Friday, September 27, 2013

Mary Hunt On Pope Francis' Interview: A New Moment In A Long Church History, Or An Exercise In Charm?

Here we have two Marines and a Navy Medical corpsman who do not exactly represent Francis' view of the Madonna. This is unfortunate given one of Mary's multitudinous titles has her leading the war against Satan--and speaking of that, these women are in a Psyops unit.  The photo is taken from this article from Veterans Today, which also features a really really interesting take on women in combat from Mary Hunt.

I thought I'd finally get around to some thoughts about Pope Francis' interview with the Jesuits, but after some thought and a whole lot of reading, I still find theologian Mary Hunt's analysis speaks my thoughts better than I can.  So with kudos to Mary Hunt, I have extracted the following extended extracts from her article at Religion Dispatches and as is my usual wont, will throw in a few comments of my own.

......Three Things Leave Me Warm...
The interview’s complexity arises from the overlay of Ignation spirituality that forms Francis’ spirit and psyche. It’s a language and symbol set all its own—heavy with “discernment” and reliant on prayer as a means of knowing. The interviewer tries to interpret it at times (who knew that Peter Faber [1506-46] was such an influential fellow?), but what stands out is how Francis is imbued with the customs and governance style of the Society of Jesus.....  (Francis' description of the Ignation process and how it worked for him was one of the high points for me as well.)
....First, Pope Francis is a person who freely admits that he can change his ways. I admire that. Having been wrong more times than I can count, I understand a person who admits that while at the time s/he did what s/he thought was right, in retrospect it was dead wrong. Pope Francis acknowledges that when he was the provincial of the Jesuits in Buenos Aires his leadership style was authoritarian. He chalks it up to his youthfulness and circumstances, but he has the good sense not to repeat that mistake now, when it could do even more damage. This is welcome. He is correct that based on his history many of his Latin American colleagues fear that he will not make doctrinal changes. Authoritarianism is not simply how one treats people, but also how one treats ideas. (Yes, yes, yes.  I so hope Francis can treat ideas in exactly this way, or there is very little hope much of anything is going to change. The fact he can freely admit he's made mistakes is very hopeful, but the real question is, can he admit the Church made mistakes.)

Second, the compassion, humanity, and simple lifestyle that Pope Francis manifests is refreshing after decades of John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s personalities and actions. At the same time, Francis demonstrates in the interview that he is a highly cultured man. He takes music, art, literature, and film seriously as culture shapers, as rich gifts for enjoyment and insight into the human condition. He’s very Argentine that way. Going to the movies in Buenos Aires is as common as going to mass. Teatro Colon is a world-class opera house of which Portenos (residents of Buenos Aires) are justifiably proud. (He also seems to understand that these culture shapers have more influence on younger generations than the Catholic culture warrior shapers EPBenedict was so fond of and the USCCB is so full of.)

Third, postmodernity is not lost on Francis. Woven through the discourse of this lengthy interview are indications that the many sciences, not just theology and philosophy, are sources for religious reflection. Obviously his experience at the World Youth Day in Brazil was formative. He understands the differing roles of people of varying ages; he realizes that younger churches have unique characteristics, older churches their own charm; that vigor and wisdom, ancient and new, all have their place; and he affirms “real, not ceremonial consultation” as the way forward. These are contemporary ideas that his immediate predecessors did not understand—or if they did, they did not accept them.
(I was really struck with this observation of Pope Francis' because his two predecessors demonstrated a decided lack of enthusiasm for much of the culture of the younger churches, most certainly giving place of preference to the traditional Eurocentric Church. I never understood why a Pope would preference that part of the Church on life support over and above that part of the Church running at full speed.  I have my suspicions as to why that was so, but am glad to see Francis' ego isn't in the same place.  And before anyone points out that the younger churches are more conservative on moral issues, rest assured I get that.  I also get that South America used to be that way before the educational levels of women began rise.)
...And Three Cold
The weakest part of the interview is the section on women. It is amazing how little this pope seems to know about women, other than his grandmother Rosa whom he places right next to the Virgin Mary. The very fact that women are set apart as special, different, seems to imply that everything else he says about church, morality etc. is for and about men. This is a serious methodological flaw. Either women are part of “the holy, faithful people of God,” and thus the church in the full sense, or they are not. 
If women are human beings like men, not different from men in some mystical way that can result in discrimination, then ordination, reproductive justice, contraception and the like are choices women can and should make. Catholics do not need “a profound theology of the woman,” but a clear, engaged reading of feminist work in religion that is among the most exciting theological production today. The very framing of the question about women is dubious. Difference unto discrimination is a slippery slope..... (These lines clarified something rolling in the fog in the back of my head.  It's this, I have without really processing it, let much of what the male church says go in one ear and out the other because I have never felt the men were talking to women--outside of pelvic issues and in this case it's down to women.  It always seemed to me they were talking to men, and about women to men. Women were just along for the ride, sort of in the passenger seat with their seat belts on, there not to drive or even navigate, but just to keep the kids in the backseat in line---oh yea, and to make sure there were actually kids in the backseat.  And now back to Mary.)

......It is intellectually embarrassing to hear a man who is so conversant with music, literature, and poetry have such a paltry vocabulary when it comes to women. Thus far, Francis has not had any public conversation with a woman church leader of any sort. The continued oppression of U.S. women religious, allegedly approved by him, is a negative sign as well. But maybe it will fall into the category of small things to which he will pay little attention....(One can only hope. I will say one other thing about this section on women.  It may very well be that Francis knows he really doesn't get women as much more than an icon of motherhood and that is why he keeps stating we need 'a deeper theology of women'. It may just be that he realizes he himself needs a deeper theology of women.)
A second issue I find troubling is the lack of transparency about the shape of the institutional church. The cardinals realized on the resignation of Benedict XVI that the institutional church was in ruins. Its creditability is gone due to financial scandals, pedophilia by priests, and cover-ups by bishops. Frankly, no one cares much what the Catholic Church officials think on the big issues—war, the economy, racism, ecology, etc. Sometimes I wish they did! So from a purely business perspective, they have chosen a CEO who is leading a charm offensive that is working. Why not admit it? Perhaps this will be the subject of the next interview if the Jesuits have the gumption to ask him.
Moreover, it’s important to realize that “election” of a pope is not very different from election of a president or other top-ranking official in a hierarchical organization. S/he brings with her/him a whole entourage of lower ranking officials, much like in the U.S. when the Republicans are defeated by the Democrats or vice versa. The winner brings a team. So now it’s time for the people who lost the election to get out of the way and let Francis govern.... (Unfortunately the Obama presidency has shown in spades that a certain type of conservative does not get out of the way.  They appoint themselves the mission of becoming the biggest obstacle. I don't see the Church version of this conservative bent acting any different.)

....My hope is that out of all of this will come not more emphasis on Good Pope Francis, and by extension more papal power, but a new model of church in which his role as pope is as a symbol of unity, not authority. (I kind of think this is exactly how Francis sees the papacy.  Maybe the bigger question is whether the rest of the Church will let him execute this vision of the papacy.)

A third area of concern is the major matter of church doctrine—what this pope jesuitically says he affirms as a “son” of the church. If that’s the case, what hope is there that things will be substantively and structurally different in years to come? If some issues are closed—not just the ordination of women but how other faith traditions are understood; not just same-sex love, but what we mean by Eucharist—is this interview simply a puff piece, a case of the Jesuits promoting their own and their own promoting Jesuits? Is it meant as a way to attract people back to a church that may have a kinder face but just as steely a heart? Is the good will it has engendered trustworthy? The Roman Catholic Church has been around for several thousand years for a reason. I hope this interview is a beginning not an end of a new moment. (I had all those thoughts myself, especially the Jesuit self promotion one, but this interview had too much in it to just be a puff piece. It spoke of a real change of direction, so I hope Mary's final thought is the correct one--that the interview does signal a new moment in a long history.)


  1. Freedom&EqualityRocksSeptember 27, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    I guess if Pope Francis wants or needs a new theology of women that he should spend some time with Mary Hunt, some of the women religious, and some women who serve or have served in the military, with women scientist & teachers.

    His grandmother was in a different time, Vatican I time, when machismo was the standard.

    "The very fact that women are set apart as special, different, seems to imply that everything else he says about church, morality etc. is for and about men."

    I think that rather than seeing the differences of men and women in our bodies, the Pope needs to see what men and women have in common. The first thing we have in common is that we have a soul and a heart, hearing & seeing, a mind with an intellect that was made by God and if Faith counts for anything in the Church, Faith is not male or female. Hope is not male or female. Love is not male or female. Faith, Hope & Love are gifts meant for everybody. We are made in God's image. Such a view does not take a separate theology for just women.

    I say good riddance to the narcissistic macho views that have created a narcissistic macho dilemma in the world that can only create a world full of Rambos, wars, hunger, terrible strife for us all. The politics so generated from such a view is still a very dangerous threat to us all.

    God speed to Pope Francis on his quest to being able to relate to women as equals. I sense that he wants to. I look forward to some real action in that direction though.

  2. The whole interview is so....jesuitical. Frankly, I don't think this is ever going to change. It's part of who he is. Jesuits raised equivocation to a fine art and I think that is what we are seeing and will continue to see. Those who hope for change will exhaust themselves trying to hold Francis to what they think he said while those he entices back into the church will find out the hard way that this was, again, not about the Gospel, but about a kinder, more gentle way of keeping power and the status quo. Forgive my cynicism. The only hope I hold out is that the Gospel, even when uttered disingenuously still has power and consequences.

  3. Unfortunately, Annika, I tend to believe what you say is more correct than not. I do hold out hope that Pope Francis may teach the church to learn from experience not the idea of infallibility as we are only finite creatures that can not know the Great Mind of God.

  4. Colleen, your question, “Can he admit the Church has made mistakes?” sent me looking for material on Indefectibility. In my last round of studying theology, a Carmelite in Dublin said that an obstacle to the ordination of women is the indefectibility of the Church--he seemed to think that if women were ordained, it would be an admission that the Church has been wrong about this since the beginning and, given the character of indefectibility, that is not possible. This argument tied my mind in knots at the time even though it struck me as bogus---the men have all these terms that map out the territory as they see it and these terms come into play, openly or not. A more formal definition of indefectibility is that the Holy Spirit will not allow the WHOLE Body of Christ at any time in history to fall UTTERLY into apostasy or heresy. And Avery Dulles wrote that "the Holy Spirit will preserve the Church against using its FULL authority to require its members to assent to what is false." Hmm. To me the key is presence of the absolutes WHOLE, UTTERLY and FULL. These point to making distinctions rather than making the wholesale claim that “We’re right, we’ve always been right and we’ll always be right.” So I would say that the indefectibility of the Church is a character which must be discerned in specific situations rather than an absolute that can be declared. Given that, it is possible to acknowledge that the Church has made mistakes. I don’t see how the Church can grow without engaging in this kind of reflection.

  5. That's really interesting Molly. I never thought about this from the aspect of indefectibility, but then I've never taken that to mean globally on all things. Once one starts speaking in absolutes, the qualifiers rain down.

    I like the idea of giving laity of all kinds special dispensations for priestly faculties because it avoids the whole ordination question and has precedent in the early church--at least precedence as an approach to lay involvement in sacramental rituals. It just seems to me the ordained priesthood has become a major major stumbling block and the one card that will tumble down the whole house of cards if something isn't done and done quickly.

  6. It would be nice if in the process of deepening his understanding of women he also realized just how damaging patriarchy and machismo have been for the planet, and for that matter, men themselves. That itself would be a start on developing a theology of humanity which stressed our shared values.

  7. Francis certainly engages in 'both/and' statements. It's sometimes hard to discern just where he personally resides on a given issue. When he gets too close to stating something he personally believes that might be controversial, he throws out the 'catechism' 'son of the Church' type qualifiers.

    What I find perhaps more validating about his progressive tendencies is that he is making certain Catholics nervous. There has lately been the appearance of comments assuredly telling us all that if he gets too far out into heretical waters true believing bishops and cardinals will somehow depose him. Like we have a mechanism to depose a pope. Well, I guess poison has been used more than once.

    If all he turns out to have accomplished is to put kinder gentler lipstick on the same ole pig, the fallout will be global.

  8. Freedom&EqualityRocksSeptember 29, 2013 at 1:15 AM

    If Pope Francis truly & whole heartedly tries to deepen his understanding of women he will see how damaging patriarchy & machismo, men ruling the world in so many World Wars without regard to women, has created a planet that is in a near death situation with the types of armaments out there now. The focus of the Church has not been on saving anything except male machismo & patriarchy. Patriarchy & machismo are like a flesh eating disease. I wish he could see how damaging it has been to women & children, eating up their lives & destroying them. To only see how it has been damaging to the men is just more male narcissism.

    The Pope needs to make a decision to either continue on the path of enabling the male narcissism, patriarchy, misogyny, all heretical in substance, or be deemed a hypocrite like most of the other Popes.

  9. Freedom&EqualityRocksSeptember 29, 2013 at 1:28 AM

    Since I do not have the editing feature I add here an edit to the last paragraph.

    The Pope needs to make a decision to include women as equals on this planet with all its problems that affects each and everyone of us, male & female, or be deemed in history as an enabler of male narcissistic machismo & misogynist patriarchy and a hypocrite like most of the other Popes.

  10. Colleen, I am off topic here, but have you read Jerry Slevin's Piece about Francis. If not here is food for thought:

  11. Dennis, Jerry makes some great points and I found myself agreeing with quite a bit of it. U nfotunately he too can,t let go of the ordained priesthood. We know the theological conceptualization of the ontologically elevated priest was a huge and foundational issue in the abuse crisis and cover up. The house of cards rests on that whole priestly mythology--and that includes every one of Jerry's issues.