Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Defending Pope Francis from the Catholic talking class

The Second Vatican Council met from October 1962 to December 1965. The future Francis (Jorge Bergoglio) became a Jesuit novice in March 1958; and was ordained a priest in December 1969.

An interview with Dr. David Pence on the Council, Pope Francis, and his many American detractors.

You say the Second Vatican Council was the most important ecclesial event of the 20th century. What was it? The short answer!

Pope John XXIII (1881-1963) convoked the meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops, cardinals, patriarchs, and male heads of religious orders. The fathers of the church met in a great sacral fraternity. Amidst the pomp of monarchs and princes, they remembered themselves as fishermen.

They returned to the sources in order to present the core message of the Gospel in a more accessible and authoritative way to modern man. Their gathering as a patriarchal fraternity was presented as a model for all men and nations to renew our human identity as brothers under a common Father. The Council fathers "experienced" their own collective identity as the worldwide presence of Christ’s apostles formed as His Body. They produced four major documents that presented the fact of God’s revelation in his Son and the Church. They defined the Church foremost as a collegial body at worship united to the Son in praise and sacrifice to the Father. This collegial body of priests constituted the fraternal episcopal lattice that Mother Church was built on. They, then, turned outward.
They spoke to humanity as a whole -- reminding mankind that our original mission and identity as a species was meant to be formed as Christ’s Body under his headship. The ultimate purpose and identity of humanity cannot be understood apart from Christ. The Church comes with good news that not only announces Christ but defines man. The Council was the Pentecost of the Spirit that the world needed to counter the evil winds of rebellion that shook the planet after a century of devastating world wars.

How do you view the relationship of Francis and Vatican II? Which document of the council is most important for understanding the current papacy?

Pope Francis is following the Holy Spirit as the bishops did at Vatican II. Here is how he puts it: "We want to tame the Holy Spirit. And that is wrong. Because He is God, and He is the wind that comes and goes and you do not know where. He is the power of God, what gives us consolation and strength to move forward. But move forward! … The Council was a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit. Think of Pope John: he seemed a good pastor, and he was obedient to the Holy Spirit, and he did that. But after 50 years, have we done everything that the Holy Spirit said to us in the Council? In the continuity of the growth of the Church which was the Council? No, we celebrate this anniversary, we make a monument, but that does not bother us. We do not want to change. What is more: there are voices that want to go back. This is called being stubborn, this is called wanting to tame the Holy Spirit, this is called becoming fools and slow of heart."

"Even in our personal lives," the pope added, "the Spirit prompts us to take a more evangelical path...
Do not resist the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that makes us free, with that freedom of Jesus, with the freedom of the children of God!"  

Pope Francis is a deeply prayerful Jesuit in the tradition of Ignatius Loyola. He is in a real daily battle  of discerning spirits. The Evil One vs the Holy Spirit is a living reality for him. I never hear the "intellectuals" who oppose his work acknowledge this central dimension of his personality and daily life. They are so busy parsing his words that they never take measure of his soul. It was his prayerfulness that most won over Pope Benedict after his initial wariness about his successor. It is his living sensibility of God’s presence which unites him with Cardinal Sarah’s provocative description of our times in God or Nothing. 
I don’t know what document I would say helps us the most. I would say trying to live out the principal of fraternal collegiality through the institution of the Synods is a key. The insistence in both Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes that the Church as the People of God must be refined to present Christ as the fulfillment of mankind who constitute  the original people of God. Francis has a deep sensibility that the Church is aimed at humanity as a whole, as well as the poorest among us. He is a traditional Jesuit in that he lives in close memory with the work of Matteo Ricci (the Italian priest who died 1610 in Beijing) and his dreams of a Christianizing Confucian China. What a big evangelical dream! At the same time he has a very simple local vision. He sees the parish and the priest will always be the primary locus of encounter, accompaniment, and grace for the Catholic faithful.
 We have prayed for a century for the conversion of Russia and now the fruit matures and American Catholics  cannot see our prayers are being answered. How strange that conservative Catholic thinkers join the anti-Russian war-mongering of Republican neoconservatives.  How predictable that the left which was always pushing friendship with the Soviets is now hostile to the Christian nationalism of Vladimir Putin. But not Pope Francis. He has a special affinity for the Orthodox. His unprecedented meeting with the Russian patriarch in Cuba untied a 1000 year old knot. The Second Vatican Council began with Russian missiles being loaded in Cuban silos.  Fifty years later Pope Francis embraces his brother in Christ on that little Catholic isle so long imprisoned. The Catholic critics can’t see this world stage because they are too locked in gossip about intrigues in the dressing room.
 And just look at China recovering from her 19th-century humiliation from the unfair treaties and ideology of opium free trade. In WWII she suffered most from Imperial Japan-both her nationalists and communists. Now China is trying to redefine her own dream. The western engine of Marxism has run out of steam. Unfettered Christianity still elicits the bloody Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) in which 20 million died for the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. What an opportunity for a Christian Gospel respectful of that great civilization as she recovers from her own mad Sixties of the Cultural Revolution. But while the Pope pushes for engagement, the "prolife" Catholic Republicans ape the foreign policy "realist" line that China is a rising power to be surrounded by military alliances and exclusionary economic trade pacts to check her growth. Pope Francis treats the great mercantile Asian nations with the ritual of respect. That sounds like the best of Vatican II to me. Pope Francis appreciates  national identity , his own and that of others, probably better than any Pope of the last century.

One of the biggest criticisms of the post-conciliar years is that vast numbers of bishops -- feeling the wind of the "Spirit" at their back -- quickly outran anything written down in the documents of Vatican II.

I think it was Pius IX who said all councils are interpreted first by the devil, then by man, then by the Spirit.

Certainly it was the smoke of Satan who so defiled our sacred liturgy, corrupted so many priests and nuns, and turned over our hospitals and schools to self-serving corporate employees just when our big immigrant population was coming through in need of those institutions. And it was man who rebelled from that and gave us the soulless neoconservative intellectuals who today are so in love with their blogs and columns and interviews and so resistant to our Holy Father. But the Holy Spirit is alive and well and if we follow the Pope to the peripheries we will start to see the fruits of Vatican II . That brotherhood of fathers represented the best of matured communal authority countering the Western sexual revolution and the adolescent revolt against authority that gripped Paris, Berlin, and Beijing in the latter part of the 1960s.

Catholic folks are bracing themselves: "When it comes to the directives of Pope Francis on marriage, there's absolutely nothin' gonna stop the stampede of mercy!"

 If there is a stampede of mercy, go with the bulls because the first message of the gospel to the world is that God has come to love us, to draw us back into the light and eternal life of his Love. What sacrament did Pope Francis talk about most in the year of mercy? That would be confession. What you deridingly call "the stampede to mercy" goes through the parish confessional box.

Many of your friends are disturbed by the direction that Francis -- the first Jesuit to serve as Bishop of Rome -- is taking the Church. You view them generally as part of the "dissenters"; while they, in turn, are surprised by your "ultramontanism." What is the appropriate level of fealty owed by a Catholic to the Vicar of Christ? 

I don’t call them dissenters. I say they do not understand filiation. They are very poor sons. The long battle against patriarchy has created certain kinds of personalities. We know the hardened female who will kill her own child. We know the softened male who will allow his body to be desecrated. But there are all these intellectuals as well—very poor sons. They loved it when the great ship of the Church was given to a  holy man who was a scholar. He was their ideal. But he was a poor helmsman. He had a big boat to steer and he could not man the rudder.  But the conservatives loved reading and preening at his beautiful words which they saw as a blistering critique against the “progressives” who had debased the liturgy and undermined the masculine-feminine symphony of Catholic culture. The helmsman was cheered but on his watch the self-serving and the deceitful overran the Curia, as it had overrun many European bishop conferences and seminaries. The scholar properly resigned.  Pope Francis who will act is derided for being too negative about the Curia. His Christmas address to that den of careerists was like Trump’s inaugural. So many feelings were hurt. So many were shocked to hear criticism directed at themselves in person. They were used to fine words in public and everyone wielding  stilettos in private. No one hates a man like the catty court.

Being a loyal son is not "ultramontanism." I don’t defend every formulation of the pope. I disagree with many things he says. I also understand he has a priestly universal role which is very different than a Christian nationalist protecting a specific body politic. If you think he is evil and illegitimate, then for the sake of the Church you must oppose him and oppose him vigorously. I see him as my father.  He makes ten statements. The progressives highlight one ambiguous statement and deliberately misinterpret it and then call themselves Pope Francis Catholics. The conservative writers buy their misinterpretation and serve as a megaphone for the left. The nine things the pope said that would be anathema to the feminist and homosexual clergy are left out of the public conversation.  The sexual leftists ignore his clear and very harsh statements about gender ideology while they cleverly  claim Francis as their own. The traditionalists are so fixated on the papal “errors”,  they ignore his brilliant critique of gender ideology as both imperialist and anti ecological.   Pope Francis saw how Marxists twisted  liberation theology and he will not allow the left to monopolize care of the environment or the poor on his watch. If that offends the formulations of neoliberalism and free market ideology, so be it. His affirms private property by calling for labor, land and lodging. That’s not quite how the free marketers put it.  His huge strides in interreligious relationships (especially the Orthodox and Pentecostals within Christianity) and his international diplomacy toward Asian nations seems immaterial to his exasperated detractors. They don’t see how uniquely Francis has followed Peter in going to the house of Cornelius. There Peter saw the work of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles and defended their place in the Christian Church at the Council of Jerusalem. Francis more than any Pope of the last century has had living, praying contact with Pentecostals. But that low church southern hemisphere piety doesn’t interest the battling intellectuals. Neither it seems do they think  in terms of reconciling the nations--they leave that to the atheists and Social Darwinists of the foreign policy establishment.
I see the virulent incessant critics of Pope Francis as very similar to Catholic conservatives so appalled by the Trump candidacy.  They are like the American pro-life intellectuals in Republican politics  who left economics to free traders and world wars to atheist neoconservatives. They were left behind as the greatest pro-life advances of 40 years was won by a man they opposed with a flurry of virtue signaling ultimatums. Luckily the wisdom of the el santo pueblo fiel de Dios (God’s holy faithful people) prevailed over the journal spokesmen and "public intellectuals."

A year ago in 'First Things' magazine, George Weigel wrote that "the recent synod [the second gathering of bishops on the family] reaffirmed the Gospel and the settled truths of Catholic faith and practice."
Mr. Weigel, earlier in the essay, asserted:
"And, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the final report says not a single word about admitting the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion, absent a decree of nullity."
Do you consider that a true statement? If so, how did Francis end up -- several months later -- where he did?

The Ordinary Synod observed that there are irregular situations of divorced and remarried that might be cases of an invalid first marriage. The synod reminded bishops that they (as well as tribunals ) have authority in such situations. There was nothing that admitted the divorced and remarried to communion without a declaration of nullity. So he is right about that. But what the synod opened up was that the objective state of the divorced and remarried may not be what it appears, so there should be investigation and pastoral discernment. The pope’s Apostolic Exhortation proposed the "conversation with the priest, in the internal forum," as a possible judicial remedy like a marriage tribunal or a judgment by a bishop. This was new.  It did not change the law on marriage, on annulment, or the state of grace before communion. It opened another judicial gate for a judgment of annulment.

This is not the Cardinal Kasper proposal or other interpretations which equate personal conscience with the internal forum. There is still a church actor here —not a marriage tribunal, not the bishop but the parish priest in the internal forum. This is not new in that no one has ever done this. It is new as a formula in an explicit papal or episcopal document. The pope did a similar action in extending in another setting the judicial power to lift excommunication from women after abortions. That is a power usually reserved to the bishop but extended by several bishop conferences and now the pope to individual priests. He did not say the woman can think herself back into the church by an act of conscience. He opened another mechanism of judgement tied to the parish, not the chancery.
In the marriage document, the parish portal of mercy of using the internal forum with a priest could lead to a first marriage being considered null "in front of God" thus leading to "in certain cases, the help of the sacraments.”  The Pope wants parish priests to have all the governance powers possible to readmit people to life in the grace of sacraments. He knows in much of the Catholic world, if the parish priest cannot act for the Church, there will be no Church present.
Don’t share such global Christianity realities with any of the super orthodox commentators so full of their righteous anger at the Argentine. Do they really think the Pope who they daily heap with abuse is of the same dissembling ilk as the lavender priests down the block filling the New York and Chicago and San Diego chanceries with nary a flashlight being shined their way. They know not the man they so despise. They have grown too comfortable with the wolves they never mention.

Phil Lawler says that the pope is not uniting the Church, but dividing it. One of your arguments against him and other Catholic writers who criticize Francis, is that they are part of the same crowd who refused to support Mr. Trump. But our new president is going to be judged at how well he shakes things up, and whether he can restore masculine vigor to America. Francis has been at the helm now for four years!

If Trump gets the support from conservative intellectuals that the pope is receiving from them, then he will not succeed. If the pope’s defenders in America are the gender ideology advocates at America magazine and the National Catholic Reporter then the message of Pope Francis will not be understood. I know you don’t see this, but I see the failure of conservative intellectuals to actively hear both Trump and Francis as a huge betrayal by "public intellectuals." Pope Francis has formulated the Gospel as including the custody of the earth. He has condemned gender ideology as a crime against the natural order of the ecosystem. He has inspired all sorts of good-willed people to hear the Christian message. He is trying to bring us in close contact with the Russian Orthodox, while he loses the support of Cardinal Burke. He is turning us to the world’s poor as he loses the free market Americans, George Weigel and Robert Royal.  He speaks in the language and symbols of  billions but he has alienated the talking class. There is an incessant drum of criticism from the writers and talking heads of Catholic Thing, Crisis, Catholic World Report, the National Catholic Register, and Ignatius Press. These Catholic commentators are just like Charles Krauthammer and George Will -- the left-behind political  journalists from the Trump tsunami. President Trump lost the support of these two atheist commentators, but he is the champion of both the pro-life movement and the Teamsters. Pope Francis has reached out to the poor and the ecology movement. Both of these leaders are building a new synthesis and a much larger and deeper unity. But oh, the cries of the left behind. The pope has offended the Curia of Rome and the mandarin curia of the American Catholic press, but he brings joy to the people of God. He began his papacy in trouble with the right when he said the message of Christ cannot be reduced to clarifications about  abortion, contraception and homosexuality. The “orthodox catholics” had a hissy fit. "He doesn’t understand how hard we have been fighting on these things all these years." But the Pope was right and very much in the mode of Vatican II. First we must proclaim that God is present among His People and all of humanity is the people of God. What joyful message this is. Christ is present in the liturgy and Eucharist. He wants to bring mercy through the confessional.  Don’t lock up Jesus inside the Church says Francis. He said that picture of Jesus knocking on the door was Him knocking to get out of Church and out to humanity. O, how the philosophers and intellectuals yelped!  "He doesn’t talk like a Pope. He has to be more careful. He isn’t prudent!" Maybe the critics should be silent for a while and notice that this man who doesn’t speak in the jargon of the talking class is in fact speaking to a wider group in a deeper voice. This is not the argument that interests the moribund western media but it is the true currency of the Holy Spirit and Vatican II.

The Papal Posse has become the Papal Lynch Mob.

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