The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hail and Farewell!

No, no; I'm not closing shop here. This is a hail to the new Pope Francis who chose his name (as my parents chose one of mine) for St. Francis of Assisi. And, in a way, it's a farewell to the Church of my youth, to the organization that did much for me, but ultimately proved not to be my spiritual home.

So, hail to a Jesuit (ah, the Jesuits! Three years of Fordham education taught me to love you!) who honors the rival Franciscan order in his name, who walks where others have been driven, and who can say this:
“Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God,” he said. “May God bless you.”
This Easter season may see ecumenicism rise from the dead, too. And I would be glad of it.

Hail also to a Latin American who speaks movingly of the plight of the poor, and seems sincere about the need to address inequality. Let's see where he goes, but Pope Francis could, for all his doctrinal conservatism, nonetheless be a breath of fresh air.

He will face a challenge that is deeper than that sketched by Ross Douthat, who, unfortunately misapprehends the Roman Catholic Church's critics, as well as the sex abuse crisis itself:
Catholics believe that their church is designed to survive the lapses of its leaders. The Mass is the Mass even if the priest is a sinner. Bishops do not need to be holy to preserve the teachings of the faith. The litany of the saints includes countless figures — from Joan of Arc to the newly canonized Mary MacKillop, an Australian nun involved in the reporting of child abuse by a priest — who suffered injustices from church authorities in their lifetimes.

But it’s one thing for Catholics in a Catholic culture, possessed of shared premises and shared moral ideals, to accept a certain amount of “do as I say, not as I do” from their pastors and preachers.

It’s quite another to ask a culture that doesn’t accept Catholic moral ideals to respect an institution whose leaders can’t seem to live out the virtues that they urge on others.

In that culture — our culture — priestly sex abuse and corruption in the Vatican aren’t just seen as evidence that all men are sinners. They’re seen as evidence that the church has no authority to judge what is and isn’t sin, that the renunciation Catholicism preaches mostly warps and rarely fulfills, and that the world’s approach to sex (and money, and ambition) is the only sane approach there is.
Really, Ross; have you not read C.P. Snow's "The Case of Leavis and the Serious Case"? In it, Snow sketches the "basic and simple rules" that make discussion of fundamental disagreements possible:
If I enter into discussion on any topic, intellectual, moral, practical, or whatever combination you like, it matters very little what I feel for my opponent, or what he feels for me. But I am entitled to require--or if I am not so entitled then I have to beg to be excused--that he and I will observe some basic and simple rules. If he refers to words that I have said or written, he will quote them accurately. He will not attribute to me attitudes and opinions which I do not hold, and if he makes any such attributions, he will check them against the documentary evidence. He will be careful when referring to incidents in my biography, and he will be scrupulous about getting his facts right. Naturally, I have a duty to obey the same rules in return. Nothing could be much more prosaic or straightforward; but without these ground-rules, any kind of serious human exchange becomes impossible.
Douthat is wrong to relegate the Catholic Church's critics to the realm of the worldly, who choose, as he terms it, "religion without renunciation." Perhaps some hold that position, but not all. As I have argued at length, the failure demonstrated by the hierarchy's reaction to the unfolding, decades long sex abuse crisis was that it chose to fight for its institutional power and prerogatives; to lie, mislead, and cover up crimes under secular law from law enforcement, from its own members--even though the crimes were, according to the institution's own judgment, the gravest crimes. Only relentless public exposure has brought about incremental change, and accountability has, in the few cases where it has existed at all for those who covered it up, been imposed from without, by secular law enforcement and media. The warped vision of the common good which can rationalize these facts is what draws the astonishment and horror of many of the critics--and the successor thought--if this can be rationalized in the name of the common good, what cannot be?

Discipline and good behavior alone will not cure this; a change of heart on the part of the institution itself is needed.

Pope Francis has a heavy job ahead of him, but I hope it is one at which he succeeds. And here is where the farewell part of this post begins. Although I am no longer a Roman Catholic, I have a nephew and a niece whom I love who are; my parents, whom I love are, too, as are my cousins (on my mother's side), including my godfather and godmother, the older brother I didn't have but did have. My family is steeped in this tradition, and very much represent the best of it (especially the nuns! We have some, you know!).

And so am I steeped in that tradition. As an Anglo-Catholic, I carry the best of my upbringing into my life and, God willing, what will be my ministry. It is a large root that feeds me.

I have a vested interest in rooting for Francis, and wish him well.

Farewell, then, to the Roman Catholic Church of my youth, which after a sun-dappled childhood grew steadily less welcoming for those of my cast of thought and belief. May renewal come, and mutual respect, and, at long last, peace.



Anonymous said...

How can fallible men choose an infallible pope?

Anglocat said...

Sorry to have ignored the question; I thought it was rhetorical. The answer is, quite literally, the Handmof God. OK, more sympathetically, it's meant to be a discernment process, in which each of the electors sincerely tries to put aside his own interests and seeks to discern what God's will for the Church is.

Now, I left the RCC in part because I believe a monarchical leader, let alone an occasionally infallible one, simply isn't workable or consistent with the teachings of Jesus or the practices of the early Church. So I'm not the best defender of this stance. That said, all questions concerning vocations--from the decision to be ordained to the selection of a bishop--are meant to be discernment processes, in which we seek not our own selfish goals but how God and the people of God can best be served in the given context.

Hope that helps.