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A look at the different levels of needs/wants people have for Pope Francis' tenure, following the jump.

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The title of this essay refers, obviously, to the line uttered by the fictional boot camp Sergeant Hulka in the Bill Murray film Stripes – where in response to a paranoid new recruit (who threatens all of his compadres if they do certain things to him or his stuff) he utters "Lighten up, Francis". And this is what I hope that Pope Francis will achieve during his tenure: to first, lighten-up the institution from its adversarial ways the past few decades … with all else following.

Regular Top Comments readers know that I seldom wade-into hot-button topics … or ones that have covered by numerous other diarists on this site. And I would not be doing so now, but for a recent essay in The Week magazine (which is helpful to me in compiling my recurring Who Lost the Week?!?! poll) ... where I think I can answer the question posed by its author.

Damon Linker writes for the New Republic and I gather is something of a social conservative (though probably not a full-fledged right winger). This was pointed out by the blogger Ed Kilgorewhose postings, by the way, are an excellent read each weekday – who seems to indicate they worked together at one time but takes exception with the Religious Freedom angle Linker seems to cite.

Anyway, in the matter of Pope Francis, Linker was of the opinion that liberal practicing Catholics would like the tone that Francis has taken, but feel upset at the lack of change he is likely to effect. Here are some passages - and then his surprise.

Liberals would therefore have to settle for a moderation of papal rhetoric, and little else. I concluded by noting that although rhetoric matters in religion, this was far less than most liberal Catholics were hoping for. But now I'm not so sure ......

Describing herself as a progressive Catholic, she dismissed my skepticism about the likelihood of Francis reforming church doctrine. "Doctrine for a Catholic, now, is not even an issue," said Trish from Kentucky. "Catholics do not care about doctrine," she said, adding, "It's irrelevant. It's a non-issue for Catholics."

For all I know, many or even most liberal Catholics hope and pray for doctrinal reform. But what if Trish is right? If so, the question I'd want to ask these liberals is: Why do you continue to attend church and think of yourself as a Catholic?

(But) what's the point of staying put when you're utterly indifferent to so much of what the Catholic Church (and on contraception at least, pretty much only the Catholic Church) proclaims to be true?

If Trish is the future of American Catholicism, we appear to be left with a puzzle: When does a church without a doctrine cease to be a church at all?

He may be puzzled since many reviews of Francis tend to be quite pronounced. Many fall into what I refer to as "The 360’s" – people who are practically spinning around; amazed at the lack of judgment he ascribes to people’s private lives, his moves to curb clerical excess (such as the Bishop of Bling in Germany), passing over some culture warriors, his own modest means and background (i.e., that he worked as a bouncer in his youth), and especially his attempts to re-assert Church practices on treatment of the poor (in particular) and criticism of laissez-faire capitalism (in general).

I, too, like these things … but ascribe them (in no small part) to his being a Jesuit – and I’m amazed that in all the history of the Church, he is the first Jesuit to be elected to that post. Still, it’s what one might expect of someone from his part of the world, and the delight many "360’s" get from seeing so many conservatives (Rush, Sarah Palin, et al) grumble over him is more like a sugar high.

At the other end of the spectrum is what I refer to as "The 180’s" – those who briefly acknowledge the above but reply, "Until he does a 180 on female priests, permitting gays to marry, allowing divorce, etc." then they’ll abstain from any praise. Given the slowness in how this organization works, even if Francis wanted to change numerous policies – and there is no evidence he does, as Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley notes – it is unrealistic for him to be able to effect these changes by himself, though I suspect he may start the process on one or two internal policies (and leave it to his successors to work on).

Suffice it to say: we do not know how his tenure will shake out. I was one of those who saw promise in John Paul II: given his being the first non-Italian to be elected Pope in 450 years, his skills at dealing with the Nazis in his youth (and the Soviet establishment as an older man) plus his willingness to revisit some past mistakes (such as its condemnation of Galileo 350 years earlier). I saw his motorcade when he visited Manhattan (when I was working there) back in 1979; looking back I was amazed at how close he passed by and without any bullet-proof glass (which would prove to be later necessary). Still, it was exciting.

Yet we now know that his administration also moved backwards (in many, many ways) that was not possible to see from afar, all those years ago. I am reminded of the remark (possibly apocryphal) attributed to then-Chinese premier Zhou En Lai about the significance of the French Revolution: "It is too early to tell".


Before I return to the issue that Damon Linker raised, I should probably fill-in some details as to my vantage point on this. I grew-up as a Catholic and – while I drifted away in my 20’s – I still identify as one. Phil Donahue once said (and I can’t find an online reference) that if you grew-up as one and had more than a casual relationship (i.e., attended a Catholic school or university, knew members of the clergy, etc.) and do not convert (and actively practice) a different religion … you will probably be a Catholic all your life (at least in a sort of mindset).

That does not apply to the many people who had bad experiences with the Church (let alone those who had horrific ones) I realize. Yet mine was fairly good - and after the leather goods firm he worked for went out of business in 1965, my father worked for the Chancery office in our Long Island, NY diocese .... so I got to meet many higher-ranking church officials. When my father died, the Bishop paid a visit to his wake ... and an auxiliary bishop led his funeral Mass (which annoyed the local pastor, I later came to learn).  

I devoted a prior Top Comments diary to my experiences attending a Catholic elementary school for a few years, then a public elementary (and junior high) which definitely had its advantages … yet I had trouble with a bully in junior high. Then I attended a Catholic …actually a (progressively-run) Jesuit high school, where I had a chance to heal and grow-out of my shell. It was an excellent academic environment, largely due to our principal (whom I have been in touch with). And the event I am looking forward to most this year is our 40th anniversary class reunion this July. It will prevent me from attending Netroots Nation ... but I wouldn't miss this for the world.

Still, I drifted away for philosophical reasons in my 20’s. I have attended other church services (Methodist, Anglican and Unitarian) and while I had an interesting time (especially in the UU church) none satisfied me. Truth-be-told: I no longer have any interest in becoming an active member of any church now (not even if the Catholic church fixed every single problem I have with it). Still, I wind-up attending 2-3 services/year due to weddings and (alas, more frequently) funerals … and feel as if I belong, if only for that day.

Someone who – unlike myself – seems to be a practicing member is the sportswriter/blogger Charlie Pierce (whom many of you undoubtedly follow). A few years back he wrote an essay in the Boston Globe, explaining his rationale in What I Believe – which is a tad long, but which I would urge you to read at some point. His explanation (as to why he stays) cites his life experiences and observations (which frequently mirror mine) and here are some passages from it.

The institutional Catholic Church, for me, has no concrete form, no physical structure, no hierarchy except that of ideas. Even my attendance at Mass is largely contemplative, the priest presiding in a supervisory capacity, his authority dependent wholly on the primacy of my individual conscience. For it’s not really about celibacy, or female priests. It’s about the source of the authority exercised by a hierarchical priesthood based in Rome.

As for the great mass of other churches, I don’t get that same experience from their rituals. That’s not their fault, nor is it mine. It doesn’t make my church the One True one and theirs not. My experience is my own.

Which brings me to the most fundamental rule of my Catholicism – nobody gets to tell me that I’m not a Catholic. Those of my fellow Catholics who remain loyal to the institutional structure of the Church don’t get to do so.

Bill Donahue, he's looking at you. And so I think he gets at the heart of the matter of this essay:

a)    There are wants and there are needs (as the philosopher Mick Jagger once sang). I think the needs being first and foremost the line from the famous dictum: First, do no harm. Immediately after that, work on the wants.

b)    What many liberal Catholics are seeking, I believe, can be summed-up as: "Bring back the 70’s, man!" That was a time when there was a peaceful co-existence among members of the faith ..... that was later torn apart ... and what may have a chance of being restored, if we're lucky.

c)    And thus, to achieve the title of this essay.

Damon Linker appears to think that a religion with a lax attitude may not be worth attending. Indeed, my best friend’s brother once asked me about what I thought a congregation should do for people. I answered that it could provide you with the tools to make ethical decisions, whereupon he thought it should answer those questions for you. I don’t think he is a fundie, but his religious need is for that type of church … and before he moved west, I think he attended such a congregation.

Part of the reason why the Church went down the path of confrontation was in reaction to the changes brought about by John XXIII’s Vatican II. In a review of a 2011 conference organized by right-wing fanatic Charles Murray on the State of White America, reporter Adam Serwer noted that he tried to note the decline of many parts of White America by shooting down the usual complaints … and someone at the conference actually cited Vatican II as a possible cause of "moral relativism".

By contrast, I think many liberal Catholics would say that the concept of free will is central to their faith. And which is why the attitude of the 70’s suited many liberal Catholics fine: preach whatever you want from the pulpit, as long as they did not try to legislate from the pulpit. Alas, we know that many did … in league with the conservative movement. And worse, the legislation did not apply solely to members of the faith … but to all Americans, whether they signed-up for religion or not. Several years ago, then-congressman Barney Frank – whose district had a large Catholic population – said that he agreed with many of the public policies that his local diocese advocated. But he never cited them, because he felt it was dishonest to do so when he had some major political differences with the diocese he could not agree with.

And so, while I am not a practicing member of the Church: I feel comfortable in saying what I believe that Charlie Pierce (and other Catholic liberals) need from Pope Francis. Besides (a) cleaning-up the corruption in the church administration and other organizational matters, then proceed to (b) make the necessary reforms to atone for (and prevent) the criminal acts that were perpetrated, enabled and tolerated by the hierarchy … and finally, (c) end the adversarial relationships beyond the pulpit that apply to Catholics and non-Catholics, too. (The "First, do no harm policy").

Then, get to work on the wants: allowing female priests (and married priests), getting out of the contraception war, changing its policies on gays, divorce, etc. As mentioned before, what I have outlined above is woefully inadequate for many (especially those the Church harmed).

Yet if Francis is able to achieve the needs listed above: then I think the initial response he has received – becoming Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and even making the cover of Rolling Stone – will prove to have been justified. For now: in the words attributed to Zhou En Lai: … "It is too early to tell".    

Let's close on a less-dogmatic note: the original "Lighten up, Francis" from 1981.

Now, on to Top Comments:

Nothing from the field today ..... this is where we need your help.

From Ed Tracey, your faithful correspondent this evening ........

In the front-page story about North Carolina's polluting Duke Energy - FishOutofWater begins the comments aimed at the nexus between the company and its former employee who is now governor.

In the front-page story about Sen. Ted Cruz being reluctant to criticize Ted Nugent and his comments ... BenderRodriguez leads the discussion into why the Cruzmeister can't go there.  

In the front-page story about how your-friend-and-mine Scott Walker won't tolerate unions, passenger rail spending or a non-private e-mail system ... but will fire a state-hired doctor that had previously done thong modeling .... according to Mike Kahlow, Scotty did hire a Hooters girl as his 2012 campaign spokesperson.  

Finally, the front-page story describing how - although they will not be allowed to exhibit - the group GOProud will at least be allowed to attend the CPAC convention - it was pointed out by Scioto that it wasn't the leaders of CPAC who caved.

February 20, 2013

Next - enjoy jotter's wonderful PictureQuilt™ below. Just click on the picture and it will magically take you to the comment that features that photo.

(NOTE: Any missing images in the Quilt were removed because (a) they were from an unapproved source that somehow snuck through in the comments, or (b) it was an image from the DailyKos Image Library which didn't have permissions set to allow others to use it.)

And lastly: yesterday's Top Mojo - mega-mojo to the intrepid mik ...... who rescued this feature from oblivion

  1) TPP does far more than expand NAFTA. In fact, by flitedocnm — 257
  2) I understand there are some people by NearlyNormal — 197
  3) VW ought to talk to the Mayor of Lansing by Sandy on Signal — 159
  4) He promised that he'd be dead or in jail by now. by irate — 148
  5) What bugs me is how many in the media, by Dumbo — 143
  6) That's what I was waiting to find out... by CanisMaximus — 118
  7) Stop the secret trade negotiations stop the secret by River Rover — 118
  8) I'm more confused that the 2 managed by pico — 111
  9) As the turtles die by JayRaye — 101
10) Requires compensation when regulations prevent by Mimikatz — 100
11) Pretty much what I said, except my worst aspect by cai — 96
12) Her glass is empty by Frankenoid — 96
13) that's the problem with bigots by jfromga — 94
14) i keep wondering what this gay lifestyle is by terrypinder — 86
15) Exactly! by Onomastic — 87
16) Many of my diaries are hard to write by FishOutofWater — 86
17) Sociopath... by 4kedtongue — 86
18) Anticipated profit, even, regardless by cai — 84
19) G*ddammit! by TheOrchid — 80
20) Ok to exclude others, but hate to be excluded? by freeportguy1 — 79
21) Peggy is right on the money: by waterstreet2013 — 79
22) CA has several vacant auto plants, a Democratic by Banach MacAmbrais — 78
23) I still love by gchaucer2 — 78
24) The people appointed by snoopydawg — 78
25) While Corker's comments are considered free speech by IB JOHN — 75
26) I'll believe Nancy and Harry are against it by Dallasdoc — 73
27) I had a similar experience on a jury, back by jan4insight — 73
28) Here's the link. by Jim P — 72
29) That's about as strong as the current Abby gets by Ellid — 68
30) I read it earlier today by J Edward — 67
31) "believed" is a funny word by ferg — 67

Originally posted to Top Comments on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 07:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks and DKOMA.

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