THE Vatican always seems to have the secrets and intrigues of a Renaissance court — which, in a way, is what it still remains. The ostentatious humility of Pope Francis, his scoldings of high-ranking prelates, have changed this not at all; if anything, the pontiff’s ambitions have encouraged plotters and counterplotters to work with greater vigor.Where do I begin?
And right now the chief plotter is the pope himself.
Francis’s purpose is simple: He favors the proposal, put forward by the church’s liberal cardinals, that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.
And yet his plan is not necessarily succeeding. There reportedly still isn’t anything like a majority for the proposal within the synod, which is probably why the organizers hedged their bets for a while about whether there would even be a final document. And the conservatives — African, Polish, American, Australian — have been less surprised than last fall, and quicker to draw public lines and try to box the pontiff in with private appeals.
The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future. The African bishops are defending the faith of the European past against Germans and Italians weary of their own patrimony. A Jesuit pope is effectively at war with his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the erstwhile Inquisition — a situation that would make 16th century heads spin.
For a Catholic journalist, for any journalist, it’s a fascinating story, and speaking strictly as a journalist, I have no idea how it will end.
Speaking as a Catholic, I expect the plot to ultimately fail; where the pope and the historic faith seem to be in tension, my bet is on the faith.
Well, let's start here: Douthat, who was born in 1979, is not yet 36 (he will be in late November), converted to Catholicism at 17, i.e., in late 1996 or in 1997, and holds holds a BA from Harvard (admittedly magna cum laude). Now, I was a cradle Catholic, and was educated the Marianists at Chaminade High School and I hold a BA earned studying with the Jesuits at Fordham College, summa cum laude, in honoris causa. I was a Roman Catholic for nearly 30 years, so, with all respect to Douthat, I lived the life of an American Catholic far longer than he did, in a way he simply did not, and was educated in that tradition with a depth that he has not yet had a chance to be steeped in. I was a Roman Catholic, in other words, longer than he has lived since attaining the age of reason.
And I wouldn't have the arrogance to tell the Pope that I know what is "the faith" better than he did, let alone accuse him of "plotting" against it.
That was true when the pope was John Paul II, who, in closing many of the the windows opened by Vatican II (with the assistance of his successor, the future Benedict XVI), essentially made it impossible to remain a Roman Catholic without being substantially in dissent from the narrowed scope of freedom of conscience (as I saw and see it) under his Papacy. Unable to agree to the "musts" the Roman Catholic Church asked of me, I left, consistent with the future pope Benedict's depiction of those could not assent to the Church's requirements. Soon thereafterI discovered that I was better suited in the messier, but more small "c" catholic approach of Anglicanism--where self-perceived Protestants and catholics, liberals and conservatives, can gather around the Lord's Table together. It's not that I don't value my Roman Catholic upbringing and education--I do, very much, it made me who I am today. But the man that upbringing and education made is an Anglican, with a loving fondness for the Church that nurtured him--I am an Anglo-Cathoolic, because I keep the best of what I was given by the Church of my youth.
And I had and have too much respect to remain a member of that Church without accepting the discipline it demands as a precondition of membership.
We'll see what the Synod produces, and what Pope Francis does or does not do in the fulness of time. And maybe Francis will surprise us all and be a "bad" pope. I'd be surprised, frankly--I think, as I recently wrote, that political and theological liberals have to realize that Francis
was never our guy. And he's not the political conservative's guy, either. He's a good man, walking the Way by the light he has, one within the strictures and structures of the Roman Catholic Church. He's trying to do it in an irenic and community building way, one that damps down conflicts, and allows conversations to happen. And when that happens, the Holy Spirit has room to do wonderful things we can't predict.
As to Douthat--he's a full of the convert's zeal, but, alas, without much humility to temper it.