Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Worries about Pope Francis are justified and can be reasonable

I've done a lot of writing about what I perceive of as mistakes on the part of a lot of criticisms of Pope Francis, with the last Strawman Dialogues being the latest example of my view. I think many criticisms coming out of the traditionalist, conservative camp are mistaken and overblown - and I think the recent history of social conservatives on controversial issues often leaves something to be desired in terms of approach and explanation. I think we've done a poor job of representing ourselves on gay marriage quite often. On abortion, not quite as often.

But I just want to make one thing clear: it's not as if I don't think worries about Pope Francis are entirely unreasonable. I may think many of the reasons being given by traditionalists are poorly voiced, and sometimes poorly considered. But "many" does not equal "all".

So, in the interest of providing some balance here... let me take a stab at explaining what I think some reasonable worries are.

Let's take a look at Francis' approach. I've praised it in large part: here we have a Catholic Pope, who has not given a single inch on Catholic orthodox teaching, getting praised by the masses. Time's person of the year? That's, if not an honor, at least a cultural boon at the moment - particularly in how it presented the Pope. That he's managed to achieve this without sacrificing anything with regards to orthodox Catholic teaching on social issues really is remarkable.

The problem - the risk - is that you don't need to sacrifice a teaching explicitly in order to sacrifice it in practice.

I think the best point of comparison is the illegal immigration issue in the United States. Illegal immigration is against the law to this day - it's on the books, there is a penalty. There is, as of yet, no amnesty. But what the hell does that matter? We've had de facto amnesty for years, and while the laws are on the books, they are typically not enforced. Oh, sure, now and then they get enforced for show. But really, you don't get tens of millions of illegal immigrants in your country by accident if you, the world power, were sincerely trying to keep them out. Let's not kid ourselves.

Likewise, it's entirely possible for the Pope to never come out and say 'Abortion is just fine, gay sex is just fine, contraception is acceptable' yet for the Church to move leftward on these issues. All you need to do is never talk about abortion and sodomy, wring your hands and whimper 'it's complicated' whenever someone asks you the question, and also find creative ways to punish anyone who actually does speak out against those things. You don't even have to punish them FOR speaking out. Find another reason - any will do, so long as they're punished.

I'm not saying that this is the situation with Francis. For one thing, he's spoken out against abortion explicitly. Women priests? Likewise - this is not an open question. Homosexuality? He's been clear, I think, if a little more silent - it's a tough issue for people to talk about, because to deal with it effectively you must be blunt, and I don't think the Pope has it in him to bluntly talk about sex. Most people don't. At the same time, the Church is more than Francis. Will the people he appoints speak out? Will they remain silent? Cardinal Wuerl seems to be the Cardinal of the Catholic Democrat Status Quo: advocate for abortion and you can still get communion, because if he doesn't grant that, then he'll go from being the toast of the town to a political pariah and we can't have that. Refuse to serve communion to a lesbian buddhist unrepentantly in a current sexual relationship? Wuerl will be there to punish you. And we just saw Wuerl elevated.

See, the fundamental problem here is that 'changing our approach' is something I sincerely believe we need to do. At the same time, I'm well aware that insincere people can hijack 'changing our approach' and use it towards some disturbingly different ends. That was, it seems, the main and ultimate problem with Vatican II - it wasn't that the core ideas involved were a bad idea. They were good ideas, in fact. It was that the implementation was easy to hijack, so hijacked it was. I can't fault anyone for being on guard against that - we've already seen it once in living memory.

So here we are in a complicated situation. The social conservatives need to change their approach, improve their message, to be more effective and to convince more people. There are legitimate criticisms to be had of the social conservatives. How do you know when you're dealing with legitimate criticisms of the message, not the value, rather than dealing with attacks on the value? That's the puzzle to figure out, and it will not always be easy.

22 comments:

BenYachov said...

Logically you can't ever not worry about a Pope.

Even Pope's who where Saint made mistakes. Pope St. Victor comes to mind.

But pretty much all of the bellyaching I've seen directed at Pope Francis so far has been much ado about nothing.

Mr. Green said...

I agree with this overall. The Church as a whole should be able to be more effective. One of the things that bugs me about the Pope-bashing is that bashing the Pope is surely not an effective way to spread the Gospel — and some of it really is just bashing, even coming from self-proclaimed orthodox Catholics. (Would they talk to their mothers this way?!) That, I have little patience with. But even some of the more tempered criticism is unfairly aimed at Francis personally, as though everything were going swimmingly under Benedict and now suddenly that Francis is Pope, the car has gone off the track. The problems you identify have been here long before Francis... even (in some way or form) long before Vatican II — otherwise we wouldn't have got the problems that followed V2 in the first place!

You're right that something in our approach needs to change, and you're right that it is complicated. Sure, all the media attention Pope Francis is getting is superficial, but so what? — most of it will evaporate, but some of it will pay off, and that's a good thing. We can take advantage of that without selling out. We are told to be as cunning as serpents: I see a lot of hissing, not so much cunning. Oh yes, and when discussing the Pope we should be as innocent as doves.

Crude said...

Ben,

What would you say is a reasonable thing to worry about with a Pope? What could a Pope do that you'd say, well, there's a bad move?

Green,

I agree that the problems were present before Francis. Certainly about V2. And I believe this Pope is accomplishing some good things. But I don't want to give the impression that I think everything is going just fine and that not a single worry is valid, etc.

BenYachov said...

First in regards to the Pope & in spite of our past differences on other issues such as how I treat certain ex-Muslim Atheists Mr. Green & myself are on the same page.

>What would you say is a reasonable thing to worry about with a Pope?

If he was publicly sinning like the Popes who used to have mistresses or in some cases if we believe the rumors a boyfriend.

If he was major derelict in his duties such as if some bishops started ordaining women "priests" and he didn't lower the boom on them.

>What could a Pope do that you'd say, well, there's a bad move?

Pope St Victor(2nd century) excommunicating Jewish Catholics for celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan instead of the first Sunday after.

The former was the practice of the Apostles John and Philip the later was the practice of Peter & Paul.

Pope St. Aneceltus previously tolerated the diversity when he met with St . Polycarp on the matter.

That was a dumb move that alienated Jewish believers in the Church.

Suppressing the Chinese Rites at the stupid instigation of the Dominicans and Franciscan missionaries to China. They un-did all the gains the Jesuits Missionaries made into China & destroyed the mission field.

Similar stupidity in regards to failing to stop Latinizing eastern rites.

Shit happens.

But I take it as a given the Pope like his predecessors will be awesome in many ways and when he is dead or retired I will do a post autopsy on what he did wrong and could have done better.

But bitching when Francis hasn't even been Pope for a year?

Did you see Codj latest on the Advocate making Francis person of the year? Pure stupidity!

Everyone knows as a Cardinal Archbishop, Francis fought legalized gay marriage tooth and nail.

Francis also didn't say anything about Gays that both B16 & jp2 didn't also say. In fact sans the mechanics of sex & personal esthetics of female body parts vs male, Francis didn't say anything different then what the Duck Dynasty dude said about Gays.

Yet the Duck Dynasty old dude is vilified by gays while Francis is praised?

That just tells me the liberal media who believes Obama merely mislead on Heathcare (& not actually lied) is just clueless.

So it's somehow Francis' fault he hasn't yet been able to get the usual suspects in the Liberal media to hate him?

So in the minds of idiots like "The Codg" that is somehow a fault?

Give me a break.

Well that is my answer rant.

Cheers Crude.

PS appreciate the backup you gave me over at Shea's on minimum wage mishigoss.

BenYachov said...

additional: In hine sight I didn't think Paul VI changing the Mass was a good idea either.
But unlike the extremists I don't think it was the end of the Church or Abominations and Desolations.

Crude said...

Did you see Codj latest on the Advocate making Francis person of the year? Pure stupidity!

Codg is making, I think, an important point. Francis is being presented, possibly (What's the article even say), as someone who approves of same-sex sexual relationships, maybe even gay marriage.

If so, that's untrue. And must be corrected. Perhaps the Pope could clarify?

Crude said...

PS appreciate the backup you gave me over at Shea's on minimum wage mishigoss.

You were there? I didn't notice you in the comments - I was there early, then left.

Anyway, no problem. Their understanding of economics is just amazing. No hesitancy whatsoever.

BenYachov said...

It seems to me Codg is faulting the Pope for being made person of the year byThe Advocate.


Anyway the Catholic League

http://www.catholicleague.org/pope-gays-women/weights in here.


Crude said...

Ah, no problem Ben.

And, I don't think Codg is saying that. I doubt he thinks the Pope has control over who they put on their magazine. The problem is message, communication, clarity.

malcolmthecynic said...

Actually, my only beef with the Pope so far is that I wish he was more clear on doctrine. I believe he actually said in his new encyclical that the greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself".

This is just untrue, and it's not even really difficult to check. The greatest commandment is to love God.

Once again, I think the Pope was trying to make the point that people should be active and moving to help people, and in making that point he fudged his interpretation of the Gospel a bit (maybe if you squint a little you can actually see his view as something reconcilable with the actual text, but I personally think it's a stretch).

So I guess what I mean is that I'm not necessarily against the things the Pope is trying to do. I just wish he started speaking more solidly on doctrine. I'm also a bit worried about what's going to happen with divorced people and the Eucharist under his papacy, but as nothing has happened yet I'm not getting worked up over it - and anyway even Pope Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger considered a new approach to Communion for divorced people.

BenYachov said...

>Actually, my only beef with the Pope so far is that I wish he was more clear on doctrine. I believe he actually said in his new encyclical that the greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself".

>This is just untrue, and it's not even really difficult to check. The greatest commandment is to love God.

You are killing me malcolm.

Here is what he actually said in context.

QUOTE" The Lord’s missionary mandate includes a call to growth in faith: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20). Hence it is clear that that the first proclamation also calls for ongoing formation and maturation.

Evangelization aims at a process of growth which entails taking seriously each person and God’s plan for his or her life. All of us need to grow in Christ. Evangelization should stimulate a desire for this growth, so that each of us can say wholeheartedly: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

161. It would not be right to see this call to growth exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation. It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbour: “The one who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbour is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8, 10). These are the words of Saint Paul, for whom the commandment of love not only sums up the law but constitutes its very heart and purpose: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). To his communities Paul presents the Christian life as a journey of growth in love: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Th 3:12). Saint James likewise exhorts Christians to fulfil “the royal law according to the Scripture: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (2:8), in order not to fall short of any commandment.

162. On the other hand this process of response and growth is always preceded by God’s gift, since the Lord first says: “Baptize them in the name…” (Mt 28:19). The Father’s free gift which makes us his sons and daughters, and the priority of the gift of his grace (cf. Eph 2:8-9; 1 Cor 4:7), enable that constant sanctification which pleases God and gives him glory. In this way, we allow ourselves to be transformed in Christ through a life lived “according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:5).END QUOTE

Dude this is just lazy & unworthy of you.

I know you are better then this guy.

Mr. Green said...

BenYachov: First in regards to the Pope & in spite of our past differences on other issues such as how I treat certain ex-Muslim Atheists Mr. Green & myself are on the same page.

Aw, we agree on lots of things, BY!

That just tells me the liberal media who believes Obama merely mislead on Heathcare (& not actually lied) is just clueless.

Clueless media? Something else we agree on! Actually, I think we should also consider that the media is hardly beyond manipulating stories for their own ends. Although I generally prefer to attribute stupidity above malice, and when it comes to the stupidity of the popular media... well, you know....

Did you see Codj latest on the Advocate making Francis person of the year? Pure stupidity! [...] So in the minds of idiots like "The Codg" that is somehow a fault?

Now, now, BenYachov. Let's not start this again. Codgitator is, well— [reads the post in question]... um... leaping lizards......ᐧ·˙ᐧ⋅... never mind, carry on!!!

No, seriously, the Codgitator is not stupid, and we shouldn't call him names. But crikey, that piece is stupid!

Crude: Codg is making, I think, an important point. Francis is being presented, possibly (What's the article even say), as someone who approves of same-sex sexual relationships, maybe even gay marriage. If so, that's untrue. And must be corrected. Perhaps the Pope could clarify?

Fair enough, and I'll even give him some leeway on that. What does the article even say? Well, what he quoted is pretty waffley. And perhaps the Pope could clarify... because if he came out on the balcony tomorrow and announced what everyone already knows is Catholic teaching, I'm sure all the same magazines would put him on the cover again with full retractions, right?? Really, if Mr. Codg were making a serious point the way you are, I agree it's worth talking about at least. It's not as simple as, "Why doesn't he just explain it", but if someone wants to discuss it seriously of course I can't object.

[Darn word limit, to be continued…]

Mr. Green said...

All right, so he's being a bit curmudgeonly, eh, it's the Internet, fine, he's venting his spleen a little snarkily... but what really gets me about that post is the jab about sadness. He's guilty of out-of-context misimplication just like the magazine he's writing about. Actually, it's worse, because you don't even need the context to understand what Pope Francis is saying. Anyone who has even an approximate understanding of Christianity should be able to figure out what he meant. And in context, the Pope actually explains it! So there is simply no excuse for getting this wrong. But that's not the worst of it. It's the anti-intellectualism that gets me most of all. A commenter posts some daft reply to the effect that if you complain, people will jump to Francis's defence with "drivel" (as Codg calls it) like, "you didn't read it properly". But he didn't read it properly!!!

Now, my goal isn't to lambaste the Codgitator. (Well, not purely for the sake of it.) I'm picking on him just as a typical of example of something I'm seeing a lot lately: self-proclaimed traditional, orthodox Catholics bashing the Pope for perfectly correct views. I understand — and even sympathise a little — with not like Francis's style, but they actually attack the content too. We're talking about people who understand Scripture and Christian philosophy, who should be open to reading thing in a charitable and honest way, so how can they possibly make the same dumb moves as some half-wit troll you might find expectorating at Feser's or Reppert's?

That's a good topic for you: how can smart people be so foolish? I don't mean, "How can Einstein not manage to dress himself in matching socks?", or even, "How could Einstein make up that cosmological constant?" Smart people make typos, they have bad days, they get idées fixes. But how can someone who is proven to be able of thinking rationally, of following a logical argument, suddenly develop an insurmountable blind spot in one area? Maybe it's not so strange; maybe we're all like that, and I just don't recognise it because my own blind spot is in some less noticeable area. But we do know that the Codgitator is not a stupid man, and yet he — and others like him — seem to have a mental block when it comes to certain things said by Pope Francis. That disturbs me.

malcolmthecynic said...

Ben, neither of those are the greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-40

New International Version (NIV)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.


Pope Francis's statement seems at first glance to be incorrect. The first and greatest commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind".

Of course, when reading it this quote is unclear:

Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples:

So, is Pope Francis trying to subtly make a DISTINCTION between the first and greatest commandment and the "love your neighbor" commandment? If so that's better, though he does word it rather unclearly.

Mr. Green said...

An additional thought: the whole thing feels rather like a conspiracy theory. You know Bilbo — he's not an idiot either. He's a good, decent guy. He just has this mental hiccup about 9/11. But because he's a rational fellow, you can actually have a conversation with him about it. If you raise an objection, he will take it seriously and try to come up with a response that actually answers it. Now, he's got a lot of equally conspiracy-theoretical answers ready, but I always get the feeling that he is at least trying to respond honestly, given his position. I dunno, maybe I'm misreading the psychology. Most of us run on semi-automatic-pilot when it comes to dishing out replies we already [think we] understand. But it's still bizarre to find faithful Catholics acting this way when it comes to claims that are a standard part of Christian thought. If I were talking about joy with the Codgitator a year ago, I bet he would have had no problem with the idea that Christian joy is a natural and sure result of Christian faith. If the topic were assigned to him, I have no doubt he could have written a darn good explanation and defence of the whole concept. Put the words in Francis's mouth, on the other hand, and reason seems to fly out the window. As I said, I find this disturbing.

Mr. Green said...

Malcolm the cynic: I believe he actually said in his new encyclical that the greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself".

Uh-oh. Doesn't Pope Francis know the Shema? Well, just for fun, why don't we do something radical and actually look at what the Pope said? (Hey, we don't even have to figure out how to work this dang crazy Internet thingy — BenYachov already posted it for us!)

Huh, so the Pope was quoting St. Paul. But out of context, no doubt! After all, what Paul really said was:

Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another. For he that loveth his neighbour, hath fulfilled the law.
9 For Thou shalt not commit adultery: Thou shalt not kill: Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness: Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandment, it is comprised in this word, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 The love of our neighbour worketh no evil. Love therefore is the fulfilling of the law.

Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty: only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit serve one another.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.



Hm. "Fulfilled", "any other commandment", "all the law". Maybe Paul didn't know the Shema. At any rate, it seems to me that it's gonna take some squinting and fudging to blame the Pope for anything here. But I completely agree with you about one thing: it wasn't difficult to check!

Mr. Green said...

P.S. Malcolm, my comment was of course meant to be sarcastic, but don't think I'm lumping you in with the Pope-bashers — it's clear you aren't one. To be honest, my immediate reaction to the "greatest commandment" bit was exactly the same as yours. It is entirely valid to raise the point as an honest criticism... one that in this case I think happens to have a perfectly good response; it's the people who won't give it that fair hearing who really annoy and perplex me. And I harbour no ill-will against the Codgitator; his actions wouldn't annoy and perplex me so much if I didn't already have respect for him.


P.P.S. Crude, the RSS stuff is showing up in full, thank you!

malcolmthecynic said...

Like you, Mr. Green, I'm as critical as I am of the Codgitator because I think he's generally a very intelligent blogger. But some of what he's been writing has, in my opinion, gone way past acceptable criticism and turned into over the top bashing. Just read his "Open Letter to a Lost Sheep". He spends four sentences saying, "Oh yeah, apostasy is bad", and then spends the rest of the letter bashing Pope Francis. Not only that, by the time the letter ends he doesn't even mention the original point of the letter again - it's really a long rant.

But anyway - perhaps it's backed up in the system, but I don't think my reply to Ben's post is up yet, so here's a short version of it - I still think the quote, yes, even in context, is iffy at best.

Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn15:12).

But that is NOT the first and greatest commandment, and more than that, that passage in John does not identify the first and greatest commandment. It's probably in all of the synoptic Gospels but I remember it best from Matthew, where the commandment is "You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind".

Now I will grant that if you squint a bit there might be some leeway on the wording - but I DO wish he'd be a bit clearer.

BenYachov said...

I see Mr. Green reads the NT as if it was written by Jews and with a Jewish mentality. Good on you Boychik!!!!!

Mozaltov!!!!! Baruch HaShem!

>Ben, neither of those are the greatest commandment.

In the context of Matt (which is the Gospel to the Jews) the question of "Which is the Greatest Commandment?" was asked by the Pharisees & it means here "Which is the Greatest Mitzvoth in the Torah?". Jesus answers by citing the Shema & Deuteronomy 6:5 from the Old Covenant Scriptures. This is the greatest OT Mitzvoth, no question, but Pope Francis isn't trying to contradict that here.

Scripture tells us that the New Covenant is a greater covenant then the Old. In John 15:12 the Messiah King gives a new Mitzvoth/Commandment for the New Covenant. In the context of the Pope's writing here(which is about Missionary work not Rabbinic discussions on the greatest OT Mitzvoth)being commanded to love others by the love of the Incarnate God is greater in that it is by loving with this divine love we lead others to embrace the OTMitzvoth to "Love YHWH your God with all your heart etc" and that come from being converted to Christ.

>So, is Pope Francis trying to subtly make a DISTINCTION between the first and greatest commandment and the "love your neighbor" commandment?

No he is not contradicting the brute fact Deut 6:5 is the greatest Mitzvoth in the Torah. But it cannot be realized without following this NT Mitzvoth.

We just have to read the context and not look at simplistic sound bites from secondary sources.

Otherwise we become as paranoid as the Codg. I know you are not down with that.

malcolmthecynic said...

Hmmmm, that's an interesting theory, and I'd be happy to accept it...but I still find it quite odd that he quotes a completely different part of the Gospels (book of Matthew) talking about a different quote and applies it to a separate quote from the Gospel of John.

This somewhat confirms my original suspicions - it's possible to reconcile what he's saying, and he makes a reasonable point, but I wish he'd write more clearly. Pope Francis's speaking and writing style is a two-edged sword. It gets its message out effectively, but its primary concern is more in getting the message out and less about clarity.

Lest I seem unclear, that's not an insult of Pope Francis. He has not actually said anything objectively incorrect. It is, though, an observation of how his speaking/writing style perhaps differs from that of his predecessors - and while this style has benefits, there are indeed pitfalls that can be avoided. Pope Francis is not perfect - and neither was Benedict, or John Paul II. That doesn't mean I'm not going to point out times I wish he'd clarify certain things.

BenYachov said...

Cheers Malcolm.

Sorry to be so hard on you.

malcolmthecynic said...

Bluntness is never a problem with me, so long as bluntness does not devolve into personal insults - I'd be some hypocrite if I couldn't take what I dish out.