My comments first: What Pope Francis has been able to do in a papacy going on almost two years now is to recover the stark divisions in the Church prior to Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Under their papacies, the 1970's was thought to be well on its way to the grave. But the God of surprises has brought back the divisions in the Church that many of us thought should stay in the pre-John Paul II and Benedict days.
The South African Jesuit priest, Fr. Russell Politt from a more progressive perspective makes some very interesting points that Pope Francis isn't really a part of the paradigm he has brought back in terms of 1970's theological and ideological battles, not to mention doctrinal and moral, divisions of that sad period. He is something else and few have seem to grasp it especially Cardinals Burke and George!
I think Fr. Politt raises many good points. One point I had considered before but not as explicitly as Fr. Politt is that we are dealing with a pope from a religious order. In the 1990's there was concern from the hierarchy that priests of religious orders had a different theology of the priesthood and thus the laity than priests and bishops, including popes, who are secular or diocesan. I can't go into that now, but there is a difference and the powers that be at the time did not like the religious paradigm.
But the other thing that is a point well taken is how religious orders "updated and so-call 'renewed'" themselves after Vatican II. The process which included dialogue, confrontation and synthesis is what counted not the outcome. Thus most religious orders entered not into renewal but self-destruction and the dying and death of religious life. But that didn't matter, the process to this disaster is what is extolled. This is what Fr. Politt is doing in this article. Does he know it? Or is he in denial? Maybe the 1970's have returned and the Holy Father is still operating from that 1970's paradigm of religious orders updating and "renewing" themselves but now he is applying this paradigm to the universal Church. Will it have the same self-destructing results despite the extolling of the process that leads to this?
The article below is:
- Russell Pollitt
American Cardinal Raymond Burke was removed last week from the head of the Apostolic Signatura (the Church’s judicial court in Rome), and appointed to the ceremonial post of chaplain to the Knights of Malta – a charity group. The Vatican gave no reason for this unusual demotion and redeployment – seldom are Vatican officials removed from their posts. But, last month, Burke himself said that he was expecting to be removed from his post. Earlier this year Pope Francis removed him from another influential position: a department that appoints bishops. He has given a series of interviews in recent months in which he has been critical of Pope Francis. In his latest interview, with a Spanish publication, he compared the Catholic Church under Pope Francis to “a ship without a rudder”. Is Burke’s removal a case of “tit-for-tat”? By RUSSELL POLLITT.Burke is, as far as cardinals go, in the prime of his episcopacy – he is only 66 years old. Bishops in the Catholic Church are required to retire at 75; cardinals remain papal electors until the age of 80. His removal is not simply ‘business as usual’ in Rome. Burke has regularly clashed publicly with Pope Francis since his election in 2013 and seems to be more and more out of sync with the current pontificate. He reacted defensively to the first in depth interview that the Argentine Pope gave in September 2013 to a number of journals and magazines conducted by Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ (Antonio Spadaro is editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal. Spadaro conducted the interview on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica and several other major Jesuit journals around the world).
The Pope said, among other things in the interview, that the Church should not just focus on sexual moral issues, like contraception, abortion and homosexuality, but also be concerned with social justice issues. The Pope suggested the Church should be more merciful to the divorced and remarried and look for ways to help them participate more fully in the life of the Church (divorced and remarried people are free to attend Holy Mass but cannot receive Communion unless they have an annulment). The tone of the interview suggested a vision of a Church that was much more welcoming and merciful.
Some interpreted the Pope’s comments as a change in church policy or teaching, but this was certainly not the case. It was, however, a significant shift in style and attitude. Burke, in an interview with the conservative American Catholic TV channel Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), reacted to what the Pope had said and made it clear that he did not agree. He quickly mobilised the support of conservatives and was soon equated with the centre of resistance towards Pope Francis.
Last month Burke emerged as one of the most vocal critics of any possible change in the Catholic Church at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He slammed suggestions that there be more conciliatory language used when speaking of people whose lifestyles are contrary to Catholic teaching, including those in same-sex unions and other non-marital relationships. The cardinal told an American reporter that a statement from Pope Francis reaffirming traditional doctrine on those matters was “long overdue”. Burke strongly resisted a proposal by German Cardinal, Walter Kasper, that it should be made easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive communion.
Days before his removal as head of the Apostolic Signatura, Burke again stoked the fires of division. He said if bishops, in the months leading to next year's second gathering of the Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome, were seen to move “contrary to the constant teaching and practice of the Church, there is a risk [of schism] because these are unchanging and unchangeable truths”. In the same interview, he urged Catholics to “speak up and act” and said, “at this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder”. Burke’s suggestion of schism got many talking and speculating – including the UK based The Spectator, which, in a headline, suggested, “Catholic civil war has begun”.
Sources in the Vatican told me that the Pope saw Burke’s outspokenness as part of the so-called “culture wars” among Catholics that the Pope wants to avoid. However, it is clear that deep divisions have emerged between the more liberal and conservative elements in the Church. Another source said that Burke, in a one-on-one conversation, was a very “angry, demoralised and disappointed man who has become more and more anxious as this welcoming, informal styled and evangelical pontificate unfolds”. Judging by the enthusiastic crowds in St Peter’s Square and according to anecdotal evidence, this style is welcomed by the majority of Catholics. However a minority of conservative Catholics shares Burke’s sentiments.
The Burke case points to a much deeper problem on both the so-called right and the left of the Church: the inability to grasp the paradigm in which the Pope is operating. This lack of understanding has led to many of the recent spats that have emerged from within the walls of the Vatican.
Bingo! That’s exactly the problem – what is the intention of the Pope?
Pope Francis has opted to operate from a paradigm that many of the current bishops, appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, are not used to working from. The previous two Popes made decisions the rest of the Church was expected to implement. Francis, on the other hand, is operating out of a different model; for him communal discernment is at the heart of deciding on a way forward.
Discernment is necessary if one is going to read the signs of the times. It is no secret that the Catholic Church faces major problems that need to be assessed and responded to in an appropriate way. An appropriate response is not simply to change everything in order to “get with the times”. On the other hand an appropriate response may also not be simply reaffirming everything as it has been. A process of discernment should empower the Church to assess critically where things are and how, at this time, it could and should respond. Maybe change is necessary – maybe things need tweaking.
And, it is not unusual for there to be many different ideas and some ‘messiness’ when one does embark upon a process of communal discernment. This should not give rise to anxiety and defense – which leads to division – but rather a sense that there really is something that needs to be carefully discerned which is critical for the future.
Francis has opted for a “Jesuit way of proceeding”. This is rooted in the teachings of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. To discern means to engage in a process of trying to discover the will or desire of God in a given situation. Discernment includes a time of reflection, prayer, talking, listening, some division, and even some debate so that different perspectives can emerge. At the opening of the recent Synod, the Pope asked all present to speak boldly and listen with openness – two key concepts in communal discernment.
Francis gave other clues too. He spoke of the “temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness”. He then went on to say, again using discernment language, that it is a temptation to want mercy and to bind wounds without first curing them and treating them – this must surely be words for those on the left that want change in Church teaching and policy. On the other hand he suggested that those on the right, or as he says “traditionalists”, should not be tempted “to hostile inflexibility”.
In the process of Ignatian discernment, in which Francis is well schooled, those discerning are warned not to be tricked into holding onto a position under the guise of good. Very often it is even our virtues and deeply held values that can get in the way of really listening in a particular situation. This is a temptation for the both so-called conservatives and liberals. Francis speaks of the differing points of view and says that these are fundamental (and should not lead to “disputations”) if good decisions are going to be made for the future of the Church. The very fact that, despite Burke’s public call for him to make a stand, Francis has tried to listen carefully without offering non-negotiable statements about things, shows that he truly does want the Church to read the signs of the times and respond appropriately to them in a way that will ensure the Church’s tradition is respected but also its integrity is preserved.
The divisions in the Catholic Church are not simply ideological or doctrinal. The real crisis is the inability to listen openly and attentively to views that are not necessarily in line with a single worldview. A lack of understanding of the process of discernment is the real problem that assails many bishops and lay people in the Catholic Church. Burke’s removal should not be a moment of rejoicing for so-called liberals or lamenting by conservatives – that’s futile and immature. It poses the sobering question: can we really listen to each other – especially in the Church? DM