ONE YEAR LATER: Pope Francis’ Revolution in Context

March 11, 2014

Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis

ONE YEAR LATER is an afternoon series focusing on the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy. Bondings 2.0 will be running this series all week.  The anniversary of his election is Thursday, March 13th.

Pope Francis’ first year has been a whirlwind for Catholics of all stripes, and the world at large. To further understand why and how the new pope is changing the Church, this post sets Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s election in the context of his immediate predecessors, Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, to draw out just what has made Pope Francis different.

Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, set the scene in a February column published on the anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation (and for an analysis of Benedict’s legacy, read Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese’s column). Coday writes:

“Remember what we, in the U.S. Catholic church, had been through: an ‘apostolic visitation’ of congregations of American women religious; a doctrinal investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the appointment of overlords to help them ‘reform.’ Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois had been excommunicated because he supported women’s ordination. Long established and trusted scholars, Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley and St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, had been censured. The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board for child protection had warned the bishops that complacency threatened the continuing implementation of their policies and guidelines meant to keep children safe. The U.S. bishops seemed to be doing their best to scuttle health care reform over — of all things — artificial contraception; their campaign for religious freedom seemed petty and partisan. A clunky, ideologically driven translation of the Mass prayers had been thrust upon us.

“I remember people feeling dejected and drifting away from the church. Not storming out, just drifting away.

“Writing last year about the state of the church (and by ‘the church’ I mean we, the people in the pews who form the body of Christ), Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister used the word ‘weary.’…’weariness is a condition of the heart that has lost the energy to care anymore.’ “

In light of where the Church was, and where it is now with Pope Francis leading, the author notes, “What a difference a year makes.” Since his election, the new pope has made headlines repeatedly for positive words and acts on LGBT matters. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, wrote a piece assessing what Pope Francis has done in regard to LGBT topics.

And what is so different?

Michael Sean Winters wrote a lengthy blog post on the continuity/discontinuity of Pope Francis with Benedict XVI and John Paul II for the National Catholic Reporter. While noting overlaps, Winters points to a key distinction relevant to those concerned with sexual ethics and social justice: 

“It can be fairly said that in the pontificate of John Paul II, pastoral theology was made to be a subset of moral theology. Responding to what he perceived as theological chaos in the post-Vatican II era, rightly or wrongly, and I think there was a bit of both, John Paul II came down hard on those who were trying to push the envelope on matters of moral theology…No one could credibly claim that there was not a large measure of old-style, Polish clerical authoritarianism in John Paul’s character…

“Under Francis, it can be said that moral theology has been returned to its proper place as a subset of pastoral theology, not the other way round. Indeed, you could say that one of the principal differences between Francis and his predecessors is that he has placed far less emphasis on his job as teacher of the faith and far more emphasis on his job as pastor of the flock.”

Yet, the narrative that Pope Francis is the dichotomy to Benedict XVI and John Paul II is not quite right. To further understand what is happening, The New York Times documented personnel changes made by Pope Francis, including the demotion of Cardinal Raymond Burke and other cultural warriors who rose under the previous two papacies. Jason Horowitz and Jim Yardley write:

“Less apparent, if equally significant [than public actions] for the future of the church, is how Francis has taken on a Vatican bureaucracy so plagued by intrigue and inertia that it contributed, numerous church officials now believe, to the historic resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, last February.

“Francis’ reign may not ultimately affect centuries-old church doctrine, but it is already reshaping the way the church is run and who is running it. Francis is steadily replacing traditionalists with moderates as the church prepares for a debate about the role of far-flung bishops in Vatican decision-making and a broad discussion on the family that could touch on delicate issues such as homosexuality and divorce…

“Francis remains tricky to define, a doctrinal conservative whose humble style and symbolic gestures have thrilled many liberals.”

Later this week, “One Year Later” will explore just how Catholics in the pews have responded and what long-term impact Pope Francis might have as he embarks on a second year. You can view the full series by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: Cardinal Dolan, Michael Sam, Civil Unions, and Pope Francis

March 11, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksOn Sunday, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was interviewed on Meet The Press, and he made two quotes worth noting related to LGBT issues.  One quote indicates that Pope Francis seems to be having an influence on the cardinal’s language concerning LGBT issues, but the second one shows that there might be disagreement between these church leaders.

When host David Gregory asked him to respond to Michael Sam, the NFL draft prospect who recently came out,  the cardinal had this to say:

Michael Sam

“Good for him. I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya. . . . look the same Bible that tells us, that teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say, ‘Bravo.’ “

Gay Star News reported this information. Dolan’s quote seems to echo Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” line.

In the same interview, Cardinal Dolan indicated that he believes Pope Francis is interested in exploring the issue of civil unions.  According to Religion News Service, Dolan answered a question about  pope’s recent interview with an Italian newspaper by saying that he thought

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

“. . .Francis was telling Catholics that ‘we need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven’ the public to accept them.”

“ ‘It wasn’t as if he came out and approved them,’ said Dolan, the nation’s most prominent Catholic bishop and the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. ‘But Francis was instead saying, “Rather than quickly condemn them … let’s just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people.” ‘ “

But Dolan and Pope Francis might not see eye to eye on this issue:

“When host David Gregory asked Dolan if accepting civil unions would make him ‘uncomfortable,’ Dolan said it would because it could ‘water down’ the traditional religious view of marriage.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

In last week’s blog post about Pope Francis’ interview, we noted that there seemed to be reasons to doubt whether the pope was speaking about same-gender civil unions when he made his remarks.  He was, at best, ambiguous.  It is significant that as prominent a church leader as Cardinal Dolan has interpreted the pope’s comments as indicating interest in same-gender unions–perhaps a sign that discussions of supporting lesbian and gay relationships are on the agendas of church leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Telegraph: Pope says Catholic Church should not dismiss gay marriage

In Trinidad, a Catholic Priest Speaks Out Boldly for LGBT Equality

March 11, 2014

LGBT issues in the Caribbean continue to be somewhat of a roller coaster, especially when it comes to Catholic involvement with those issues.  Recently, we’ve seen a story with positive and negative sides emerging from this region, giving hope and also reminding us of how far we have to go.

Fr. Stephen Geofroy

In Trinidad, a Catholic priest has publicly come out in support of civil rights for gay and lesbian people, as the country there debates reforming their constitution.  While the draft of the constitution notes the oppression that gay and lesbian people experience, it fell short of addressing that problem by not providing them constitutional protection.  Instead, the draft calls for further national discussion and education on these issues.  You can read about the political debate by clicking here.

At a forum where citizens were able to express their opinions on the constitution draft, a Catholic priest, Fr. Stephen Geofroy, spoke out in favor of lesbian and gay rights.   The Trinidad Express reported:

“Geofroy said the matter should not be debated further and instead Government should be embracing of all its people.

“ ‘Now on the issue of sexual orientation being subject to further national discussion…discussion about what? Aren’t LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), aren’t they not humans still, yes or no?’ said Geofroy.
‘Yes? Then they should have rights as other people have,’ he continued as he received loud applause from the packed hall.

“Geofroy said there was no debate on whether gays are people or not as they have expressed themselves clearly that they are part and parcel of this country’s culture.

“ ‘We’ve come over a long history of slavery and indentureship and now it is time to break the many things that denigrate the person,’ said Geofroy.

“’This is certainly one of the things we have to do and we have to be very decisive of it.”

” ‘Geofroy said there has been discrimination on the basis of race, colour and class in this country.

“ ‘…I don’t see the difference with sexual orientation. We are citizens of a country and people have the right to love who they want irrespective,’ said Geofroy .

“He said to continue discussing the issue at a national level without taking a decision was to go the way of other countries such as Nigeria and Uganda as part of a political agenda.

“ ‘I think we should avoid that like the plague,’ he said.”

Geofroy’s statements were met with thunderous applause. In the same article, Colin Robinson, executive director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), praised Geofroy’s words, called him a “real Catholic,” and explained that there were a handful of Catholic and Anglican clergy who were ministering to the island nation’s gay community.

Archbishop Joseph Harris, to whose diocese Geofroy belongs, attempted to correct the priest’s comments, but at the same time, spoke out for civil rights for lesbian and gay people by noting that the Church has always  “held there should be no discrimination based on sexual ori­en­ta­tion.”  A follow-up article in The Trinidad Express reported:

“Harris said: ‘It is unfortunate; he used an unfortunate turn of phrase when he said people should be free to love whom they want to love. I hope, therefore, when he was speaking about people being free to love, he was talking about love in the platonic (brotherhood). Love is platonic.’ “

Harris mentioned that he was concerned that Geofroy’s comments would be construed to support same-sex marriage.

The archbishop went on to explain his policy on gay priests, as well as his opinion of Geofroy:

“Asked about the Church’s policy on gay priests, Harris said: ‘There are priests whose sexual orientation is towards their own sex. All priests are called to celibacy. But as long as a priest is not acting out his orientation, he is okay’

“Harris said Fr Geofroy was ‘a priest in good standing.’ “

Geofroy’s decision to speak out for human rights makes him not only a priest of good standing, but a priest of courage, integrity, and compassion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



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