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)
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)