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Yes, the Pope is still Catholic

Yes, the Pope is still Catholic

The Vatican is busy dispelling media reports of what the Pope believes. Religion News Service reports:

No doubt about it, Pope Francis is generating the kind of Internet buzz and sky-high Q Scores that brand managers can only dream of. But is the pontiff becoming a victim of his own good press?

The Vatican once again had to dispel media reports that went well beyond what Francis actually said, as his spokesman formally denied that the pope had signaled an openness to same-sex unions in a recently published conversation with leaders of religious orders.

On Tuesday (Jan. 7), another Jesuit and papal confidante, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, wrote to a leading Italian daily to protest that Francis has no intention of “legitimizing any behavior that’s inconsistent with the doctrine of the church.” Spadaro said any other reading was an effort at “manipulation.”

Still, it’s not the first time this has happened, and it probably won’t be the last. Consider:

On New Year’s Eve, Lombardi put out a statement to counter a column by a prominent Italian journalist and atheist, Eugenio Scalfari, claiming that Francis “has abolished sin.” Lombardi had to reiterate that those “who really follow the pope daily know how many times he has spoken about sin.”

After fevered speculation that the pope might break with tradition and name women as cardinals, Francis himself denied the rumors. “I don’t know where this idea sprang from,” he told an Italian journalist in an interview in December. “Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

In early December, the Vatican categorically denied a media report that Pope Francis has been slipping out at night to visit the homeless in Rome. The stories, while appealing and in keeping with Francis’ intense concern for the poor, are “simply not true,” Vatican officials said.

In September, the Vatican “firmly denied” that Francis had called a gay man in France to assure him that “your homosexuality doesn’t matter.” No way, no how, said Lombardi.

And last May, the Vatican called the claim that Francis had performed an exorcism on a handicapped man in St. Peter’s Square “absolutely false.” Francis often embraces the sick and disfigured when he mingles with the crowds, and those images often go viral. But that wasn’t enough for some.

Mary Hunt writes about the dilemma of these reports and reality for feminists in the church:

I am not suggesting that there is no substance to Francis’ agenda, that change does not underlie it. Conservatives would not be so hot under their collective collars if that were not the case. But I am cognizant of the very powerful public relations machine that has turned an ecclesial ocean liner on a dime, transformed an all but written-off patriarchy into one of the most inviting, benevolent monarchies the world has seen in modern times. But substantive structural and doctrinal issues do not evaporate just because the pope does not wear Prada.

Still, I am left with a feminist theologian’s duty to think about (perhaps overthink) the scenes. Is this the stuff of real change or is it a way of shoring up a model of church that has endured for centuries? Are those who reject the kyriarchal model as I do simply to be told like other protesters before us that we can go elsewhere when we are as Catholic as the Pope?

Where are the women theologians called in to consult, the young people invited to discuss their lives and choices? Where are the lay people who might preach at the pope’s daily mass so he would listen instead of speak sometimes? Where are the lesbian and gay seminarians to explain the facts of life to an old Jesuit who entered the Society of Jesus before gay was gay? Where are the survivors of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops to whom the institutional church, beginning in Rome, owes reparations? I do not see signs of them anywhere, nor do I expect to any time soon. Opus Dei is not a clothing line, but a deeply ideological Catholic group that stands for very conservative religious values. Rachel Maddow was not tapped for the media job for a reason.

And one more story from National Catholic Reporter:

A popular U.S. Catholic priest and author known for his peace writings and some 75 arrests for civil disobedience actions across the country has been dismissed from the international Jesuit religious order, which says he was “obstinately disobedient” to its directives.

Removal of Fr. John Dear caps 32 years in the order for the priest, who has been known for protesting a wide range of issues, including U.S. policies on Latin America, nuclear weapons development, and the cooperation of Jesuit educational institutions with American military recruiting programs such as the ROTC.

The dismissal also raises the specter of Pope Francis, the first head of the Catholic church to belong to the Jesuit order, having to confirm the dismissal of one of the order’s members.

John Dear’s column talks about leaving the order after 32 years.

New cardinals will be announced soon which may give the world more insight into Pope Francis’ and the future of the Roman Catholic Church.


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FYI: the NCR has just (for the time being) abolished online comments, due to a recent eruption of really “vile” and “abusive” stuff from rightwing trolls.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s still too early to say where Francis is heading (though I agree his cardinal appointments will say a lot).

JC Fisher

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