Monday, December 15, 2014

Pope Francis and the Catholic Crisis

By Charles J. Reid, Jr.
Professor of Law, University of St. Thomas

NOTE: This commentary was first published December 15, 2014 by The Huffington Post.

There is a growing crisis haunting the Catholic Church. And it is a crisis larger than the events that have so greatly afflicted the American Catholic Church. The pedophilia scandals are a horrifying element of this crisis. So, too, are the bishops who covered up and excused these outrages. And so, also, the more general loss of confidence Catholics have in a hierarchy that seems oddly concerned with rank and privilege and with fighting yesterday's culture wars. Yes, these are all elements of the crisis, but the crisis is larger than this.

And that something larger is both sad and profound: a loss of faith in the institutions of the Church. Pope Francis, in his remarkable interview with La nacion, published the weekend of December 6 and 7, made it clear that he recognized the gravity of the moment. He was asked why so many people were leaving the Church. As posed, the question addressed Latin America. By implication, it looked to the world.

Pope Francis could have directed his answer at factors external to the Church. Indeed, one can imagine his predecessors alternatively blaming culture, or relativism, or the forces of secularism. Pope Francis, however, is different. His was a more introspective answer. We must look within, he advised, to what Catholics are themselves doing wrong.

At the root of the crisis, he proposed, was the problem of clericalism. Clericalism is strangling true Christianity. Pope Francis has spoken often about clericalism during his brief pontificate. It was the reason, early in his tenure, that he ceased granting applications by priests to be raised to the rank of monsignor. Being called monsignor adds little to a priest's life. But the quest for this title led, in Francis's judgment, to careerism and a preoccupation with title and honor that had little to do with the Gospels.

Well, it seems that in taking this step, Pope Francis was merely warming up. In recent speeches, he began to explore how deep the crisis of clericalism extends. It has poisoned the relationship between priests and lay Catholics. It can serve, for the laity, as heedless abdication of responsibility, and on the part of the clergy a dangerous concentration of power.

Thus Pope Francis declared in March, 2014: "Clericalism is one of the evils of the Church. . . . Priests take pleasure in the temptation to clericalize the laity, but many of the laity are on their knees asking to be clericalized, because it is more comfortable! . . . This is a double sin!"

So how should lay and clergy interact? The Pope sees a wide latitude here. It is an intersection that must be governed principally by a respect for the power of prophecy. The prophet, Pope Francis has stated, is someone with a sense of the historical moment. The prophet must appreciate the confluence of "past, present, and future." The prophet knows the past promise of God's word, but knows how to interpret this word in her or his life and "to speak a word [to others] that will lift them up."

Again, what is noticeable is what is omitted. The prophet is not someone who listens patiently for instructions from others, or is someone who is fond of restating that perennial objection to growth and development – "but we've done anything like that before!" No, the prophet is someone who sees things fresh, in context, and knows how to take creative action appropriate to the moment.

The clergy must come to terms with this dimension of the lay vocation and be supportive of it. "The priest's suggestion is immediately to clericalize," the Pope warns. This temptation must be resisted. The priest has a spiritual role, a pastoral role, and a sacramental role, but the priest must not subsume the role of the laity. Harmony between the two orders is what Catholics should strive for. It should never become a situation in which "the big fish swallows the little one."

Pope Francis, in other words, expects an active and engaged laity, a laity that can think for itself, and is not fearful of its own independence. But how shall this Church, of harmonious yet different orders, address the Catholic crisis?

It must not preach. It must not proselytize. It must not condemn, or throw tantrums, or engage in theatrics. Rather, the Church – the People of God, lay and clergy alike – must set a good example. They must know that the world is filled with human suffering and that they are called to go about relieving in some small quantum this great misery in ways adapted to need and circumstance.

Only a leader with a great sense of faith could propose such a radical agenda for the Church. And Pope Francis' interview with La nacion makes plain his great faith. Only a confident and faithful leader would have opened the Synod on the Family to the kind of free discussions that occurred last October. Other popes have hosted synods on the family. They were entirely forgettable affairs. The script was written well in advance, everyone recited their assigned lines, and nothing of significance occurred. Pope Francis, on the other hand, opened the Synod up to prophecy, and a consideration of the needs of the moment.

It is fair to describe Pope Francis's summons as a call to Christian adulthood, but not in some superficial or trite sense. Rather he expects all Catholics to show a spirit of leadership, independence, and good judgment. The Church, he has warned, must not be obsessed with the self-referential. It must instead do as Jesus did – minister to the afflicted and the marginal. It is truly a bold vision of renewal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pope Francis' Woman Problem

By Candida Moss and Joel Baden

Editor's Note: This op-ed was first published December 7, 2014 by the Los Angeles Times.

At first, it was easy to overlook. With all of his statements about caring for the poor, the disabled and immigrants, and all the fanfare surrounding his famous “Who am I to judge?” proclamation, Pope Francis seemed like a breath of fresh air for a church stuck resolutely in the past. The fact that he never commented on the long-standing marginalization of women in the Catholic Church, and asserted quite plainly that there would be no ordination of women, did nothing to dampen progressive enthusiasm for the new pope. There has been a hopeful sense that he would get around to it eventually.

He hasn't, however, and there is reason to question whether he ever will. Instead of a more compassionate and understanding take on the standing of women in the church, Francis has repeatedly embraced the traditional Catholic view that a woman's role is in the home.

Ten days ago, Pope Francis organized and addressed an interfaith colloquium on the subject of “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” The use of the doctrinal term “complementarity” signals the conservative underpinnings of Francis' views on marriage. The religious teaching of complementarity holds that men and women have very different roles in life and in marriage, with men outranking women in most areas. Although Francis did acknowledge that complementarity could take “many forms,” he nonetheless insisted that it is an “anthropological fact.”

Last week, in chastising the European Parliament on the subject of immigration policy, Francis provided another alarming insight into his attitudes toward women, this time in his choice of metaphor. He described Europe as a “grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant,” but instead “elderly and haggard.” At 77 years old, presumably Francis still thinks himself relatively vibrant and useful to society. Women of his age, however, have apparently outlived their utility.

Francis has made it clear that he sees childbearing and child rearing as crucial womanly roles.

But his remarks about European immigration marked the first time Francis has used the natural loss of fertility and change in appearance that accompany aging to cast a moral judgment. By selecting the image of an aging woman — someone who is, to use Francis' words, no longer “relevant” to the world — is nothing other than crass chauvinism. Francis has elsewhere condemned our modern “throwaway” culture that discards the elderly, but here — when the subject is exclusively female — he demonstrates the same attitude.

Even when ostensibly elevating women, Francis reveals a highly patriarchal view of where their value lies. In a July statement that many took as a positive sign, he said that women are “more important than bishops and priests.” But it is unclear just how progressive we should understand that statement to be. Repeatedly, Francis has come back to extolling the role of women specifically as mothers, noting that “the presence of women in a domestic setting” is crucial to “the very transmission of the faith.”

To his credit, Francis has called for an expansion of women's participation in the life of the church, and he has said that “the role of women in the church is not only maternity, the mother of the family.” But he seems to have trouble articulating that role in non-maternal terms, or at least in terms that are not circumscribed by the familial: “I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.” Although women may have lives outside the home, Francis has urged that we not “forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family.”

It is too much to expect, even with Francis at the helm, that the church would decide to admit women to the clergy. But it would be no violation of doctrine to recognize women as contributing to the life of the church, as being intrinsically and equally valuable, regardless of their familial role or fertility. Francis has had many opportunities to express these sentiments, yet he hasn't. It's hard not to conclude that he sees procreation as the end goal — and the functional utility — of a woman's life.

Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. Joel Baden is professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale University. They co-wrote the forthcoming Reconceiving Infertility: Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness (Princeton University Press).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Statement of Catholic Theologians on Racial Justice

The following statement was first published December 8, 2014 at Catholic Moral Theology, a website created and maintained by a group of North American Catholic moral theologians who "come together in friendship to engage each other in theological discussion, to aid one another in our common search for wisdom, and to help one another live lives of discipleship, all in service to the reign of God." For more information about this group of theologians, click here.

Advent is a season of waiting and of hoping. In the face of conflict, distrust, and division – in the wilderness – we are called to cry out for a different way. In consultation with several others, CMTer and former law enforcement officer Tobias Winright has prepared a statement of commitment to racial justice, which names the particularly difficult hope we might bring to illuminate darkness. We are happy to share the statement here on this blog. Many Catholic theologians, including myself and my co-editor, Jana Bennett, have already signed on to the statement. Please pray and act for truth and reconciliation this season . . .

Statement: Catholic Theologians for Police Reform and Racial Justice

The season of Advent is meant to be a time when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ, when God became human, born on the margins of society. To the poor shepherds, the angelic host proclaimed “peace, goodwill among people” (Luke 2:14), which refers to a shalom that is not merely the absence of conflict, but rather a just and lasting peace, wherein people are reconciled with one another, with God, and indeed with all creation. But this Advent, hope for a just peace must face the flagrant failures of a nation still bound by sin, our bondage to and complicity in racial injustice.

​The killings of Black men, women and children – including but not limited to Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, 7 year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones and 12 year-old Tamir Rice – by White policemen, and the failures of the grand jury process to indict some of the police officers involved, brought to our attention not only problems in law enforcement today, but also deeper racial injustice in our nation, our communities, and even our churches.

As Eric Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” are chanted in the streets, and as people of faith, we hear the echo of Jesus’ breathing on his disciples, telling them, “Peace be with you.” His spirit-filled breath gives his disciples, then and now, the power and obligation to raise our voices about the imperative of a just peace in fragmented and violent world.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” speaks searingly to our headline divisions today. The “cup of endurance runs over” again for African Americans and many others of good will. Our streets are filled with those exhausted by the need to explain yet again “why we can’t wait.”

King challenged “white moderate” Christians for being “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice;” and for preferring “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” This challenge to the White Christian community is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago. Such a negative peace calls to mind the warning by the prophet Ezekiel, “They led my people astray, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there was no peace” (13:10).

Pope Francis’s warning of the explosive consequences of exclusion and fearful seeking of “security” based on such a negative peace are similarly prophetic:

“Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.” Evangelii Gaudium, 59

As Catholic theologians, we wish to go on the record in calling for a serious examination of both policing and racial injustice in the US. The time demands that we leave some mark that US Catholic theologians did not ignore what is happening in our midst – as the vast majority sadly did during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

● We pledge to examine within ourselves our complicity in the sin of racism and how it sustains false images of White superiority in relationship to Black inferiority. In the words of the US Catholic Bishops Conference, “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

● We pledge to fast and to refrain from meat on Fridays during this Advent season and through the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, as well as during Lent, as a sign of our penitence and need of conversion from the pervasive sin of racism.

● We commit ourselves to placing our bodies and/or privilege on the line in visible, public solidarity with movements of protest to address the deep-seated racism of our nation.

● We support our police, whose work is indeed dangerous at times, but we also call for a radical reconsideration of policing policy in our nation. We call for an end to the militarization of police departments in the US, and we support instead the proven, effective results of community policing. Rather than perpetuating an “us versus them” mentality, a community policing approach is more consonant with our Catholic convictions that we are all each other’s keepers and should work together for the common good of our communities.

● We call for a honing of the guidelines for police use of lethal force so that they are uniform in all states within the US and so that the use of lethal force, echoing Catholic teaching on “legitimate defense,” is justified only when an aggressor poses a grave and imminent threat to the officer’s and/or other persons’ lives.

● We support those calling for better recruiting, training, and education for our police so that they may truly and justly do what they have sworn, namely, to “serve and protect” their communities.

● We support new efforts to promote accountability and transparency, such as body cameras for police officers.

● Regarding the widespread dissatisfaction with recent grand jury decisions, and the perception that a conflict of interest exists between local prosecutors and police departments, we call for the establishment of publicly accountable review boards staffed with civilian attorneys from within the jurisdiction and/or for the appointment of independent special prosecutors’ offices to investigate claims of police misconduct.

● Our nation’s pervasive yet too often denied systemic racial divisions compromise our structures of justice – in our view so much so that we support calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America. A precedent would be the 2004 Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in North Carolina.

● In view of the recent US Justice Department’s report on the pattern of excessive force found in the Cleveland Police Department, we call for similar investigations of the Ferguson Police Department, the New York Police Department, and other police forces involved in the killings of unarmed Black citizens.

● We call upon our bishops to proactively proclaim and witness to our faith’s stand against racism They have authored pastoral statements in the past, and these documents need to be revisited – in parishes, dioceses, and seminaries – and brought to the forefront of Catholic teaching and action in light of the present crisis.

● As Catholic theologians and scholars, we commit ourselves to further teaching and scholarship on racial justice. Our faith teaches us that all persons are created in the image of God and have been redeemed in Christ Jesus. In short, our faith proclaims that all lives matter, and therefore, Black lives – and Brown lives, the lives of all, regardless of color – must matter, too. As part of this commitment, we pledge to continue listening to, praying for, and even joining in our streets with those struggling for justice through nonviolent protests and peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

We pray that all of these actions will move us closer toward the fulfillment of the hope of the Advent season, toward a time when “love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Psalm 85:10).

To view this statement's list of signatories, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
This is Not a Protest – It is an Uprising – Zoë Carpenter (The Nation, December 3, 2014).
NYC Clergy Join Black And Latino City Council Caucus 'Die In' to Protest Eric Garner Killing – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, December 8, 2014).

Image: Michael Bayly. For more images of the December 4 solidarity rally in Minneapolis for Eric Garner and other victims of police brutality, click here.