Monday, September 30, 2013

Codgitating the Pope

Codgitator has been writing about Pope Francis as well, and I wanted to reply to some of his comments.

One issue, which I brought up in the previous comment section, is that I don't want to come across as taking too strong of a view here. I think criticisms about the Pope which amount to 'he should have said something that NARAL couldn't twist!' is a fool's game. That I stand by completely, and I'll further stand by the claim that the Pope is projecting a far better image - one that SoCons would do well to not only emulate publicly, but also privately. But I'm not about to make the claim that the Pope has been unquestionably brilliant and he has made no missteps - that's way too far. I think he's been smarter than people give him credit for, more effective than people give him credit for, and he's said a lot which needs to be said. I'll stop short of claims of brilliance, certainly with regards to his interview.

The problem is that I think the position Francis finds himself in is difficult. I really believe social conservatives have made some fundamental mistakes on the three key issues he spoke of - gay marriage, abortion and (for Catholic) contraception. Abortion hasn't been quite as negative as gay marriage, and contraception is off in its own category. But I think, even if one adheres utterly to the orthodox teaching on these matters, SoCons have trapped themselves into thinking 'Well so long as our view is orthodox, we're doing great and there's nothing to change.' Francis was trying to communicate that something is wrong about the current SoCon approach, and there's really no way to do that without ultimately criticizing some SoCons in the process - and for Catholics who see themselves as 'the actually loyal Catholics' (and they are, frankly, especially compared to who they have in mind as disloyal), getting a reprimand by the Pope stings. I'm not sure how you can deliver that corrective while still A) keeping it from stinging somewhat, while B) at the same time being clear. If the Pope managed to do that, I'd be saying he was brilliant. He didn't.

Now, Codgitator also asks me another question:

I mean, read the following piece and tell me that the author is daftly or disingenuously twisting what’s not there in the interview:
Sure, gladly. Let's go through a few key quotes.

Reactions to Francis’s sit-down with Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, have focused on areas where the Pope seems most in tune with liberal sympathies. 
Well, right there we have a disingenuous twist of the Pope's words - precisely because the Pope is not 'in tune with liberal sympathies' in the interview. Liberal sympathies are 'abortion is totally okay, gay marriage and certainly same-sex sexual activity is totally okay, and contraception is great'. The Pope not only said none of this, he gave not so much as a hint of even 'liberalizing' on these issues. About the only thing that liberals sympathize with is the fact that the Pope upset SoCons by suggesting their tone and focus was out of place - period.

Likewise, I think the suggestions that the Pope's words mean that liberal Catholic theologians (in the sense of wanting to change Church teaching on abortion, contraception, LGBT issues, women's ordination, etc) shouldn't be censored, or that the Pope is opening the door to actual doctrinal changes on these issues, is a clear case of 'twisting what's not there'. There's nothing in Francis' interview which prompts that kind of speculation, or gives any hope to it - and considering Francis has continude LCWR investigations, and has been the Pope right during the formal excommunication of a liberal Australian priest, I think the evidence points against such interpretations. This is the typical liberal two-step of 'We praised you and said good things. Now, if you want to continue receiving our praise, you have to change the teachings.' Again, I think this is the fear gripping SoLibs - that the Pope may say these things, that he may be compassionate and positively portrayed in the media... but at the end of the day, he's orthodox after all.

More from Codgitator:

Hence, I think Dale Price’s warning about “The Nuke” is correct — — and so his question here is my own until further notice: “Can you find any soundbites to fling back at the retrograde, unChristian behavior of progressives? Let me know.”
Well, I've never read Dale Price's blog before... and I have to say, I think Dale's overreacting to an extreme. His complaints seem to come down to the following:

* Whatever the Pope said, it made liberals REAL happy. If the liberals are REAL happy, then something must be VERY wrong. I actually wrote about this exact attitude in a recent entry, and I explained why I reject it. I think some SoCons have caught themselves in the trap of thinking that, if what they're saying and doing isn't provoking ire and rage from SoLibs, then they must be doing something wrong. To a point, this makes sense as a vague guide. Past a point, it's counterproductive.

*  The Pope said he's tired of the Vatican being involved with all these unorthodoxy cases. Dale casts off not only the excommunication of an Australian SoLib priest, but also ignores the continued investigation into the LCWR. His attitude seems to be, 'These were underway before Francis showed up.' Sure - but at the same time, Francis had it entirely within his power to stop either of these things straightaway. He didn't. Why is this not worth something? Why is this not provoking some Catholics to think, hold on, maybe we're not quite in the situation NARAL seems to suggest we're in?

Now, the meat here for this conversation comes when Codg points to Dale's question: 'Can you find any soundbites to fling back at the retrograde, unChristian behavior of the progressives?' First, I think the "soundbite" Dale complains about regarding conservatives - he makes reference to the words 'obsessive' and 'small-minded' - is a non-starter.

The word 'obsessive' appears exactly once in the interview: The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

Here's my question in turn: where, exactly, is the pro-liberal soundbite in the above? All I see there is a legitimate observation by the Pope. Now, I can imagine a SoLib frantically spinning the above into 'And that's why premarital sex between a male teacher and his 12 year old student is a reflection of Christ's love!' - but they can, and will, spin just about anything. What is in this quote that should take me aback? What should worry me?

Likewise, 'small-minded' appears exactly once. Here's the full quote:

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.

So once again I'm sitting here asking myself - where exactly is the huge offensive portion? He's certainly not connecting 'abortion' with 'small-minded rules'. He warns against a danger of being too rigorous *or too lax*. He explicitly says that being too lax *is not merciful*. Where is the problem I should be seeing with these words?

In fact, all I see is the exact thing Dale asked for: a soundbite to fling back at those progressives. First, since when do SoLib Catholics love proclaiming 'Jesus Christ has saved you'? Should they be giddy at the warning that being too lax, or saying 'that is not a sin', is the action of a loose minister who doesn't care about the person they're dealing with?

Here, have another soundbite.

 I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo

Talk of 'female machismo' as a negative thing, that a woman has a different make-up than a man, and that the people talking about the role of women is inspired by such is not going to go over well with SoLibs.

So no, ultimately I think Dale is off-target. I also think he's way, way too animated and worked up - that may just be his style, since again, I have not encountered this blog before - over the interview. A lot of these seems to be coming down to the claim that, again, 'If the Left is praising it, then it has to be bad.' My advice on this front is simple: if the Left knows you think like this, if the Left gets the idea that anything they praise is something you either must condemn or reflexively will condemn, you've set yourself up to be screwed over by them.


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Thanks for this. As I say, it's taking me some time to wrap my mind around what you see as the Pope's rhetorical jujitsu. It's a very high-flying approach, and I think I'm more suited to the plodding, Teutonic sobriety of Benedict XVI (German major here!). I agree that Dale's post is over the top in many places, but, for one thing, that is his style, and, for another, he's speaking from a genuinely wounded heart. The take-away I have from your comments lately on this matter is twofold: first, that I shouldn't be taken in by liberal acclaim for Francis, which I knew, but feel he chummed the waters a little too giddily in the interview, and second, that it's good that Francis is at least pointing towards a new mode of waging the culture war. That last point is the real sticking point for me, since I can't shake how odious the Protestantoid suggestion is that the Church as such is evangelistically imbalanced and facing a collapse of moral authority. As I may have mentioned, the reason I'm writing as much as I am lately on this is to help me sort through my emotions. Even granting that the Pope is technically orthodox even in some of his gamier quotations, I found his later comments about his view of tradition and history to be an interpretive key for much of his other comments. I smelled a lot of Hegel in there, and it just made me queasy. I'm surprised by my emotional reaction to all this, but I can't deny it, either. I'm going to re-read the interview before I make any more comments on all this. (Btw, when I first read it, I parsed and 'tagged' what I thought were key statements in the interview, and was pleasantly surprised by how orthodox he was in "the interview": I gave him a 90, presumptuous pup that I am!)

Crude said...

I agree that Dale's post is over the top in many places, but, for one thing, that is his style, and, for another, he's speaking from a genuinely wounded heart.

I agree. And I can completely understand why anyone would feel upset, at the very least, that the Pope made the comments he did - particularly with regards to his not wanting to have a single-minded focus, and definitely the visceral reaction to gleeful liberals. I think in that case what helped me see through it was liberals overplaying their hand. When NARAL is putting out 'Dear Pope Francis, thank you. Sincerely, pro-choice women everywhere.' pictures, that to me screams utter insincerity - and if they're being insincere, it prompts me to ask why.

I found his later comments about his view of tradition and history to be an interpretive key for much of his other comments.

Which part are you referring to? Is this about the other interview with the Pope talking about Aquinas and manuals, etc?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

No, it's in the Spadaro interview. I recall it was toward the bottom third of the interview. Maybe not. I'll be re-reading the interview, so I'll have more to say after that. Basically, the constant emphasis on history and dynamism and doctrinal opinions, etc. sent up the real red flags for me. All I've been doing lately is trying to hack my way through the controversy of the most wildly debated expressions. There's just a major "vibe" I've been getting from Francis the past few weeks that makes me vaguely edgy. Part of my edginess is not knowing exactly why I feel uncomfortable with him on some things. So I need to thrash out the kinks in my codgitative system.

Crude said...

Alright. I'm not seeing which part you mean, so I'll wait for you to comment on it. I could be missing something subtle on that front.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

(The hits just keep on coming: )

Crude said...

Interesting. Nothing that changes my mind quite yet, though talk of a more 'horizontal' church has me wondering what he means.

DP said...

This is very charitably stated, and I appreciate you both (yourself and Cod) noting that, yes, it comes from a wounded heart.

It's not a matter of reacting to lib stuff as unclean: frankly, those to my left readily embrace Catholic social teaching and so do I (after some struggles with it early). So, when Benedict criticizes capitalism and Francis says "where there is no work, there is no dignity," I can cheer along side them.

No, it is much more the *nature* of their cheering which unsettles me. For example, Fr. Martin says he "has never been prouder to be a Catholic." That strikes me as fatuous--and frankly insulting:

Not your first Mass. Not celebrating a wedding. Not baptising a child into the faith. Not comforting the dying.

But an interview?

However, in light of the newest interview detonating, I have to think they are on to something, and have the better understanding of the first interview.

At a minimum, they're the ones happily advancing a vision, and are not despondent. Fr. Radcliffe of the Dominicans is imagining voting by the laity at Synods and women deacons.

They're not the ones backfilling, parsing, re-presenting, etc. And I can't see any hint that progressive Catholics are feeling like I am: orphaned.

Crude said...


Hey there. I hope my response to you didn't seem too hostile or the like. It wasn't meant to be so.

I can understand totally why you'd feel, as you said, orphaned. I think that's going too far ultimately, but still, I can understand it.

For the record, I don't think I've been backfilling, parsing, or re-presenting. My focus has been pretty narrow: on social issues and Church teaching regarding them. I stand by what I've said there, even in light of the second interview. I have yet to see any hint that Francis will change such teachings, much less teachings regarding, say... women priests.

We'll see what more is said, but for now, I find myself remaining upbeat but cautious. Part of the issue here is, I've long been convinced that social conservatives have been in dire need of changing their approach and message on some fronts - so insofar as I see Francis doing that, while maintaining orthodoxy on such matters, I'm encouraged. But when he starts talking about the need for more 'horizontal-ness' and so on, yeah, I'm not blind. That's something I'll be watching.

DP said...

No, let me hasten to say I didn't find your approach hostile--to the contrary. Quite charitable.

And, no, I don't see you as a "let your smile be your umbrella" spin-meister, either. It's a good piece for me to chew on. A different approach on "the social issues" could be profitable, and it never hurts to check yourself to see how you're doing. But it was, in a way, the cumulative hits in the interview which rubbed people the wrong way. I'm not quite a traditionalist (to which trads would likely rebut that it's like saying "you're not quite pregnant"), but I think John Zmirak's piece captures why it's a gut punch. To his credit, he doesn't let his fellow traditionalists off the hook:

I will finish this response by saying that I think we might be talking past each other a bit. My greatest concern is with the theological ramifications of choosing to not police the boundary lines well. One of my links was to a defense of Roger Haight, who argued that the empty tomb was not necessary to Christianity. He was deservedly thumped by the Vatican for that, along with diluting the singularity and necessity of Christ. When Francis says he wants the Curia to mediate such matters, leaving the ultimate resolution to the locals, that is deeply problematic.

Thank you again for your response.

The Deuce said...

Hey Crude,

I've been basically on the same side as yours regarding these various "bombshell" soundbites from Francis, but what do you take from this latest interview of his? Some excerpts:

Pope Francis told me: "The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing."

Up till now, I've been persuaded that Francis was trying to focus people on the centrality of Christ first, from which Christian morality flows, not saying "abortion and gay marriage are no big deal, and we need to stop focusing on them so much." But now we've got him saying that youth unemployment and lonely old people are the most urgent problems facing the Church? Shouldn't the centrality of Christ apply here too, just as much as abortion? How on earth could youth unemployment possibly be a more serious evil than widely legalized mass-murder?

And then there's this:

Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?
"Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good."

Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that's one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.
"And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."

Again, his previous statement regarding "conscience" was interpreted by orthodox Christians who support him (and I agreed with them) as merely stating that non-Christians lack the moral knowledge granted by Christ's revelation, and can at best follow what limited awareness of the Good their conscience gives them access to, and not "Just do what feels right for you and that's okay." Now he seems unequivocally to be saying, well, just that. What's worse, he apparently said this in response to being *SPECIFICALLY ASKED* about whether there is a single standard of Good and Someone to ground it.

I'd like to think that this was a maliciously edited interview that left out other really important stuff that he said, but I dunno. It seems odd that every week or two he seems to provide more soundbites that are harder to explain away than the previous set, as if he's primarily a progressive who's being gradually less and less ambiguous about it to test the waters, and to use the "boiling frog" effect to prevent a sudden shocked backlash.

The Deuce said...

FWIW, I'm not Catholic myself (PCA here), but up until now I've been looking into matters and defending Francis when my Protestant friends jump on each of these statements with "He's a heretic!" So, I pointed out that redeemed isn't the same thing as saved in Catholic theology after "Everyone, even atheists, is redeemed," that he hadn't really said that atheists can go to heaven if they just follow their conscience, that he hadn't really said that we need to resist abortion and the normalization of sodomy, etc, etc. But, I don't see how I could even begin to defend this last one. Again, unless there's just been some seriously malignant editing or translation that we don't know about.