April 22, 2015 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Will Pope Francis Break the Church? [The Atlantic]
“Told this way—conservative Jesuit fights post–Vatican II radicalization, finds himself shunned by left-wing confreres, gets rescued by a John Paul appointee—the story of Francis’s rise and fall and rise sounds for all the world like The Making of a Conservative Pope. And indeed, a number of Catholic writers greeted Bergoglio’s election—some optimistically, some despairingly—with exactly that interpretation of his past’s likely impact on his papacy. But it seems fair to say that this interpretation was mistaken. So how, exactly, did the man who fought bitterly with left-wing Jesuits in the 1970s become the darling of progressive Catholics in the 2010s?”
Previously. Previously.
posted by Fizz (23 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
“If [a close friend] says a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose,” he explained. “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”
posted by Nevin at 3:20 PM on April 22, 2015

All hail the messy Pope?
A few months after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis presided at the regular Catholic World Youth Day – its location fixed, fortuitously, for Rio de Janeiro by his predecessor Benedict XVI. In a meeting with young Argentine pilgrims, Francis announced what he wished for out of the event: “Quiero lío” – I want havoc. A church news agency offered a still more perplexing English translation, “I want to create a mess”. Two years into his reign, some traditionalist Catholics, in Europe and the United States, think that is precisely what this unpredictable, headline-grabbing Pope is managing to achieve. But, as Austen Ivereigh, the pontiff’s latest English-language biographer, points out, hacer lío has a particular meaning to Argentinians: the practice of going out into the streets to bang saucepans and shout passionately in support of a cause. The dramatic gestures and demotic pronouncements of this extraordinary pontificate usually require some decoding, as well as an informed understanding of the culture in which their initiator was shaped.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:33 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Will Pope Francis Break the Church?

Is the Pope Catholic?
posted by Going To Maine at 3:44 PM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

So long as doctrine doesn’t seem to be in question, a papal agenda focused on ending corruption in the Vatican and emphasizing a commitment to the global poor could successfully straddle some of the Church’s internal divides—not least because those divides aren’t always as binary as the language of “left and right” suggests.

Yeah, this. I'm not Catholic, and don't follow Francis as closely as some others, but I haven't seen anything from this pope to suggest he is liberal in any of the usual senses. What he does seem to be is more devout than academic, and genuinely interested in leading the way Jesus would lead. None of the attention-getting steps I've seen him make is very far from the modern equivalent of how the gospels generally depict Jesus. Not that that's a problem--I'd rather have a devout pope who took the example of Christ seriously than a necessarily liberal one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:46 PM on April 22, 2015 [19 favorites]

Note: the author is Ross Douthat, who I would consider to have a dog or two in the fight.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:53 PM on April 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

(...)he’s going to get a punch in the nose(...)
Heh, I remember that quote. What a dick. That's totally what Jesus would do because *apparently* we haven't progressed out of freakin' grade school. Say anything about his Mom and Jesus would've smashed your face in proper quick and screw the peace, love, understanding, and tolerance anyway. Does that mean that after singing his Pope Song (nsfw: language), Tim Minchin would need surgery?
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:04 PM on April 22, 2015

So apparently during the last Pope Who Quit, the Jesuits where in all but open revolt from the church administration
posted by The Whelk at 4:04 PM on April 22, 2015

These conservatives seem to be lacking faith in the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of the Cardinals to elect the Pope of God's chosing.
posted by humanfont at 4:08 PM on April 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

The article doesn't mention one theory for Francis' unexpected passion for reform and social justice, which I heard from a journalist friend who follows such things closely, that he considers his work during the Dirty War as too morally compromised and himself as not acting with sufficient courage. He sees the papacy as a God-given chance - indeed, a call - to redeem himself. Not in a theological sense - Catholic theology is clear on what redemption in the eyes of God requires and entails - but as a human, acting among humans, in the spirit of Jesus.

From what I know and see of Francis and his history, this is quite a compelling argument, and also puts the Church hierarchy under the charge of an old man in a hurry.
posted by Devonian at 4:15 PM on April 22, 2015 [29 favorites]

I actually read the novel mentioned in the first couple paragraphs of the article, and the number of things wrong with that novel make me itch but I guess that is not really the point.

" the attention-grabbing breaks with papal protocol"

Every. Fucking. Pope does this. John Paul I who was pope for a MONTH did this, when he refused to be crowned as (secular) sovereign of the Vatican States in the traditional crowning ceremony, and retired the crown from use. Literally the first thing a Pope is meant to do is break from tradition in some fashion that signals how he will be popeing.

"the reopening of moral issues that his predecessors had deemed settled"

What is this I don't even.

" The limits, theological and practical, on papal power are still present"

You get a less-conservative Pope, SUDDENLY CONSERVATIVES ARE IN LOVE WITH THE LIMITS ON PAPAL POWER. Every single opinion piece. Every one. "Oooooh, the Pope's infallible, stop using birth control, 88% of American Catholics! WAIT NO NOT TOTALLY INFALLIBLE I CHANGED MY MIND." (Okay to be fair he comes back around to this at the end and makes a similar point but STILL the point stands.)

I don't know, people who want to make the Pope "liberal" or "conservative" are trying to impose too western a view on the Papacy. I'd label him anti-ultramontane (against the elevation/worship of the Pope and the insistence on the Pope/Vatican as always and exclusively correct -- "ultramontane" means "over the mountains" and refers to French who took excessive direction from Rome); pro- "perferential option for the poor" (Jesus loves poor people better), which is perfectly scriptural and extremely South American and not at all surprising; and loosely in favor of a less magisterial hierarchy ... that is, he thinks priests have a sacramental role, but that they're "servants of the servants of God" and shouldn't be automatically put on a pedestal. (I'm reading one of Francis's books right now, from when he was archbishop.)

Anyone who thought a South American pope was going to be all "yay capitalism!" just because he's against abortion is a fuckin' dope.

Also I honest-to-God never thought I'd see a column from Ross Douthat that referred to Yves Congar as a "great theologian." (FUN FACT, Congar allegedly peed on the Vatican to protest the papal denial of the legitimacy of his work.) And WOW does Douthat gloss over the foundational impact the NAZIs had on Benedict in order to talk about Marxists in East Germany. (For that fuckin' matter, John Paul II was radicalized not by Marxists in Poland but by the damn Nazis, in opposition to whom he joined the Polish resistance and helped secretly ship Jews out of the country. His anti-Marxist agenda was deeply formed by HATING NAZIS AND FASCISTS and much less by hating communal property.)

"Third, while highly intellectual in his own distinctive way, Francis is clearly a less systematic thinker than either of his predecessors, and especially than the academic-minded Benedict. Whereas the previous pope defended popular piety against liberal critiques, Francis embodies a certain style of populist Catholicism"

I think this is largely true, although I don't think John Paul II was a particularly systematic thinker; I think Ratzinger (later Benedict) did a lot of the systematics and John Paul II was an enormously gifted shepherd and pastor ... but not a super-great theologian. (Benedict is a theologian's theologian that every theologian alive today would like to go argue with for dinner and six hours of wine afterwards, but his pastoral skills were not well-suited to a large setting like the papacy. He's said to be gentler and more personable one-on-one, but he's never had much success in a public pastoral position.)

"Jesuits have traditionally combined missionary zeal with a certain conscious flexibility about doctrinal details that might impede their proselytizing work. "

Bitch, please.

"At the same time, it is striking that the men who arguably did the most to make Bergoglio pontiff were among the cardinals most in opposition to the previous two popes."


"His frustration has emerged most clearly on the issue of divorce and remarriage: he has repeatedly shown what seems to be tacit support for the idea, long endorsed by Walter Kasper and other liberal cardinals, to allow Catholics in a second marriage to receive Communion even if their first marriage is still considered valid—that is, even if they are living in what the Church considers an adulterous relationship."

I honestly think this is because he has done so much pastoral work; almost any Catholic priest will tell you that being asked to enforce the no-Communion-after-divorce rule is the shittiest part of being a parish priest, and there is ALWAYS SOME JACKASS who considers himself the arbiter of other people's marriages and if the priest doesn't give in to his demands, writes to the bishop repeatedly about it. (I have a friend who's a priest and the Public Morality Jackass said that if they were going to give communion to a married-for-six-months-at-18, divorced, remarried-mother-of-three super-Catholic who volunteered for everything and basically ran the CCD, they might as well "give it to roadkill.") If I were a pastor, I would probably also agree that an early marriage dissolved in divorce where one of the people later remarried wasn't a good enough reason to deny that person the gift of Communion, especially when many people engage in sacramental marriage in the Church only to satisfy social and cultural pressures to "have a Catholic wedding" and not so much because they view their marriage as a sacrament or because they're making good life decisions. The obvious solution seems to be to bless marriages and then sacramentalize them after 10 years or something, but nobody's gonna go for that! (Also not the Church, because of all the intervening sex.)

" and then eventually the hierarchy comes up with some official-sounding explanation (one that starts, “As the Church has always taught …”) "

Points for Douthat, this is 100% true. "As the Church has always taught ..." is a sure signal of a big change.

"The second is that because conservative Catholics are so invested in papal authority, a revolution from above can carry all before it: the conservatives’ very theology makes it impossible for them to effectively resist a liberalizing pope, and anyway they have no other place to go."

Literally nobody thinks this. They know about Mel Gibson's dad and his WHOLE! NEW! CATHOLIC! CHURCH! because he thought the existing one was too liberal.

This is not a terrible article as Douthat articles about Catholicism go. I mean he's super-obsessed with other people's sex lives (and, really, if we're going back to the beginning of the Church, nobody was supposed to be having sex at all as the apostles believed the eschaton was imminent and when it did not occur, immediately had to start compromising on sex so sexual compromise has a very long Catholic history). But he's got a lot of the background right.

On a larger point, Catholicism has always been a big-tent church, and there's not just one way to be pope and not just one way to be Catholic, and a lot of this "Wait! This Pope is different from the last one!" is insistence on there being One True Way to be Catholic. John Paul II emphasized freedom in his papacy, and near the end of his life literally embodied how Christ is with the sick and physically suffering, insisting on appearing in public and on television even as his body failed him more and more and he looked weaker and sicker and people said, "Why doesn't he retire?" Well, because people don't END just because they're not healthy anymore. They keep existing and we should SEE them. Francis's papacy is focused a lot more on the poor, the marginalized (by society or by the Church), and the brown-skinned, as one would expect from an Argentinian pope. Benedict focused on the exuberant love of God one can find in intellect and thought. These are all totally legitimate ways of being Catholic! They are all parts of the Catholic tradition one can choose to emphasize!

On a First-World renaissance of Catholicism, I have long been of the opinion that Catholicism's going to have to dig deeper into its intellectual tradition (well-embodied by the Jesuits!) and not just give people pat answers that rely on memorization and simple piety, but challenge the full measure of their reason with the really deep intellectual traditions of Catholicism. It drives me crazy that we insist on teaching college-educated professionals a Catholicism that's SO DUMB and then we chastize them when they point out GAPING HOLES that CHILDREN can see, while there's much better argumentation sitting right behind it, but that requires Church leadership to be better-educated and less-lazy. (It honestly is a problem with your priesthood is suddenly less-educated than your believers, and your faith has revolved around the priesthood being better-educated for 1000 years!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:33 PM on April 22, 2015 [81 favorites]

Still treating gays and women as inferior? Sorry, still not liberal enough for this Catholic.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:23 PM on April 22, 2015

There are quite a few things I miss about being a practicing Catholic. I miss mass and stations of the cross, I miss accents of the Sisters of Mercy who taught me until 8th grade, the procession to the statue of Mary on the 1st of May when we recited the rosary together in one voice, the call and response during mass, basically, I miss the pageantry and ritual of practicing the faith. I'm a little sad that none of my children know these things, but at the same time, I just can't bring myself to go back.

No matter how amazing and inspiring Pope Francis is, and he does make me consider going back to the church, the churches in my diocese won't have me. They won't baptize my children unless I attend classes with my (atheist) husband and the parish closest to me won't even baptize them at all because my husband's an atheist. They won't allow me communion because I've been divorced more than once. It doesn't matter what the circumstances were, or how my life or I, myself have changed, the rules state "divorced, remarried - nope". Not even an "I'm sorry", just a lot of judging and literal interpretations of archaic rules. If anything at all, my diocese has gotten more conservative and more restrictive as a backlash against any perceived liberal moves of the pope.

I would welcome a giant schism in the church, if it meant a new Catholicism that cared about the person more than rules.
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:48 PM on April 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

My conversion process lasted two years. When the time came to begin, I changed my mind. My wife is catholic. And I remain a heretic:)

Odd, watching 'Wolfhall' we pondered our families ancestry which we can trace to Scotland and northern England at that time.
"Jesus, all that for an heir"
"You people started it"
And we laughed. I still collect holy icons, mostly key chains and keep God in my heart, she helps me retain my soul. Breaking from these vestules and ritual was hard. But I cannot have a church proscribe things I do not agree with and be part of it. After leaving, the church mailed raffle tickets for about two years.
God must seed irony like rain upon the cynics.
I had to mail them back. It was the honest thing to do.
posted by clavdivs at 8:54 PM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Break it, burn it, dance on the ashes.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 9:03 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Metafilter: how he will be popeing
posted by dorian at 9:10 PM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would welcome a giant schism in the church, if it meant a new Catholicism that cared about the person more than rules.

Not to be glib, but might I suggest Anglicanism?
posted by bracems at 9:14 PM on April 22, 2015 [9 favorites]

METAFILTER: Every. Fucking. Pope does this.
posted by philip-random at 11:50 PM on April 22, 2015

I empathize with you, Hollygoheavy. I miss both the rituals and the deeper discussions of spiritual and moral issues that we'd have in youth groups and retreats. The modern 'I'm spiritual but not religious' stance of the majority of my friends seems so less deep in comparison.

I'm an atheist, though - I simply never believed.

This stands out though:

They won't baptize my children unless I attend classes with my (atheist) husband and the parish closest to me won't even baptize them at all because my husband's an atheist.

I can't imagine a Church that refuses infant baptism for any reason. It flies in the face of everything I know about Catholic theology. Priests don't condemn souls to limbo for the transgressions of their parents. Unless there has been a major shift in doctrine there is something amiss in these individual Parishes. If this is an issue for you move up the hierarchy.

My mom is Catholic. My dad atheist. He never had to agree to anything in order for us to receive the sacraments, and this would be from 1965 - 1994 for all of us kids.
posted by kanewai at 1:19 AM on April 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not to be glib, but might I suggest Anglicanism?

Or Lutheranism, if you want to be a hipster about the Reformation.
posted by fifthrider at 5:59 AM on April 23, 2015

I was into Pelagianism before it was cool.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:09 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can't imagine a Church that refuses infant baptism for any reason.

My mother — who once wanted to be a nun! — left the church when I was born because the priest refused to baptize me: I'm a bastard.

She later sent me to a pretty liberal, all-girls Catholic high school, where I met a ton of Catholics who behave like Francis now does. I respect them all greatly, but I consider myself just culturally Catholic. I would never be a Protestant tho.
posted by dame at 9:48 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

My mom is Catholic. My dad atheist. He never had to agree to anything in order for us to receive the sacraments,

Same basic dynamic for my family. In fact, I believe that the Church only officially agreed to my parents' marriage on the condition that all children be baptized Catholic.
posted by philip-random at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2015

« Older Gotta move for the camera, lady   |   WTF is a Met? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments