26 August 2018

The Guardian: “The war against Pope Francis”

Last year, one cardinal, backed by a few retired colleagues, raised the possibility of a formal declaration of heresy – the wilful rejection of an established doctrine of the church, a sin punishable by excommunication. Last month, 62 disaffected Catholics, including one retired bishop and a former head of the Vatican bank, published an open letter that accused Francis of seven specific counts of heretical teaching.

To accuse a sitting pope of heresy is the nuclear option in Catholic arguments. Doctrine holds that the pope cannot be wrong when he speaks on the central questions of the faith; so if he is wrong, he can’t be pope. On the other hand, if this pope is right, all his predecessors must have been wrong.

The question is particularly poisonous because it is almost entirely theoretical. In practice, in most of the world, divorced and remarried couples are routinely offered communion. Pope Francis is not proposing a revolution, but the bureaucratic recognition of a system that already exists, and might even be essential to the survival of the church. If the rules were literally applied, no one whose marriage had failed could ever have sex again. This is not a practical way to ensure there are future generations of Catholics.

Andrew Brown

Interesting long read on a subject I haven’t closely followed, but seems relevant for the current struggles of the Catholic Church. To me, Catholicism has always seemed more restrictive than other Christian churches on many subjects, including the right of priests to marry and, as mentioned in the article, divorce, which I find especially strange for a faith that considers itself ‘universal’. By contrast, Orthodox priests are not allowed into office if they are not married – to set the proper example for their parish. The Orthodox Church is more lenient when it comes to divorce as well, defining a fairly narrow list of cases when it’s permitted.

The newly appointed Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2013
The newly appointed Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2013. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/Reuters

The central dispute is between Catholics who believe that the church should set the agenda for the world, and those who think the world must set the agenda for the church. Those are ideal types: in the real world, any Catholic will be a mixture of those orientations, but in most of them, one will predominate.

Francis is a very pure example of the “outer-directed” or extrovert Catholic, especially compared with his immediate predecessors. His opponents are the introverts. Many were first attracted to the church by its distance from the concerns of the world. A surprising number of the most prominent introverts are converts from American Protestantism, some driven by the shallowness of the intellectual resources they were brought up with, but much more by a sense that liberal Protestantism was dying precisely because it no longer offered any alternative to the society around it. They want mystery and romance, not sterile common sense or conventional wisdom. No religion could flourish without that impulse.

This quote captures the essence of the argument perfectly, but in my humble opinion, it’s a false dilemma. The primary purpose of the Church, of any faith actually, is to set the spiritual agenda for its members and beyond, to provide comfort and acceptance beyond our common everyday concerns, and a vision of something greater than our small selves. The Church should be involved in the ‘real’ world, but not the ‘set the agenda’, instead to offer Christian moral guidance and solutions for the problems of the day.

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