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At Religion Dispatches, Mary E Hunt has written about Pope Francis that there are “Three Things That Worry Me“.  She’s not alone. Amid the general euphoria and adulation that Pope Francis has received and in the secular press, there’ve been other voices questioning, if not fully dissenting, whether this is entirely justified. Conservatives of course, are worried (I think with good cause), and the outright reactionaries downright horrified and angry.  But we know that notwithstanding the noise they are able to make,and their claims to represent true Catholicism, these are a small minority. I’m more interested in the concerns of  many moderate and progressive Catholics,    Briefly, these concerns are

All of the enthusiasm about Francis’ style does not change the fact that the institutional Roman Catholic Church is a rigid hierarchy led by a pope.
A second difficulty flows from the first, in that nothing has changed for women or LGBTIQ people with regard to Catholicism during the early months of this papacy. Nor is there much prospect on either issue given what the pope has said publicly.
A third conundrum of contemporary Catholicism is the remarkable, even enviable public relations success, not to say coup, that the papacy of Pope Francis represents….. substantive structural and doctrinal issues do not evaporate just because the pope does not wear Prada.
Each of these points deserves careful consideration. For now, I state only my top-line response. Hunt is right – but also wrong.

There’s been absolutely no change in any of the sorely needed matters of substance, it’s all been surface and style. Certainly, moving away from the evil of clericalism means we have to dramatically downgrade the papacy itself, and the episcopal office, just as we need open up the priesthood to  married men and women, of any orientation. There;s also been a lot of double – speak and mixed messages: there’ve been diametrically opposed interpretations of Francis’ recent comments about gay parents.

But it’s incorrect to assert that he has done nothing to change the fundamentals. His appointment of the advisory board of 8 has at a stroke downgraded the importance and power of the curia. By the time they have completed their deliberations on restructuring it, that process could well continue. The choice of new cardinals for next month’s consistory could also further shift the emphasis from the centre to the dioceses. Even more interesting, will be his choices for the consistory after this one, and for his remaining appointments to the curia. For me, the crunch issue is will he appoint more women and lay men to more senior positions in Vatican governance – and signal to the bishops that they should do the same at at national and diocesan level? For now, it’s too soon to tell, but he’s only been in office barely nine months. The important thing is not how “little” he’s done in those nine months, but what he will have achieved (or not) by the end of his term. Give him time, before judging conclusively. For now, he’s clearly moving in the direction of a more comprehensive, enduring restructuring of church power structures.
On the doctrinal issues (especially the sexual ones), and on women’s ordination, he’s obviously not changed anything – but he has very conspicuously opened up room for genuine and frank discussion and debate. It was notable that “Evangelii Gaudium” had nothing to say on sexuality in all its 225 pages – but in the preamble, he noted that some issues had deliberately not been covered, because they needed further study and reflection. Part of that process is the synod on marriage and family, and the global consultation that is preceding it. The synod has not been called to change teaching, but its conceivable (even likely?) that this period of study and reflection could demonstrate the need for that change.
He’s ruled out the likelihood of women cardinals (for now), but even discussion of the possibility would have been inconceivable under Benedict or JPII – and that possibility remains open, for the future. He has explicitly said that we need to find ways to bring women more directly into the decision making structures of the church, but not yet said how. That too, presumably, needs more “study and reflection”. Is it fantasy to imagine that could include rewriting the procedures for the conclave to it admit senior leaders of women religious (if not designated as cardinals, then in some other way)? Or similarly, could we see their counterparts taking up seats alongside men in what our now called national “bishops’ ” conferences?
On both these counts, sexuality and including women in church decision – making, Pope Francis is directly encouraging open discussion. Who knows where that will end?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor can the Vatican be unbuilt in one. He’s only just begun.

(Cross-posted at Queering the Church)

Related posts:

Francis’ Silence on Sex: Requires “More Reflection and Study”? (at Queering the Church)
“What British Catholics Believe About Sex” (It’s Not the Catechism!)(at Queering the Church)
German Moral and Pastoral Theologians Respond to Pope Francis's Questions about Sexual Morality and Family: Time for Significant Change(bilgrimage)
A Powerful Set Of Answers To The Vatican’s Questions (enlightenedcatholicism-colkoch)
Box of Books for Francis--Poll Results (commonwealmagazine)

Originally posted to gaycatholic on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 08:51 AM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Anglican Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I suppose the answer would depend (4+ / 0-)

    on what one's expectations are.

    Clearly Pope Francis has not gone out of his way to demonize the gay community. On the other hand he has, for example, expressed shock that a nation (Malta I believe) would consider passing a law allowing gay couples to adopt.

    •  Has he? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, occupystephanie

      Be careful about this. There've been no direct reports that he in fact expressed shock - only that the Maltese bishop reported that he had done so.

      In fact, it's part of his style to listen attentively and sympathetically to all who talk to him. It's entirely probable that this could have created the impression in the bishop's mind that Francis agreed with his own response, but I withhold judgement on this, until we have a reliable report of the pope's own words.

      •  Don't get me wrong (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LuvSet, BlackSheep1, occupystephanie

        He's a billion times better than Ratzi.

      •  Hasn't he? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        corvo, sfbob

        In 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio called same-sex 'marriage' an "anti-value and an anthropological regression." In a conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka published in the book “On Heaven and Earth”, he said same-sex 'marriage' is a weakening of the institution of marriage, an institution that has existed for thousands of years and is “forged according to nature and anthropology.”
        This is a bit more evidence than just some flimsy hearsay. And the Vatican certainly hasn't called the Maltese bishop a liar regarding this statement.

        Here are some statements when he was archbishop in Argentina:

        In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.
        Plus many more.

        I think his views are pretty clear.

        •  then how does that make him (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          denise b

          a disappointment?  shouldn't expectations have been low to begin with?

          Politics means controlling the balance of economic and institutional power. Everything else is naming post offices.

          by happymisanthropy on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 12:58:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  When the title (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            is "A disappointment on women and gays?" it sets the expectations a bit higher than business as usual.

            Otherwise why even ask the question?

            Pope Francis is being hailed as a reformer, I think it's perfectly justified for women and gays to feel disappointed if they are left out of the reform movement.

            Personally, I'm with you and think a lot of it is PR hype to begin with. My expectations are indeed low.

            •  Nobody's being "left out" of the reform movement. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              What has been achieved so far is primarily a matter of style, but there is ample evidence that this change of style will lead in time to more substantive change, for example by the planned synod on marriage and family (which will also specifically consider the place of same - sex couples and their families). ALL Catholics across the world have been invited to participate in that, and several LGBT groups have already found ways to take part in the process. Many more will continue to do so. (A European umbrella group of LGBT Christians will be setting aside a full day of their 2014 conference for a Catholic workshop on how best to do this).

              On women, he's ruled out ordination to the priesthood - but has said clearly that there must be ways found to bring many more women into real decision making. In the long run, that could be far more significant than simply ordaining a few female priests, but leaving a pink ceiling in place.

              We have no idea yet how that will be done (nor has he, I suspect), but again he clearly wants serious discussion.

              Even without changing the doctrinal rules, its entirely feasible, for instance, to begin ordaining women deacons, or appointing female cardinals, or even changing the rules to admit those female cardinals, or other women in high office, to the next conclave to elect his successor, or to include some leaders of religious women to what are presently national conferences of (male) Catholic bishops, or to appoint more women to senior positions in the Curia.

              Blocking women from the priesthood is undoubtedly undesirable - but serious change in other respects could well create the conditions to change those rule too - especially if, as many expect, a path is opened to priesthood for married men.

              •  I'm not quite sure how your optimism (0+ / 0-)

                is warranted given the instructions regarding lobbying against gay adoption in Malta which is entirely consistent with his anti-gay stance from only slightly earlier in his career, 2010.

                He said nice words about not being 'judgmental' regarding homosexuality, but when the rubber met the road, his actions belied the rhetoric.

                •  His objection is to "lobbying" (0+ / 0-)

                  by any group, gay or otherwise, which networks to obtain special treatment for themselves.

                  Going by his words, not just the press reports, they could equally well apply to the heterosexual lobby - those who want to discriminate against gay people, to maintain straight privilege. There is nothing in there to suggest he's against gay people wanting equal treatment.

                  •  I don't think you're properly informed. (0+ / 0-)

                    The bishop was instructed, by the pope, to lobby the Maltese government in opposition to pending legislation supporting gay adoption.

                    The pope was directing a high ranking church official to interfere in the government process to the detriment of gay rights, consistent with the attitudes the pope had displayed during his tenure in Argentina.

                    This is what is disappointing, regardless of his conciliatory rhetoric.

        •  Not "clear" at all. (0+ / 0-)

          Those are statements from a different time, in different circumstances.

          For every one of the reliable statements critical of gay marriage or adoption, there are others which are far more sympathetic. A more serious complaint about him, would be that on these controversial topics, he's definitely guilty of some double - speak.

          In my view, one key to solving the riddle lies in the opening of his "Evangelii Gaudium", in which he says that some topics are not covered in its 225 pages, because they need "further study and reflection". Sexual ethics, in all its dimensions, is one of those areas not covered in the document.

          I suspect that as pope, he is deliberately declining to take a definitive stand on these issues, and encouraging others to engage in open debate, in preparation for the important synod on marriage and family, later this year. By encouraging debate, instead of stamping on it, he's light years ahead of Benedict. I'm convinced that out of this open debate, change will come: we already know that the overwhelming majority of lay Catholics, and a majority of moral theologians not dependent on Vatican paychecks, fervently want it.

    •  He stated in 2010 that gay marriage (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      was evil and the work of satan. Then he proceeded to lobby against Argentina's gay marriage rights bill. He lost, by the way.

  •  Yeah. Dude's a political Obama. (0+ / 0-)

    That big scepter is a magic wand and he has failed to wave it sufficiently.

    Next pope election we gotta find us a Cardinal Ralph to speak truth cuz these other guys are all the same.

  •  Okay I meant 'religious' Obama (0+ / 0-)

    That's what I get for wising off too hastily.

  •  no, he's not, because I had (5+ / 0-)

    low expectations to begin with.

    so every progressive-leaning statement and action since his election has been a surprise.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility

    by terrypinder on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 09:32:38 AM PST

  •  What worries me considerably more (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vc2, susans

    is that I haven't heard Francis say much yet about the issue of child molesters among the clergy.

    I'll be honest, I would much rather see that addressed than the role of women and gays in the church.  And it seems like it should be easier to do: the latter would require serious doctrinal reforms, while the former requires only actual enforcement of existing prohibitions.

    •  He hasn't said much publicly yet (3+ / 0-)

      and i think i know why, it is going to take some time to come up with a comprehensive policy that deals with the past and present and future but he did make one big change.

      He has set up a task force on the issue, the vatican itself has now put a year on jail terms..12 years for conviction of and he is going to be grilled by the UN.
       That is news today,

      On Jan. 16, this will come to a head when a U.N. committee concludes its investigation into the Holy See’s compliance with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Vatican officials will be subject to a daylong public grilling in Geneva. It’s the first time the Holy See will be called to answer, at length, for its record of tackling child sex abuse before an international body. Leading the church’s delegation of five will be Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva, and Monsignor Charles Scicluna, its former chief sex-crimes prosecutor.

      Read more: Vatican to Face U.N. Committee on Its Child-Sex-Abuse Record |

      Barack Obama: "These guys want to be paid like rock stars when all they're doing is lip-synching capitalism." may21, 2010

      by vc2 on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 10:34:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  No, he hasn't said too much (0+ / 0-)

      that's hit the press - but he's taken real action, which is more important, and more than his predecessors did.

      Again, give him time.

  •  It depends on expectations. (7+ / 0-)

    The core substance may not be changing, but even the tonal shifts (e.g. "Who am I to judge") are a massive improvement over demonization.  At the same time, did anyone seriously expect him to turn the Catholic Church 180° on those issues?

    We are, however, seeing a massive shift on the economic justice issues, where he is really coming out as an advocate for the poor. And in that fight, I'll take allies wherever I can take them.

    "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

    by Hayate Yagami on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 09:35:44 AM PST

  •  No. can only expect so much change.... (6+ / 0-)

    he fired all the crooks at the Vatican bank and that is huge

    and he asks respect for gay families
    the woman still is the catholic church

    "The poor can never be made to suffer enough." Jimmy Breslin

    by merrywidow on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 09:54:56 AM PST

    •  agreed. Change comes slowly to any insititution (3+ / 0-)

      he has already made giant shifts in fact and tone over various issues that have been of concern.  Will we see him endorse gay marriage? not a chance.  Will he respect those who are gay and married or simply gay. Yes.

      Barack Obama: "These guys want to be paid like rock stars when all they're doing is lip-synching capitalism." may21, 2010

      by vc2 on Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 10:36:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a woman and I'm pleasantly surprised. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ahianne, occupystephanie

    If he can keep from being assassinated for the next 10 years or so, I think he'll move the RCC off anti- stuff to pro- stuff - back to the feed the poor, tend the sick mission they have handled so well in the past.  (Not saying we shouldn't strengthen the safety net or anything like that, but the RCC did at least as much as many and considerably more than most in that line and people are alive today because of it.)

  •  Thanks all, for the responses. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I posed this as a question, because I wanted to hear your views, which I got (both yea and nay).

    I'm preparing a couple of follow-up posts, looking more closely at specific issues (women, gays, papal power, etc. Your responses here will help to clarify my thinking, for those.

  •  I believe that Pope Francis.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    has recognized that discrimination against gay marriage hurts families. I have always thought that the issue should be approached in that way. He appears to intuit the struggle and pain of the common man and woman. His compassion seems limitless.

    Pope Francis has appeared and the world embraces him because, for once, we realize how hungry we have been for pure mercy, pure love.

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 07:57:09 AM PST

  •  I want to see (0+ / 0-)

    the Bishops he appoints & positive changes in American parish life.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 03:19:05 AM PST

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