David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.

By this author

Monarchy. Diarchy? Anarchy!

There was yet another hubbub a couple weeks back about the Third Secret of Fatima, one that involved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and claims that he did not reveal all of the secret -- claims that set Fatima devotees abuzz and forced the former pope himself to deny the assertions.

But that neverending topic overshadowed what I think was a much more important assertion regarding the former pope, namely that he is not quite a former pope but continues to serve in an "expanded" Petrine ministry alongside the actual pope, Francis.

Those claims, and numerous others, were made in a speech at the Gregorian University by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Benedict's longtime aide and confidante and increasingly the man responsible for speaking on behalf of the emeritus pontiff and promoting his legacy and, it seems, his ongoing authority.

As I wrote in a piece for Religion News Service over the weekend (forgive the detailed Fatima framing, which can be dispensed with), Ganswein argued:

... [T]hat the papacy “remains the foundation of the Catholic Church” but he said “the papal ministry is not the same as before.”

Benedict, he explained, “left the papal throne and yet, with the step he took on February 11, 2013, he has not abandoned this [papal] ministry.”

Ganswein said quitting in that sense would have been “quite impossible after his irrevocable acceptance of the office in April 2005” when the conclave of cardinals elected Benedict pope. Ganswein went on to say that Benedict intentionally “built a personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, almost a communal ministry.”

Consequently, he said, there are “not two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry – with an active member and a contemplative member,” referring to Francis and Benedict. The emeritus pope “had taken only one step to the side to make room for his successor and a new stage in the history of the papacy.”

Gaswein went on to distance Benedict's action from that of the last pope to resign, Celestine V back in 1294, and he also defended Benedict's decision to keep his papal name and title and mode of address ("Your Holiness") and to live in the Vatican, as a successor of Peter must do, he argued.

Now there seem to be numerous problems with this thesis, some of which I, and others, pointed out ...

The Evil Empire is back!

No, this isn’t a fanboy post about the new “Star Wars” trailer – you can get the Catholic reax on that in this viral video. Instead, this is a confession of sorts, for failing to recognize a clear and present danger when I should have seen it.

I am referring to the blockbuster revelation that liberation theology was ALL A SOVIET PLOT! The revelation first emerged in a May 1st (May Day, International Workers Day – hello, clue phone!) interview by Catholic News Agency with Ion Mihai Pacepa, who served in Communist Romania’s secret police before defecting to the United States in 1978 (the year John Paul II was elected – Hmm…. Another clue? Or “Red” herring?).

Pacepa explains that liberation theology was in fact “born in the KGB, and it had a KGB-invented name: Liberation Theology.”

As the interviewer rightly says, “The birth of a new religious movement is a historic event. How was this new religious movement launched?”

Pacepa helpfully explains – though I had trouble following at points – that he learned about the program during a “vacation” that then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made to Romania, in part apparently because it is a “Latin” country and therefore could help export this new liberation theology to “Latin” America. (Of course I’d always thought it was the invention of German theologians, but whatever.)

Reform, and the Reform

The second anniversary of Pope Francis' election last Friday prompted a number of pundits to analyze what he's done and what's he's doing and what he might do -- perhaps the best "hot take" the interview given by @pontifex himself.

At Religion News Service, I made a couple of efforts myself, based on reporting in Rome last month.

Purgatory for Protestants

Why should Catholics have all the fun? I mean, Purgatory has been a source of consolation and trepidation, but also artistic inspiration, from Dante to Paulie Walnuts (full text of that great theologian's disquisition on Purgatory at the end of the post). 

Now a number of Protestant thinkers have been urging their co-religionists to take a second look at Purgatory, and I explore the trend -- plus the resistance -- in a story ahead of this weekend's memorial feasts.

An excerpt:

In medio stat virtus ...

Tobin Grant is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and our resident religion-and-data blogger at Religion News Service. He came up with this cool new graphic of the political positions of 44 religious communities and churches, or rather the positions of their members as based on a major Pew survey.

If you are looking for the circle that represents Catholics, check out that large one in the center. With precious few other groups around it. Yes, I say that with pride, because I tend to gravitate to the center (though we all like to flatter ourselves, I suspect, that we are the center even if we are on the fringe). But since the center is not holding these days, it's a point of pride, and perhaps virtue, that Catholics are standing there. And it seems to me to reflect a Catholic common good sensibility.

On the other hand, in politics the middle of the road is reserved for roadkill. And this bullseye doesn't really indicate the ugly polarization within the church. But still ...

What is Pope Francis up to?

If you read more than one piece on the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis' papacy (I'd also first recommend Paul Baumann's Slate essay) I might go self-referential and suggest a few stories that I reported from Rome that look ahead at where we may be going in this pontificate.

Reform gets real

The first big structural move by Francis comes, as expected, on the financial management side:

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Monday (Feb. 24) launched a sweeping reform of the Vatican’s scandal-plagued financial system by naming one of his closest advisers on reform, Australian Cardinal George Pell, to head a powerful new department that will oversee the entire management of the Holy See.

"You are not a royal court"

Picking up on a theme from Saturday's address to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis at Sunday's Mass in St. Peter's Basilica had some even stronger words for what many call the "princes of the church." Here is my story on the Mass, and some choice bits from the homily:

Not taking "Yes" for an answer?

The case of the Obama administration v. the Little Sisters of the Poor (the theatrical sound of it is almost worthy of a Nast cartoon) is one of the many, many court cases over the HHS contraception mandate -- some of which (specifically, the issue of for-profit companies with religious owners) will be sorted out this term by the Supreme Court.

Monsignor Quixote is dead

A well-intentioned reform by Pope Francis, perhaps. But I am deeply saddened that the plot point of one of my favorite novels has been swept aside. From Vatican Insider:

Pope abolishes honorary title of monsignor for diocesan priests under the age of 65