definitely a "Francis bishop."

Massimo Faggioli understands Francis because they both understand Vatican II.  Francis has gone on record saying Vat II has only been half put into practice/effect.  Faggioli, the historian, has studied and written extensively on Vat II (e.g., his True Reform: Liturgy and Eccesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium, Liturgical Press, Collegevlle, 2012).

A recent work that fits well in this conversation is Pierre Hegy's Wake up Lazarus Vol II:  Paths to Catholic Renewal, iUniverse, Bloomington, 2013.  Quite worth reading, it is a sociological study centered on worship.  It analyses liturgy and actual instances of liturgical practice as sociological phenomena and unleashes a storehouse of insights on the liturgy that are new, refreshing, but disturbing at the same time.  Hegy refers extensively to the Aparecida document that you mentioned as having been completed in 2007, notably under the leadership of none other than Pope Francis (Bergoglio) himself.

Yes, let us truly pray for this pope!

The Faggliori article is a second coup for Commonweal in the last week or so, the first being the Kasper interview.  Well done, Editors  :-)

Just asked an Indian priest if the RCC in India was in dire need or reform and he said "not that he'd heard".

An even more brilliant article is Faggioli's in-depth study of the fate of episcopal conferences in this month's Japan Mission Journal. I quote its conclusion:

"In the fifty years after Vatican II episcopal conferences built on the embryonic norms present in Christus Dominus, and their work was assisted and corroborated by Rome during the first post-conciliar decade, following an option in regard to Christus Dominus 36 that accorded institutional preference to episcopal conferences over plenary or national councils, which in this decade, whether projected or held, met not a few obstacles from Rome.

"But the advance in the role, authority, and function of the national episcopal conferences was checked by the 1983 Code, the 1985 Synod, the positions taken by the International Theological Commission, a still centripetal ecclesial praxis, and the papal legislative acts of 1998. The result was a clear crisis of synodal and conciliar activity at provincial, regional, and plenary levels.

"It was not in order to shore up the authority of the individual diocesan bishops that Apostolos suos and Ad tuendam fidem thus blocked the evolution of the doctrinal and pastoral function of episcopal conferences, for the diocesan bishops were also more tightly controlled by the Roman instances.

"From a global systematic point of view, the effort to limit the role of the conferences, especially in areas where Catholicism was developing strongly, connects with a shift in the center of gravity of the Latin Catholic Church in the 1990s from the Euro-Atlantic churches (more concerned with synodality and collegiality) to the young churches of Africa and Asia. This shift was not regulated through the national or continental conferences but through the continental Synods held in Rome.

"But national conferences have shown themselves the most competent organs for taking decisions and assuming direct responsibility in regard to the faithful and the national community (as seen in the German handling of Catholic counseling of pregnant women or the US handling of clerical child abuse). The silencing of episcopal conferences and the limitation of their capacity to be interpreters, including doctrinally, of the sense of faith of Christians, have been damaging here as well.

"This blocking is an attempt to limit the full reception and enactment of Vatican II and this is clear also to the successor of Benedict XVI. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (but really an encyclical, 24 November 2013), Pope Francis has made important statements about the need of a new role for the bishops’ conferences: ‘The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit.” Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach’ (EG 32). "

"A prerequisite for theology must be the faith experience otherwise you are doing religious studies or maybe psychology."

George D. --

You seem to be assuming that there is one and only one "faith experience" that everyone must have to speak meaningfully about faith.  But it seems to me that the four Gospels show that not all of the Evangelists experiences were of the same sort.  Not to mention St. Paul. 

What do you mean by "faith experience" anyway?  Sorry, but I have to ask.  I know it's a hard one.

I assume that there are many different sorts of experience of "the Faith".  However,  though all are directed to the same referent they cannot all be described in the same way.  This implies that the Faith is a complex set of truths and goals, and different people experience different parts or aspects of those truths and goals. Experience of one person might be mainly experience of the narratives of the objective facts of the Gospel.  For instance, a person might know that a man who implied He was God chose to die in order that we might live eternally.  Such a faith is rather cut-and-dried, but communicable in ordinary language.  It has nothing to do with any subjective, mystical experience of the facts nor any direct appreciation of the goals of the Faith.  Another person  might have a rather mystical, affective appreciation of a few of those facts, and others might react to some other aspects of the Gospel.  Not to mention those who uphold the Faith as a way of living a good life in this world.

If you're saying that all must have an affective response to the Faith, how do you know that the affective response are the same in everyone?  No doubt some are similar in being affective, but I just don't see how we can  understand other peoples' experiences at all unless they poets (in some sense) who manage to suggest the ineffable by analogy or metaphor.

It seems to me that theology includes a number of elements:

1)  discovering what Scripture meant to the writers of Scripture and tradition, i.e., interpretation of Scripture and Tradition.

2)  logical inferences from those sources which are part of the *development* of doctrine (anybody can do this -- they just need to know logic)

3)  another kind of development of doctrine which is based on the experiences of the Faithful, both the group and individuals.

4)  the interpretation of the mystical experiences of the contemplatives. 


This last looks at the current sum of understanding of Revelation and asks how it applies to the world today or to parts of the world and how the Kingdom of God might be advanced, given what we have to work with.  You might call it "applied theology".  For instance, given that Christ taught that we must love our neighbor, it judges the world (or our neighborhood) to be in such and such a shape and tries to match our actions to the needs of the current circumstancees.  This requires intuitions that are as much aesthetic as they are historical and logical, and, of course, being dependent on the intuitions of individuals the intuitions are less sure than we would like.  I'd say that the criterion of success is "does it work?"  For instance, how the collegiality of the bishops should work is a pragmatic theological matter.  The answer is neither explicit in Scripture nor a matter of sheer mundane experience.


I included the fourth element because the Church has traditionally included it in theology.  But I'm not sure what sort of status it should have relative especially to 1) and 2).  The guarantee of the value of mystical experiences is purely subjective -- we have to take the mystics word for it that what they say happened really happene.  But can theology ever be  based on what is purely subjective?

One of the most interesting facts of history was illuminated by John O'Malley, SJ in his study/book about Trent.

Over the course of years and successive sessions and despite the on-going tensions between Pope/Vatican and bishops; national bishops and their political rulers vs. other nationalities, the one consistent conciliar methodology was this:

- when a subject was introduced and the bishops laid out various points of view, the council would then bring in theologians to educate, explain, and provide theological analysis and directions.  Bishops would have time to listen, ask questions, do homework, ponder various choices, and only then begin to take a vote.

- it is interesting that 450 years later, too many Curia folks and bishops have moved to seeing theologians as *threats*, have re-interpreted their role as *mere teachers* as if theology is a catechism; etc. 

Another resource example that expands on the 1983 Code of Canon Law (and how it was revised without reference or inclusion of many VII concepts e.g. collegiality) is Ladislas Orsy's *Receiving the Council - Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates. 


Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment