Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Jesuit Gets Jesuitical About The Jesuit Pope

Pope Francis prostrate before the altar in St Peter's Basilica during Good Friday services.  I would hope the red satin pillow with gold trim and tassels would pass Traditionalist inspection.

I have to admit to being somewhat bemused by the reaction of Traditionalists to Pope Francis washing the feet of two teenage girls on Thursday. I guess I didn't know it, but this somehow proves the sky really is falling.  And then Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi explains in his own inimical way that the sky is only falling in one small part of Rome.  The following excerpt is taken from an article on Vatican Insider.

......Speaking to Associated Press, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained that “in a "grand solemn celebration" of the rite, it would make sense to only involve men because during the Last Supper, Christ washed the feet of the 12 apostles, all of whom were male. But in the case of Casal del Marmo “the rite was for a small, unique community made up also of women. It was a specific situation in which excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all in a group that certainly didn't include refined experts in liturgical rules."

That's quite the explanation.  Especially in view of the fact the original foot washing was also done for a 'small, unique community made up also of women."  I wonder why Fr Lombardi can see that leaving out women was 'inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love' in this particular case of Pope Francis and Casal de Marmo, but think it perfectly fine to assume they were excluded in the first case conducted by Jesus Himself,  and then extend that assumption to justify the exclusion of women 'in a grand solemn celebration' of the rite.  Trouble with Jesuitical explanations is they only work if one accepts the underlying assumptions as holding truth.  In any event, I doubt his Jesuitical explanation is going to sooth the troubled souls of traditional Catholics.

Over on his blog Bilgrimage, Bill Lyndsey has a couple of really fine posts on this brouha.  I found a comment by Prickliest Pear to hold perhaps a key to the angst of the Trads.  Here's the pertinent part of his comment: 

So why do the traditionalists get it so wrong?
Their thinking begins and ends with the priesthood, not with the foot-washing ritual. Their vision of the cultic priesthood as an exclusive channel through which they receive the grace of God has to be kept in mind. It is what they believe the Church is most centrally about. If they read scripture in connection with this ritual, it is to find support for their particular understanding of the priesthood.
They believe that the stories of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels show where Jesus instituted the Catholic priesthood--this is reading a LOT into the text that isn't there, but when you're desperate enough to see something, sometimes you'll see it.
But what about John? The Gospel of John lacks that all-important institution-of-the-priesthood scene. The scene with the foot-washing is in it's place, and so, their thinking goes, it must be connected to the priesthood, too. It doesn't say that anywhere in the text, but they're not interested in the original meaning of the ritual, they're interested in how they can interpret it to support for their understanding of the priesthood.
And of course this requires them to misinterpret it, because that wasn't what it was about at all. (As an aside, Trads don't seem to be too interested in the fact the Gospel of John doesn't support a priesthood at all.)

 I like Prickliest Pear's comment because it crystallized a thought I had running in my head I just couldn't grab onto but knew I neither liked nor agreed with whatever this thought implied. And that thought is that so much of what Pope Benedict did symbolically seemed to say "The All Male Celibate Priesthood is Catholicism".  Everything Catholic revolves around this version of the priesthood and if Catholics don't like it they can leave.  If there aren't enough of these special cultic priests it's the fault of faithless Catholics who should just leave so that the purest believers in this Catholic priesthood can pray up more priests without all the static from the faithless.  Catholicism is about the priesthood not Jesus, but just in case some people might think Catholicism really is about Jesus, we were told the priesthood really functioned 'in persona Christi'.  Our cultic priests actually became a version of Jesus Christ when it was sacramentally necessary. Of course in order for that to happen without recourse to the actual holiness of any priest or the way he actually lived the Way, the words and rubrics of any ritual had to be done just right and without any creative deviation.  Should such things occur, as Pope Francis has been engaging in, why all things Catholic are called into serious question---meaning Francis is profaning the all important rubrics and words and nullifying the clerical magic which is Catholicism.

No, the real 'magic' is not in the words or rubrics.  It's in the Resurrection, an event that transcends the sorrows and trials of material reality, brings an efficacious Spiritual reality into matter, makes new all things, and justifies any faith we have in any version of Catholicism.  

Happy Easter to all my readers.  May this Easter bring joy to all of you because Easter truly is the Good News. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

AB Oscar Romero: An Omen Of Change For Reform In Catholicism?

AB Romero is the third from the left.  This is the gallery of 20th Century martyrs on the facade of Westminster Abbey.  Mother Elizabeth of Russia is on the far left, followed by Martin Luther King, Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The following is an article  about Archbishop Romero written by Fr. John Dear for the NCR on March 16, 2010.  I reprint it virtually in total because I know Fr. John would not be upset.  I've met him and there is no doubt in my mind that he's the real deal himself ---and the issue is to spread the word, not own it.

I think Pope Francis understands that Catholicism does not own the word with the right to sell it like some trademarked product.  He will spread it, even the really hard parts about the preferential option for the poor.  This is why I have some hope that AB Oscar Romero will take his place in the pantheon of Catholic saints, as he has already been honored by the Anglicans.

"I have often been threatened with death," Archbishop Oscar Romero told a Guatemalan reporter two weeks before his assassination, 30 years ago on March 24, 1980. "If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality."
Oscar Romero gave his life in the hope that peace and justice would one day become a reality. He lives on now in all those who carry on the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace. A beautiful new photo book and biography, Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints, by Scott Wright, shows us what a holy life he lived, and just how much he gave.

Romero spent his years up until 1977 as a typical quiet, pious, conservative cleric. Indeed, as bishop, he sided with the greedy landlords, important power brokers, and violent death squads. When he became archbishop, the Jesuits at the Univeristy of Central America in San Salvador were crushed. They immediately wrote him off -- all but one, Rutilio Grande, who reached out to Romero in the weeks after his installation and urged him to learn from the poor and speak on their behalf.

Grande himself was a giant for social justice. He organized the rural poor in Aguilares, and paid for it with his life on March 12, 1977. Standing over Grande's dead body that night, Romero was transformed into one of the world's great champions for the poor and oppressed. From then on, he stood with the poor, and denounced every act of violence, injustice and war. He became a fiery prophet of justice and peace, "the voice of the voiceless," and in Jon Sobrino's words, "a new Jeremiah." For me, Romero was a stunning sign of God's active presence in the world, a living symbol of the struggle for justice and what the church could be.

The day after Grande's death, Romero preached a sermon that stunned El Salvador. With the force of Martin Luther King, Jr., Romero defended Grande, demanded social and economic justice for the poor, and called everyone to take up Grande's prophetic work. To protest the government's participation in the murders, Romero closed the parish school for three days and cancelled all Masses in the country the following week, except for one special Mass in the cathedral.

That act alone would have put Romero in the annals of history. Imagine if every Mass in the United States but one had been canceled in protest after the death of Dr. King! Over a hundred thousand people attended the cathedral Mass that Sunday and heard Romero's bold call for justice, disarmament and peace. Grande's life and death bore good fruit in the heart and soul of Romero. Suddenly, the nation had a towering figure in its midst.

Within months, priests, catechists and church workers were regularly targeted and assassinated, so Romero spoke out even more forcefully. He even criticized the president, which no Salvadoran bishop had ever done before, and few in the hemisphere ever did. As the U.S.-backed government death squads attacked villages and churches and massacred campesinos, Romero's truth-telling became a veritable subversive campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Soon Romero was greeted with applause everywhere he went. Thousands wrote to him regularly, telling their stories, thanking him for his prophetic voice and sharing their new found courage. His Sunday homilies were broadcast nationwide on live radio. The country came to a standstill as he spoke. Everyone listened, even the death squads.

As Romero's stature grew and his leadership for justice and peace deepened, his simple faith and pious devotion remained steady, and gave him a foundation from which he could take on the forces of death. To protest the government's silence in the face of recent massacres, he refused to attend the inauguration of the new Salvadoran president. The church, he announced, is "not to be measured by the government's support but rather by its own authenticity, its evangelical spirit of prayer, trust, sincerity and justice, its opposition to abuses." While he embodied the prophetic role of the church, he also modeled that spirit of prayer, trust and sincerity in his everyday life.

As the arrests, torture, disappearances and murders continued, Romero made two radical decisions that were unprecedented. First, on Easter Monday 1978, he opened the seminary in downtown San Salvador to welcome any and all displaced victims of violence. Hundreds of homeless, hungry and brutalized people moved into the seminary, transforming the quiet religious retreat into a crowded, noisy shelter, make-shift hospital, and playground. (Pope Francis, as the Jesuit provincial of Argentina also opened his seminary for the displaced of Argentina's 'dirty war'.)

Next, he halted construction on the new cathedral in San Salvador. When the war is over, the hungry are fed, and the children are educated, then we can resume building our cathedral, he said. Both historic moves stunned the other bishops, cast judgment on the Salvadoran government, and lifted the peoples' spirits.

Meanwhile, Romero's preaching reached biblical heights. "Like a voice crying in the desert," he said, "we must continually say No to violence and Yes to peace." His August 1978 pastoral letter outlined the evils of "institutional violence" and repression, and advocated "the power of nonviolence that today has conspicuous students and followers." He wrote: "The counsel of the Gospel to turn the other cheek to an unjust aggressor, far from being passive or cowardly, shows great moral force that leaves the aggressor morally overcome and humiliated. The Christian always prefers peace to war."

Romero lived in a sparse, three-room hermitage on the grounds of a hospital run by a community of nuns. During his busy days, he traveled the country, met with hundreds of poor Salvadorans, presided at Mass, and met with local community leaders. He assisted everyone he could. Later, he said that one of his primary duties as archbishop had become not just challenging the U.S.-backed government and its death squads, but claiming the dead bodies of their victims, including priests, nuns and catechists.

On one of my visits, a Salvadoran told me how Romero would drive out to city garbage dumps to look among the trash for the discarded, tortured victims of the death squads on behalf of grieving relatives. "These days I walk the roads gathering up dead friends, listening to widows and orphans, and trying to spread hope," he said.

In particular, Romero took time every day to speak with dozens of people threatened by government death squads. People lined up at his office to ask for help and protection, to complain about harassment and death threats, and to find some support and guidance in their time of grief and struggle. Romero received and listened to everyone. His compassionate ear fueled his prophetic voice.

By late 1979 and early 1980, his Sunday sermons issued his strongest calls yet for conversion to justice and an end to the massacres. "To those who bear in their hands or in their conscience, the burden of bloodshed, of outrages, of the victimized, innocent or guilty, but still victimized in their human dignity, I say: Be converted. You cannot find God on the path of torture. God is found on the way of justice, conversion and truth."

When President Jimmy Carter announced in February 1980 that he was going to increase U.S. military aid to El Salvador by millions of dollars a day, Romero was shocked. He wrote a long public letter to Carter, asking the United States to cancel all military aid. Carter ignored Romero's plea, and sent the aid. (Between 1980 and 1992, the U.S. spent $6 billion to kill 75,000 poor Salvadorans.)

In the weeks afterwards, the killings increased. So did the death threats against Romero. He made a private retreat, prepared for his death, discovered an even deeper peace, and mounted the pulpit. During his March 23, 1980, Sunday sermon, Romero let loose and issued one of the greatest appeals for peace and disarmament in church history:
"I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, to the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination. We want the government to take seriously that reforms are worth nothing when they come about stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!"
The next day, March 24, 1980, Romero presided over a small evening Mass in the chapel of the hospital compound where he lived, in honor of a beloved woman who had died a year before. He read from John's Gospel: "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit "(12:23-26). Then he preached about the need to give our lives for others as Christ did. Just as he concluded, he was shot in the heart by a man standing in the back of the church. He fell behind the altar and collapsed at the foot of a huge crucifix depicting a bloody and bruised Christ. Romero's vestments, and the floor around him, were covered in blood. He gasped for breath and died in minutes.

I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news -- in my fraternity room at Duke University. I had just turned on the TV to watch the evening news. Only the month before, I had decided to apply to the Jesuits, to try to spend my life following Jesus. The shocking report of the death of this brave archbishop stunned me, inspired me and encouraged me to go through with my decision. Later that night, a peace vigil and prayer service was held on campus. My friend Paul Farmer, living next door to me, marks his conversion from that event. (Farmer would become a doctor and teacher at Harvard University and founder of Partners In Health, an international health and social justice organization.) Both of us were touched and changed by Romero's gift.

Romero's funeral became the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America. The government was so afraid of the grieving people that they threw bombs into the crowd and opened fire, killing some 30 people and injuring hundreds more. The Mass of Resurrection was never completed and Romero was hastily buried.

Just recently, I learned from one of his biographies that Pope John Paul II had decided to remove Romero as Archbishop of San Salvador. In fact, he signed the removal order on the morning of March 24. In some ways, I'm grateful that Romero never lived to hear that dreadful news. His martyrdom became a spiritual explosion that continues to transform the church and the world.

Today, we remember Oscar Romero as a saint and a martyr, as a champion of the poor and prophet of justice. He calls us to live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, to think with them, feel with them, walk with them, listen to them, serve them, stand with them, become one with them, and even die with them. In that preferential solidarity, he summons us to carry on his prophetic pursuit of justice and disarmament......


I have always found it beyond coincidence that Pope John Paul II signed the order removing AB Romero from his position in El Salvador on the very day Romero was assassinated. Even if one assumes JPII did this to protect AB Romero from assassination, one still has to wonder why JPII left Romero hanging, and the Jesuits who were assassinated before Romero, and the thousands of campesinos who died through out Central and South America.  For a Pope who was so vocal about the excesses of Communism, he was strangely silent about the excesses of military fascism in Latin America.

Pope Francis lived through these times and experienced first hand what the 'preferential option for the poor' really means and what the consequences can be.  He does not have a European understanding of these issues.  He is much more like AB Romero than he is the European curial cardinals he is being tasked with reforming.  He will not see reforming the curia as an exercise in efficient corporate management.  He has plenty of experience with how a curial response operating from a geo political agenda exacerbated life for the poor in Latin America.  He will not see clergy and laity as pawns to be sacrificed in these kinds of games.  I will continue to pray that he himself does not become a similar sacrifice.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Two Popes With Two Styles That Symbolize Real Differences

The differences between these two popes go way beyond pectoral crosses and shoe color--no matter how the 'professional' Catholics try to spin these differences as really continuity.

There is an interesting phenomenon coming out right now from the 'Vaticanista's, those Vatican reporters who are acclaimed for their insight into all things papal and Vatican.  This morning two of them, John Allen and Andreas Tornielli have very similar posts describing the continuity between the young papacy of Francis and that of  his predecessor Benedict. I don't remember that a similar apologetics was mounted about the differences between Benedict and JPII.  That could be because the Ratzinger papacy was purposely intended to be an extension of the JPII papacy and there was very little difference in substance and truthfully only surface differences in style between the last years of the JPII papacy and the entirety of the Benedict papacy.

The following is an excerpt from the Andreas Tornielli article at Vatican Insider and these links, here and here,  take you to two articles from John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter.

.....The real continuity between Benedict XVI and Francis is seen in the many gestures, hints and points of focus that have emerged in these first days of Francis’ pontificate: The day after Francis’ election, Benedict XVI said that “the Pope makes Christ’s light - not his own - shine wherever he goes. In a meeting with journalists Francis stressed that the “protagonist” is Christ, not the Pope.

Their sensitivity for the protection of creation – which humans are at the top of – and the environment is something the two popes have in common. Then there are their thoughts on careerism and “spiritual worldliness” in the Church: anyone who has listened to one of Ratzinger’s deep homilies on these issues cannot deny there is continuity between his ideas and Francis’. Only those who are not familiar with his writings on the liturgy could be led to think that they gave importance to superficial aspects. In as far as the discontinuity between Ratzinger and Bergoglio is concerned; we need to ask ourselves to what extent Benedict XVI’s collaborators helped him deliver his core message. Just as Paul VI should be rescued from certain “Montinians” who consider themselves to be the only ones authorised to keep his memory alive through their own vision of his papacy, so Benedict XVI should be salvaged from certain “Ratzingerians” who have tried on more than one occasion to teach him how to be Pope.


Allen and Tornielli can do their best to make Catholics believe there is no real difference between the papacies in substance, but no amount of spin can do the same for the differences in style.  Unfortunately for these Vaticanista, the differences in style point to real differences in substance.

Pope Benedict 'ruled' as a self styled 'benevolent dictator', not dissimilar to how he 'ruled' in his classroom.  At times he appeared to give out grades.  The LCWR, amongst others, garnered an "F".  Priests like Fr Roy Bourgeios were expelled, bishops like Australia's William Morris lost their tenure.  Benedict's was an autocratic authoritarian style somewhat different from JPII, but just as authoritarian.  For Pope Benedict the truth in Catholicism, as he taught and understood that truth, trumped living the Way as actually taught by Jesus.  The long Tradition of Catholicism and it's two thousand year history of interpreting the Way held more authority in Benedict's teachings. This was born out in his Liturgical preferences.  Upon his elevation to the papacy Benedict advocated and modeled an ostentatious liturgical style designed to emphasize the Church Triumphant over and above the lowly people of God--and by extension, the power and authority of the clerical priesthood. The fact Jesus has multiple attributions in the Gospels directly against this kind of worship and priestly authority had no bearing what so ever at all on how Pope Benedict enacted liturgy.  It was Tradition.

In contrast, JPII had such a force of personality he didn't need the liturgical trappings to make the same point.  This attitude of his is born out in Ordinatio Sarcedotalis, whose driving rationale for the permanent exclusion of women from ordination is not derived from the Gospels, but from the sheer authority of the papacy, and his his own papacy in particular.  While Pope Benedict never used his own authority as pope for any similar definitive statement, he had no problem citing his predecessor as the authority for maintaining similar stances. JPII provided a lot of footnotes for Benedict's professorial approach.  For an academic there is safety and authority in footnotes. Truth and fact are another matter.

Pope Francis is not cut from the same cloth as his two predecessors.  He is not an authoritative autocrat or a theologian heading the ultimate theology department.  He is not a professor with a billion students, over half of which are flunking out.  He is a student himself, and a student of the Way of Jesus as Jesus' way is recorded in the Gospels. This is a radical change in approach from his two predecessors and implies real differences in substance. Francis is a pilgrim pope leading/following a pilgrim church.  No matter of spin and apologetics can change this fact. 

I do wonder how much of this sudden need to scramble for continuity between the two very disparate papal styles is being orchestrated by the Vatican, or worse yet, how much of it is due to these supposed 'experts' finally getting a clue as to the amount of harm that the last two papacies have done to the Church in the West and Latin America.  I kind of suspect it's a combination of both and yet another indication of how 'simple' the powers that be think the laity actually is.  The laity is not simple. It's concerns just haven't been heard.  Pope Francis offers real hope those concerns will at least be heard.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pope Francis sizes up things from the back row.  This is a powerful photo and one I never thought I would see, conditioned as I was by decades of seeing something totally different when it came to the Papacy.     

David Gibson has a thought provoking analysis posted at Religion News Service and cross posted at the National Catholic Reporter.  His essential thesis is that both the far right and far left have reasons to be wary of Pope Francis.  I actually think the dead center does as well, but first Gibson's thinking:


ANALYSIS: How long will the pope’s honeymoon last?

David Gibson - Religion News Service - 3/22/2013
(RNS) Since the moment of his election on March 13, Pope Francis has been warmly embraced by his own flock and even the media and the wider public in a way his bookish predecessor, Benedict XVI, was not.
Polls show that anywhere from 73 percent to 88 percent of American Catholics say they are happy with the selection of Francis, as opposed to about 60 percent who were happy with the choice of Benedict — and many of those are extremely pleased with the new pope.

Such an effusive welcome is especially good news for Catholic leaders who spent years fending off criticism of Vatican dysfunction under Benedict and a cloud of scandal and crisis at home. And the hot start for Francis is also crucial in building up a reservoir of good will that will be needed when the new pope refuses to bend on unpopular teachings or commits a gaffe of his own.

Yet even as the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio basks in this broad approval as Pope Francis, some constituencies in the Catholic Church are cautious or even angry at his election, and their concern has only grown in the early days of his pontificate.

‘Something is profoundly wrong’

Chief among the critics are the liturgical traditionalists who reveled in Benedict’s exaltation of old-fashioned ways, and are now watching in horror as Francis rejects the extravagant vestments and high-church rituals that were in en vogue for the past eight years.

“Of all the unthinkable candidates, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is perhaps the worst,” an Argentine Catholic wrote in a post at Rorate Caeli, a blog for aficionados of the old Latin Mass rites. “It really cannot be what Benedict wanted for the Church.”

“Something is profoundly wrong when the winds of change can blow so swiftly through an immutable institution of God’s own making,” agreed Patrick Archbold at Creative Minority Report, another conservative site. (I've noticed this one popping frequently from conservative Catholics.  It's part and parcel of the monarchical papacy. Change can happen very quickly when one man holds all authority.  Perhaps the conservative wing will spend some time reflecting on why this autocratic form for the papacy was such an issue for progressives.)

Given that traditionalists are some of the most devoted and vocal Catholics in the church, and that they retain both contacts and influence in the upper ranks of the hierarchy, their pessimism could spell trouble for Francis. (On the other hand, Francis has not guaranteed any of these holders of upper ranks their current positions, so they could lose their influence.)

‘A Pope Francis problem’

The same could be said of politically conservative Catholics, especially those from the U.S. who have enjoyed access and approval in Rome for decades, under both Benedict and the late John Paul II.
Their concerns, while expressed in more muted tones, are tied to a number of markers: Francis is a Jesuit, for one thing, and even though he is considered a relatively conservative member of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits are considered notorious by the Catholic right.

Their list of alleged faults is long – they advocate engagement with the world, they have shown a willingness to criticize the hierarchy, and they have embraced a radical commitment to the poor. That last one is a priority for Francis as he sharply critiqued unfettered capitalism and austerity politics, even taking on the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the poor.

Indeed, the new pope “would likely be considered too liberal for a prime time speaking slot at the 2016 (Democratic) convention,” Charles Camosy, a theologian at Fordham University in New York, wrote in a Washington Post column titled, “Republicans have a Pope Francis problem.”
St. Francis is also an icon of environmentalism, which the new pope has similarly embraced. That discomfits some conservatives – as does praise for Francis from liberation theologians like Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino. Rumors are already afoot that Francis might beatify slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed by a right-wing death squad for speaking out against injustice.

Not only that, but Francis allowed Vice President Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats who support abortion rights, to receive Communion at his installation Mass.
Moreover, while Francis is as orthodox as Benedict on the church’s doctrines of sexual ethics, he has shown what is to some a disconcerting willingness to seek pragmatic solutions to difficult issues, such as when he supported civil unions for gay couples in Argentina in an unsuccessful bid to thwart a gay marriage law.

Skepticism on the left

On the other side of the spectrum, however, some left-wing Catholics are leery of Francis, or openly criticize him for what they see as his antagonism to gay rights. They also question his track record on sex abuse by clergy and his disputed role during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s, when some say he was not sufficiently vocal in speaking out against the military junta.

“The election of a doctrinally conservative pope, even one with the winning simplicity of his namesake, is especially dangerous in today’s media-saturated world where image too often trumps substance,” the feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt wrote at Religion Dispatches.

“A kinder, gentler pope who puts the weight of the Roman Catholic hierarchical church behind efforts to prevent divorce, abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage – as Mr. Bergoglio did in his country – is … scary,” Hunt said. (It would depend on how he put that weight behind these issues as to how scary he might be.  It's one thing to be a Cardinal of one major city, it's another to be the Pope of a global Church.  Even Pope Benedict toned down some of his previous bark and bite once he donned the white cassock.)

By contrast, mainstream Catholics, and Catholic Democrats in particular, have welcomed Francis’ election not only because of his appealing common touch but also because his statements on behalf of the poor may hold out a chance for leveling the playing field in the church’s internal culture wars.

The new pope’s words about fighting economic exploitation and “being a poor church, for the poor” are so insistent that they could put the church’s social justice teachings back on par with its doctrines on abortion and sexual ethics, which have been so prominent for so long that some complain they outweigh any other tenets.

Still, even Catholic progressives could wind up disappointed as Francis begins to unveil his appointments and policies, just as traditionalists and conservatives could be cheered or at least reassured that all is not lost.
As the Rev. James Keenan, a Boston College theologian, says, the Jesuits have an unwritten rule that a new superior should spend the first hundred days of his office learning about the community before making any changes. That means the critics need to make their voices heard now, because the clock is ticking.


I'm not sure anyone is going to be totally comfortable with Pope Francis when all is said and done.  A lot will depend on how seriously one takes the idea of Jesus as having modeled a Way of living His core message.  In a real sense Pope Francis will be attempting to model that Way from exactly the kind of position of power and authority Jesus never accepted for Himself, and in fact outright refused.  In this sense Pope Francis is in unchartered waters. He's essentially asking WWJD about the kind of power position Jesus never countenanced as compatible with His Way.  It's the kind of thing which would take a really strong mystical connection coupled with a really strong belief in that connection and the ability to balance the ego self between two different views of ultimate reality.

Pope Francis has stated real power comes from service.  That's an interesting statement on a number of levels.  He did not say that real power comes from sacramental ordination or sacramental reception.  Just as he did not say real power comes from wealth or position.  He said it came from service to others.  This statement doesn't preclude the other kinds of power, but it does re prioritize them.  It places service to others as the act which both unifies and transcends other kinds of power, including clerical sacramental power.  It maybe this prioritization that is going to give the conservatives the most hissy fits, especially our cadre of JPII priests who have been enculturated in a very different view of priestly prioritization. 

But for the left, Francis's insistence on seeing the poor in an individual face to face kind of context is also going to be somewhat hard to swallow.  Pope Francis is espousing a concept of placing the poor first in a way that doesn't prioritize massive governmental subsistence programs.  These large programs sink to a level of service in which all poor people are treated in exactly the same manner, when in reality poor people become poor people in many different ways, and dealing with these many different way is going to take a much more nuanced set of solutions than just throwing money at the problem. It's going to take listening and then creating individual programs which help alleviate the myriad of individual pathways to poverty.

Two of those ways are going to give the middle class Catholic a hard dose of reality while sending the 1% into apoplexy: wealth redistribution and down scaling one's life style.  For Francis' curia these two prongs will be modified and mean redistribution of authoritative power and seriously down scaling clerical privilege. Hence, I believe that Francis' consistent modeling of power as service to others, a Christian truth Jesus showed by placing the power of  His divinity at the service of the poor,  is going to give ample reasons for all Catholics to wonder 'Who is this man and how did he become pope?'

One last thought, Pope Francis is a mystic and has had real mystical experiences, the first of which came as a young man and propelled his vocation to the Jesuits. When one has these kinds of mind expanding experiences, one isn't easily diverted from the message of the visions.  These occurrences really do change how you relate to the world, and for that matter, how you understand it's foundational realityThey are also colored and filtered through one's culture and religious training, so prophets come from a given culture with messages for a given culture and because they speak the language of that culture and use the symbols of that culture they are frequently rejected by that culture.  But even more than all that, mystical experiences can separate you from other people precisely because of their life changing aspects, or maybe it's not so much that one is separated from, but one taken outside the accepted boundaries of one's initial cultural upbringing. It does not shock me in the least, that Pope Francis has been something of a loner with in the Jesuits and within the hierarchy.  My prediction is that Francis will seek out others who have a mystical bent for some of his major appointments.  They would be most likely to understand his vision and why he does the things he does.  In the meantime, like everyone else, I wait for the hundred days to finish, and apparently so does Pope Francis, and sometimes he does it like me,  from the very back pew.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pope Francis And A New Attitude About Some Neglected Martyrs

Archbishop Oscar Romero and other martyrs from the various Latin American dirty wars may finally have their day in the sun under Pope Francis.  Social justice martyrs are still martyrs.

I found a very intriguing article on Vatican Insider. There are South Americans who think Pope Francis will Canonize some of the martyrs of the 'dirty wars'. It seems that might include those who were actual supporters of liberation theology. That would be something of a 180 turn from the attitudes of his predecessors, both of whom let Archbishop Romero's cause for Sainthood stagnate for two decades.

Argentinean dictatorship victim could be first figure to be beatified by Pope Francis

Carlos Murias espoused Liberation Theology

Paolo Mastrolilli - Buenos Aires - Vatican Insider - 319/2013 Francis’ first saint will be a martyr of Argentina’s military dictatorship, if the wish he expressed before he became Pope is respected. Carlos de Dios Murias, a young Franciscan friar who was tortured and brutally murdered by a military death squad in the province of La Rioja, in 1976.

“Bergoglio himself signed Murias’ canonisation cause in May 2011. He did so with discretion, so as to prevent other Argentine bishops “who are still opposed to initiatives based on priests’ social commitment” from stopping the canonization.

Carlos Murias was born in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1945. When he finished his studies, Carlos entered the Seminary and shortly afterwards, was ordained priest by Enrique Angelelli, a militant bishop of the northern Argentinean province of La Rioja. Angelelli was famous for the pastoral work he was engaged in, trying to help the campesinos. The situation in this province was an accurate portrait of the instability that had struck the whole country: power was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy families, with a mass of workers reduced to near slavery. Murias was sent to found a Franciscan community together with the Frenchman, Gabriel Longueville, when the military coup was launched. The priest started receiving warnings and calls to report to the local military base, where soldiers explained to him that “yours is not a church we believe in.” But Murias continued and on 18 July 1976 he was kidnapped along with Longueville. He was shut inside the El Chamical air base and two days later he was found lying in the middle of a field dead, with his eyes gouged out and his hands cut off. (It is yet to be seen how many Catholics will find a very similar approach from Pope Francis 'a church they can believe in.')

During Murias’ funeral mass, Angelelli said: “They struck where they knew it would hurt the most. I ordained Carlos myself and I put him in danger.” Two weeks later, Mgr. Angelelli was on his way to La Rioja, when a Peugeot 404 drove his car off the road. The police recorded the incident as an accident but only now is the magistrate considering the possibility of murder.

Bergoglio’s involvement was the bit about which the least was known. But his role has finally come to light thanks to a statement issued by Fr. Miguel La Civita, a close collaborator of Angelelli’s: “I met him when we were students.  A few days after the assassinations took place, he took our Seminarists and hid them in the Jesuit Collegium Maximum he headed. These are not just stories I heard somewhere: I actually experienced these events in person. And let me make one thing clear: I was the archetypal third world priest, as they were called back then: liberation theology. The College used spiritual retreats to help the persecuted: it gave them a place to hide, had false documents made and helped them flee abroad. Bergoglio was adamant the military would never muster up the courage to invade the College.”(This is very reminiscent of Angelo Roncalli's actions during WWII.  The man we now know as Pope John XXIII.)
Alicia Oliveira, the famous magistrate who was persecuted by the military and went on to become a human rights activist also confirmed this: “Bergoglio also offered to hide me in the Seminary: I told him I’d rather be arrested by the military than live with priests. He laughed and said I was silly: in hindsight I can see he was right.”
The fact of the matter is that the minute the Diocese of La Rioja started the canonization process, the cardinal signed straight away. “Bergoglio signed and advised discretion: a lot of Argentinean bishops, especially those of a certain age, oppose initiatives based on priests’ social commitment. Thanks to his prudence, the process was able to continue: all testimonies have been gathered and we are not preparing the position. Now Bergoglio is Pope. God’s will performs miracles: it would be so moving if Carlos was the first figure to be beatified by Francis.”  


There is  also considerable speculation that Pope Francis will reenergize the largely dormant case for the Canonization of AB Oscar Romero.  Here's a quote from Salvadoran priest Msgr Jesus Delgado from an NCR article on Romero: 

Msgr. Jesus Delgado also told reporters that in 2007 he spoke with Bergoglio, who told him that if he were the pope, the beatification and canonization of the slain archbishop would the first thing he would pursue.
In another meeting in 2010, Delgado said Bergoglio recalled what he said about Romero in 2007, but said the problem was that he would never become pope.

Cardinal Bergoglio's pope problem has apparently been solved and I could make a pretty good case the solution to that problem might qualify as AB Romero's first miracle.  Unlike Fr Murias, AB Romero was not known for liberation theology per se. Romero came to his social justice credentials later, after he was made Archbishop of San Salvador.  In Romero's day, social justice was not synonymous with liberation theology.  That came later, when JPII suddenly found liberation theology a threat based in Marxist/communist ideology.  Some of us think that sudden need to eliminate liberation theology was helped along by the machinations of the American CIA and National Security strategists employed during the Reagan administration.  By the time GW Bush was in the White House and Pope Benedict in the Apostolic Palace, social justice was a notion about as welcome as lice in  the official voice of US Catholicism.  This was further born out by the attack on the LCWR instigated by right wing American Cardinals.  In any event, the Nuns on the Bus now have a Pope who would rather ride on a bus.  That's got to be at least one source of commonality.

The other aspect which is interesting in the above article is the statements from Fr Miguel La Civita and Alicia Oliveira that Pope Francis, when he was the Jesuit provincial for Argentina,  offered both of them a place to hide and passports and visas out of the country.  I find this very believable in that many Catholic prelates and religious were well known to have engaged in the same kind of subversive behaviors during WWII.  I think this example gives some real insight into how Pope Francis will engage in reform.  It will not be in open confrontation but in more subversive or stealthy kinds of activities. And of course he will also reform things by personal example which can be the most subversive of all acts for a Pope whose curia is used to doing things in quite a different way.  

I suspect what Pope Francis really hopes is that the change in approach becomes a true personal conversion and not just a 'please the new pope' strategy.  Should his personal humility, pastoral touch, and understanding of power through service produce enough conversions that would result in an entirely different clerical culture whose priorities would be very different than they seem to be now.  This process may be the only way the Francis can promote the kind of reform that isn't undercut by his successor because it wouldn't be a matter of surface compliance to the lastest pope in the castle, but a real conversion expressed through committed personal consciences. 

I kind of think the longer Pope Francis is on the job it will become more and more evident that for all their vaunted reforming the reform and stacking of the ecclesial deck with yes men, Popes Benedict and JPII did not inculcate conversions, they coerced obedience from men they terrified into silence and assent.  It's surely going to be interesting to witness what happens in the future.  There may be more than one seeming miracle in that future.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Election Of Pope Francis Opens The Door On Another Sordid Vatican Story

The election of Pope Francis has opened the door on the collusion of Catholic leadership with right wing dictatorships in Latin America.  It's a conveyor belt type story which has already over taken the Vatican press office, who look about as competent as Lucy and Ethel in the Chocolate factory.

"The Great Spirit, she does have her coyote face".  So said a Native American to me once at a ceremony.  The implication was that what seems on the surface a good thing sometimes leads to lessons and wisdom you never imagined.  Sometimes it brings with it more light on more things than a person really wants exposed. Sometimes a person is more or less forced to go well beyond what they originally intended.  Sometimes when the Spirit opens a door, instead of a tiled hallway there is a very fast moving conveyor belt that has no side stops.  I think in the election of Cardinal Bergogolio as Pope Francis, the Spirit has once again opened a door on to one of those fast moving, one direction only, conveyor belts. 

The behavior of the Roman Catholic Church in South America during the 70's and 80's is much more than a story of what the then Argentinian Jesuit Provincial and current Pope Francis may or may not have done.  It's way beyond that.  It's about a systematic implementation of a CIA strategy designed to keep American global corporate interests ascendant and the organized opposition to that ascendancy in check. In this geo political game, Pope Francis was a bit player, a loyal Jesuit soldier under the command of his clerical superiors in Argentina and Rome.  He isn't any longer.  He is on the throne, no longer a mostly disengaged member of the College of Cardinals and that fact has opened the door to that very fast moving conveyor belt.  The Vatican press office can try to stop that conveyor belt with denials, denunciations, and self righteous anger, but it isn't going to work any better now than the same strategy did at the beginning of the clerical abuse crisis.  For all the Vatican's efforts at minimizing that crisis and stopping the conveyor belt behind that door, the belt is still running. The Church can not get off it and the exit has not been reached.  

Pope Francis is faced with his first serious crisis and that crisis exists precisely because the Spirit influenced the Cardinal electors to choose a man from Argentina who was, minimally or not, entangled with the very same military junta who provided the training, along with the US School of the Americas,  for the Contras in Nicuragua.  The Contras were trained by the same SOA who also trained those who gunned down El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as well as six of Francis' fellow Jesuits,  and who were funded by CIA money filtered through the Vatican of JPII.  That very Vatican whose CDF was headed by one Joseph Ratzinger who was tasked with silencing liberation theology, and whose diplomatic corps, under one Angelo Sodano,  worked hand in glove with western intelligence agencies to promote agendas having exactly nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ.  My guess is if we want to know what the connection was between Ratzinger and Sodano we need not look much further than the Vatican's clandestine actions in South and Central America.

Pope Francis will not get off this conveyor belt until there is utter transparency concerning the Church's involvement with the CIA and other Latin right wing interests during this time frame.  It isn't just a matter of purging the Vatican of financial and sexual corruption.  It is a matter of purging the Vatican of the geo political games that fuel so much of that corruption.  Roman Catholicism can not go forward until it is purged of the arrogance of the curia and the bizarre thinking that Jesus wanted a Church for the political domination of the poor.  Francis can not establish a poor Church for the poor as long as clergy keep diplomatic secrets, because those secrets give others the leverage to manipulate both the Church and his papacy.

Pope Francis needs to open all the secret doors and windows and files and archives so that the Church can finally function in the light and not in shadows.  He himself needs to understand he is no longer shackled by the personal vows of silence and obedience, vows which must have come close to choking him on his own priestly collar.  We can not talk about a reformed Church while being continually dragged down by the worst secrets of the unreformed.  Confess the secrets, trust in the mercy of God, and sin no more.  Isn't that how the mantra goes? 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis: A Vatican Lightning Strike? A Curial Earthquake? Or Just Plain Priest?

Pope Francis as a simple priest in simple vestments in a real parish church.  What?  No St Peters' Basilica? No fiddle back vestments from Gammarelli? No Gregorian Chant? No condemnations?

This morning in Rome Pope Francis said Mass for the small Vatican City congregation at the Church of Santa Anna.  There have been no reports of wealthy Latin American Catholics greasing the hand of his Personal Secretary with $50,000 'donations' to attend this Mass.  OK he still hasn't appointed a personal secretary so accepting 'donations' of this sort would be premature, except that I highly doubt such a thing will ever happen.  What is sort of mind boggling is Francis actually said a Mass in a real parish and not in the privacy of his personal quarters or the theatrical stage of St Peter's basilica. I might actually be having a moment of cognitive dissonance.  This is not at all like the last two papacies.

Speaking of cognitive dissonance,  I am sure liturgical traditionalists may be sinking into a state of apoplexy, there was no incense, no Gregorian chant, no concelebrants dressed in the finest clerical drag, no sight at all of any fiddle back chasubles, no mitres and gold crosses, nothing remotely different from any run of the mill Novus Ordo celebration of the Mass.  And lest I forget, no ruby red slippers.  Synthetics, and vernacular, and short sermons, Oh my!

The following article is from Asia News.  I've edited it for length, but it does give the flavor of what happened this morning in Rome.  

Pope Francis as parish priest at Sant'Anna: the Lord never gets tired of forgiving

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "The Lord never gets tired of forgiving. Never! It is we who get tired to ask for his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace of never getting tired to ask for forgiveness because He never gets tired of forgiving. Let us ask for this grace," said Pope Francis at the end of his homily during the Mass he celebrated this morning in the Church of Sant'Anna, the parish church of the Vatican City. (It's easy to imagine that Catholics of all persuasions will find themselves having to forgive this Pope over and over as he blows through protocol after protocol, or reinforces the sexual morality of the 12th century, or sets expectations for behavior which do not include a daily dose of Starbucks.)

Like a parish priest, the pontiff celebrated the Mass in a simple and sober manner, without incense and solemn processions, backed by a choir not always in tune, delivering his homily from the ambo. Like a parish priest, he went to the church door to say goodbye to each parishioner, hugging babies, talking to the faithful, moving some to tears.

The pope's homily was brief, delivered without a prepared text, and was centred on the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Lent (John, 8:1-11), i.e. the story of the woman caught in adultery.

After a moment of silence before the lectionary, the pontiff said, "This is beautiful. Before, Jesus alone on the mountain, praying. He was praying alone. Then, he went again to the Temple, and all the people came to him. Jesus was in the middle of the people who, eventually, left him alone with the woman."
"Jesus' solitude is fruitful, that of praying with the Father; that, so beautiful, in today's Church message, that of mercy towards this woman."

"There was a difference among the people," he noted. "All the people came to him. He sat down and began teaching them. Some people wanted to hear Jesus' words. They were the people with an open heart, in need of the Word of God. But there were others who felt nothing; they could not feel. They were the ones who went with the woman and who wanted to condemn her."

"We too, I think, are [like] this people who, on the one hand want to hear Jesus, and on the other like to beat others, right? Condemn others, don't we? Condemn others. But Jesus' message is one of mercy. For me-I say this with humility-the Lord's strongest message is mercy. He said himself, 'Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."

"He comes to us when we acknowledge that we are sinners," the pope added. "But if we are like the Pharisee before the altar, [who said], 'Thank you, Lord, for not making me like all the other men, and especially not like that fellow at the door, like that publican . . .'. ' well, then we do not know the heart of the Lord, and we shall not ever have the joy of feeling this mercy. It is not easy to trust oneself to the mercy of God, because [His mercy] is an unfathomable abyss, but we must do it."........

.......At the ambo, the pope introduced to the congregation some young priests from Argentina, currently in Rome, and the auxiliary bishop of his former Archdiocese of Buenos Aires.
Before the entire assembly, he singled one priest, Fr Gonzalo, who works with street kids and drug addicts in Argentina where he has set up a school to give young people a job. As the pope warmly hugged him, he said, "Pray for him!"

After that, the Holy Father went outside the church to say goodbye to the faithful. Outside of the church, near the Porta sant'Anna, a crowd was waiting and gave him a round of applause, shouting "Francis, Francis!"


Tom Roberts states in an NCR article posted this morning that if any group of people understands the power of symbols, it's Catholics.  After our current Pope's first five days in office, it's pretty apparent Pope Francis understands that power as well.  I too frequently got the symbolic message from the last two papacies that the Church was about the priesthood and especially the priesthood. From this Pope the message is coming strong and fast and repetitively:  The Church is about it's people, especially it's poor people, it's everyday people, it's broken people.  Priests are to be servants and lead through service.  They are not be the cheer leaders for the condemnation of 'others'.  Cardinal Raymond Burke has to be reaching for the Prozac or maybe the Ativan.  This Pope is not at all about Burke's kind of Church.

It will be fun to see what kind of show the Vatican puts on for Pope Fraincis' installation.  It will tell us symbol loving Catholics quite a bit about the relationship between Pope Francis and the 'reform of the reform' liturgical vision, a vision that Archbishop Piero Marini, the Vatican's liturgical ring master wallowed in under Pope Benedict.  I don't think we will be seeing the Medici era papal vestments to which we plebeians have become accustomed. Sometimes small symbolic statements portend much larger statements.

One symbolic statement I am wondering about is how Pope Francis will reconcile papal travel with the cost of that travel. He's already told the Argentine bishops not to fly to Rome for his installation but to give the money they would have spent to ministries for the poor.  When he travels as Pope he will be incurring huge costs for the countries he visits.  A country like Brazil can afford those costs, and I have no doubt we will see Pope Francis at World Youth Day, but I wouldn't be surprised if World Youth Day was scaled down in splendor and not the massive papal idolatry show we have seen at the last two World Youth Days.  Or maybe Francis will decide to have all those youth stay home and spend their time and money on ministering to their own poor in their own backyard.  That would be quite the statement about what Catholicism is about--not Rock Star Popes, but poor people in your own backyard.

Whatever the future portends, the present must be a huge culture shock for Vatican security forces.  News reports from Rome say Francis made another unscripted, incognito trip to a Rome hospital to visit a sick friend.  This really reminds me of the Morris West novel The Shoes of the Fisherman about a fictional pope who insisted on doing his own thing in a world torn between ideologies--no red slippers for this fictional pope either.  Whatever else one can say about Pope Francis, he does not seem to be a man beholden to much more than his take on the Gospels--not the Jesuits, not the Vatican, not Vatican security forces, or Vatican protocol.  It's going to be one very interesting papacy for everybody.

(This is just a personal aside, and a question for readers.  Is it just me, or does Pope Francis look different in different photos?)

 And an addendum from Vatican Insider.  Apparently some symbolic gestures of Pope Francis are causing some others to rethink their use of corporate assets:

 There is one particular concern meandering in the Tower built by Nicholas V, the headquarters of the IOR, the Institute for Works of Religion. Hundreds of thousands of euros were spent on just one market research study and the finger is pointed at the president of the "Vatican Bank". People who are used to using the large official vehicles of the Vatican fleet to ferry them back and forth are beginning to think that it might be much better to take a taxi. Better not to risk it. The Pope, who is used to taking the minibus with his "Cardinal brethren", standing in line for breakfast at the self-service restaurant in the Domus Sanctae Marthae and settling his hotel bill in person, could look out of the window and see that he is surrounded by people who are not getting the drift and not following suit.
"Self-reform" might not relate only to the Holy See, the Vatican, and the style of the Curia. It could also extend to the dioceses.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Wind Of Change Involving Some Of My Favorite Cardinals

Cardinal Jaoa Braz de Aviz was too outspoken for curial cardinals, but he was not the source of the information appearing in Italian papers.  It does appear there are some 'storm winds' in the land of Cardinal red.

For some unknown reason I missed this article on Vatican Insider which details some of the 'inside' information amongst the cardinals before the Conclave.  It chronicles a confrontation between Cardinal Bertone and Cardinal Braz de Aviz over the Vatican Bank.  It ends with the very cogent observation of Nigeria's John Onaiyekan regarding said bank.  Braz de Aviz, Schonborn, Tagle, and Onaiyekan are still my favorite cardinals, and I have a very very strong feeling, under Pope Francis,  I will be hearing even more about these four men--and a lot less about some others.

IOR: Confrontation before the Conclave

Andrea Tornielli - Vatican Insider - March 12, 2013
A wind of change blows on the Conclave. For the management of the Curia, for Vatican finances and for a new collegiality that can also function as a deterrent from the risk of a "private-sector-like" management of the Church's assets. The last General Congregation, now on the eve of the conclave, has seen the return of the IOR, the "Vatican Bank", as a protagonist in an exchange between cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Brazilian Joao Braz de Aviz. Even a long-time curial such as cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who in the Sistine Chapel will perform the functions of Dean, in taking the floor said that the Curia needs to be changed. While the Brazilian papable Scherer spoke in defence of the Curia.  

The push for a new evangelisation, a principal point on the agenda for the new Pontiff and a central theme in the current discussions, cannot be separated from a reform of the curial structures, from greater collegiality or from a serious assessment of whether or not to keep an Oltretevere bank alive.  (This is most definitely one of my key reforms.  End the Vatican Bank and end one source of serious corruption and manipulation of the Vatican and hence the Church)

Vatican spokesman father Federico Lombardi said that Bertone "in concise form" spoke of the "nature of the IOR" and of the "procedure for the inclusion in the international Moneyval system" against money laundering. Lombardi also acknowledged the desire of several cardinals to see more clearly in regards to recent events at the "Vatican Bank" that, as of a few days ago, has a new president.  

What happened in the meeting room then? Bertone criticised Braz de Aviz for having expressed last Saturday his dissent on the management of the IOR and more generally of the Roman Curia, and for the fact that the dissent had been made public. He suspects him of having leaked the content of his speech to the Italian press. Braz de Aviz did not let the words of the former Secretary of State fall on deaf ears.  He asked to speak again and curtly denied having leaked something to the outside. The Brazilian cardinal suspects, rather, that the information may have been filtered by the "organisation". Several cardinals, at this point, applauded. (I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if some of those clapping hands belonged to some American Cardinals who were also accused of leaks apparently coming from other sources.)

Going beyond this exchange, which in any case testifies to the freedom and frankness characterizing the discussion, there were several interventions last week during in which updates on IOR were requested. There were also questions about the still unclear circumstances of the dismissal of banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, which occurred a few days after he had sent a letter to Bertone making him aware of his desire to "remove his confidence" in Vatican Bank Director Paolo Cipriani and in another manager.  

Father Lombardi wanted to clarify that "the situation of the IOR is not the main criteria on the election of the Pope".  It would be misleading to think that the real or alleged scandals surrounding the management of Vatican finances have monopolized the discussion. The cardinals, even those who come from outside, even those, and there are many, who call for a decisive change of course, know they have to elect a new Pope; a spiritual man not an expert on money laundering. But the words of an African papable, Abujia Archbishop John Onaiyekan, are very eloquent when, in an interview to the Italian TV channel La7, he said: "The IOR is not essential to the Holy Father's Ministry as successor of Peter. I don't know if St. Peter had a bank. The IOR is not essential; it is not sacramental; it is not dogmatic". 

From this evening, the 115 electors of Ratzinger's successor will pray and vote to choose a man who, announcing the Gospel, can restore hope. And who has the courage to renovate the face of the Curia to prevent it from becoming a hindrance rather a help to the only true mission of the Church. 


If Pope Francis really wants to reorient the curia, he has some very decent men in his corner with the same agenda.  He has some men he can choose from who will not accept business as usual and one of my favorites is Dom Joao Braz de Aviz.  It's going to take men like Tagle, Onaiyekan, Schonborn, and Dom Joao to continue to stand up the the old guard if Pope Francis will have any hope at all to clean up the curia and deal with the ever blooming scandals.  I would love to see an American Cardinal stand beside these men, but it's hard to see where the US has a Cardinal willing to do so, unless it's O'Malley.

I can't help but have hope even knowing there will be very little or no movement on some of my pet issues, but the truth is there can be no forward movement on any issue at all unless the death grip of career curia clerics is finally broken.  A pastoral response which recognizes spiritual life is a process and that individual conscience must have priority in that spiritual evolving may be enough to allow for the Church to become the universal and catholic consciousness Jesus intended.  It has no hope what so ever at all of being that model of Church mired in the corruption and relativism of secular power and financial wealth.  That's the bottom line and that's where things have to start.  I look forward with a great deal of hopeful curiosity to Pope Francis' picks for leadership in the Vatican curia.  I bet none of them will own a cappa magna.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Do We Have A Little Deja Vu In Pope Francis I?

Pope John Paul I needed a better tailor on his first appearance.
Pope Francis I has a better tailor but looks a lot like his predecessor.

We have a new Pope, Francis I, previously known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  He has very little Vatican experience, comes from Argentina, and lives very very simply.  He was runner up to EPBXVI in the last conclave, but not this time--in spite of his age.  No vaticanista pundit gave him much of a chance, and Paddypower had odds on him at 35-1 late this afternoon.  Very few Kentucky Derby winners have won with those odds.  I am really curious to know what happened to the candidacies of Cardinal Scola and Cardinal Sherer the favorites.  After all, this election only took 5 rounds so either the Vatican watchers were engaged in a huge amount of wishful thinking, or something happened inside the Conclave.

Last night I'm laying in bed meditating on the Conclave and ask this question.  Who will be the next pope?  I get Francis I. So I'm like no, who takes the name Francis I?  I get dead silence so I give it up.  This afternoon I was up at the main Center with a client who had a psychiatric appointment and I'm really hoping this is a short session because I want to get back to my residential facility and find out if the evenings vote in Rome resulted in black or white smoke.  I walk into the living room just as white smoke starts poring out of the Sistine Chapel. I couldn't help but stick around and find out who was going to be Francis I.  Ahem.  Anyway, it was Cardinal Bergoglio and he really did take the name Francis I.  I about fell over.

There is a lot of potential in this man in spite of his very solid credentials as a social conservative.  He could not have come out of this Conclave without solid credentials as a social conservative.  I can't say I'm shocked or disappointed about that aspect.  To be honest, given that the next Pope was going to be a social conservative if only by the make up of the Cardinals, I really wanted a man who would set an entirely different agenda in the realm of humility and clerical lifestyle. I wanted a man who would have a chance to stop the maneuvering of Opus Dei and other like minded groups who fancy themselves as elite Catholics and have big money behind them.  Pope Francis is a Jesuit.  Oh my OD.  Yes he has ties with Communion and Liberation, but his first ties are Jesuit and he doesn't live as if he's been living on 'donations' from wealthy laity.  It's hard to imagine Pope Francis in a cappa magna.

I also found his first remarks intriguing.  He consistently referred to himself as the Bishop of Rome.  That may have implications for how he will act in the areas of collegiality and ecumenism and perhaps how he sees the purview of the Holy See.  Maybe our nuncios will be more involved in spiritual matters pertaining to the Church and not political matters pertaining to secular governments.  I await his selection for the Secretary of State position with as much interest as I did his own selection.

So I have initial hope.  Pope Francis struck me very much like JPI did in that there is a definite sense of humility and openness and he has a shy but sincere smile.  If I have one real wish, it's that he put the pelvic issues on the back burner and the corruption and social justice issues on the front burner---and bring some women into the picture because that would indeed indicate to me that the Holy Spirit was there on top the Sistine Chapel in his alternative form of the Sea Gull.


Monday, March 11, 2013

"Why Seek The Living Among The Dead?



The advice "Why seek the living among the dead" from Luke's Gospel, was given by the angel to three women.  Pretty important message to be entrusted to women.  Kind of hard to believe there are no women to be seen in Rome during one of the Church's most important acts.


With the Conclave starting in less than 24 hours I thought I might leave a post which is more uplifting than the ones about the corruption and the corrupted.  The following is the last part of an article by Jesuit Fr James Hanvey posted at America Magazine.  The first parts deal with the Church as it is and some the solutions to identified problems.  The following part, copied below, is where Fr Hanvey sees the Resurrected Christ reappearing on the Church's horizon.  This Jesus is not found among the dead and lifeless or those whose fears prevent them from love.


 Glimpses of an Emerging Church

At first these may seem rather internal concerns, but without them the gifts that Christ and the Holy Spirit bestow upon the whole community will always be frustrated. Running through the Second Vatican Council is the vision of an open church, attentive to the ways in which the Spirit is working in all aspects of human endeavor, its political, cultural and religious traditions. At the heart of the council’s vision is a vital but simpler church that lives out of the Trinitarian mystery. The miracle of its sacramental life renews this church and makes it less an institution and more a familiar mysticism of presence, persons and communio. It is a church where communio finds daily expression not in retreat from the suffering, violence and injustice that mark the world, but in a profound loving solidarity with it; a communio of love that is primarily at the service of the poor, weak, forgotten and abandoned.

Here the Euro-American centrism of the church must give way to the church emerging in the developing world, which will constitute the majority of its membership by the end of the next papacy. It must give voice to their concerns, which are often far from those of the secular West. It must raise its voice against exploitation in defense of economic and social rights, especially the basic rights of human life and the rights of women and children. Now is the time for the church to discover its prophetic voice on behalf of the developing world, especially its vision of ecological justice and the care of natural resources that all members of the human family can enjoy and cherish now and in the future as the gift of God’s good creation. This church is not afraid of the world; nor is it afraid to be poor before it, because it knows that it does not need worldly power to achieve its goals. It is prepared to spend itself in service—recognized and unrecognized; it is not preoccupied with itself or its own survival but has the needs and the future of humanity as its task.

It is a church that follows the incarnate and risen Christ into all the depths of history and the empty places of the human heart, and always with love. Living from the truth of Christ, it understands and cherishes the supreme gift of life in all men and women, whatever their race, religion, state or status. It rejoices in those structures, human as well as divine, which allow life—all life—to flourish. When the church lives this, then it lives most deeply its own sacramental life, offered without charge or contract to a secular world whose soul is slowly starving. Such a church can teach the evangelical counsels and the precepts with authority: how to share the resources of creation, live materially simpler but spiritually richer lives in solidarity with all women and men, reverencing our own bodies and those of others, rejecting all the ways of instrumentalizing and brutalizing creation and one another.

The council understood how only a church that lives out of a kenosis of love and joyous self-sacrificing gift can realize this vision. For such a church, secularization is not a threat but a call. It is not a utopian church or a church that has some dreamy, humanitarian ethic. Following the crucified Christ, it can never underestimate the reality of our wounded state, but it is not afraid to suffer for and with the world, living with all the tortured realities of our sin but understanding the quieter victory of hope, love and grace, “laboring and working” in the vineyard of the Lord until he comes. Above all, the church that the council glimpsed was one that knew that even when the secular world formally denies God, and informally ignores him, he is always present.

It will take a humble, free, mystical church to see this, to go even into the darknesses where God has been hidden or discarded. When it takes this next step, even on the Holy Saturdays of the secular world, it will find him where he is not expected to be; it will discover that there are many who bear his name and hear his voice. They have been waiting so long for the church to find them.

Maybe, as the church inaugurates a new papacy, we will not be afraid to love this church, as it is, as it desires to be, as God wills it to be. Maybe we will glimpse again the greatness of the church’s heart and mission.