Thursday, September 19, 2013

My enemy, our friend

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, I wasn't particularly interested, not being a Catholic and seeing myself, at least ethnically, as a survivor of the exterminations and repressions and expulsions the Church he leads has perpetrated; seeing us all as damaged by it's long war on science and technology, on democracy, liberty, freedom of thought and speech  and even personal hygiene, I wasn't about to see any more than a cosmetic change.  Certainly the Church's attitude toward sexual freedom, the right to terminate a pregnancy, the right to read what we want to,  the right to have intimate relations with a partner of one's choice?  That's not going to change.

Maybe I was wrong. No, do as thou wilt isn't going to become doctrine any time soon, but respect for others, reluctance to condemn and perhaps adopting persuasion over fiery threats of damnation and excommunication may become, at least during his tenure, the order of the day.

Is this more like stoning the sinner with marshmallows or is it a new return to the kind of non-judgementalism that is attributed to Jesus?  Is the Church really going to make an effort to back away from being all about sex and the iron handed control of sexuality; about making sex a dirty necessity we have to feel guilty about and keep to a minimum?

The church has the right to express its opinions but not to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of gays and lesbians said Pope Francis in an interview just published. in a Jesuit magazine.  For an institution that has seen itself as a gatekeeper for God, that's a welcome surprise, at least to those who think their God doesn't mind answering his own phone; who think God doesn't have to consult his parish priest before allowing himself to judge people. He feels women must play a key role in church decisions, although the extent of the intent remains to be seen.

None of this, of course, affects me, being a non-believer, and I'm pretty sure the Church isn't going to begin recommending abortions or gay marriages or anything at all like that, but preaching and teaching instead of damning and condemning and blowing sulfur smoke seems like one small step for a pope and one great leap for the Vatican.

Will the Baptists, the Evangelicals and the Pat Robertsons of America join the enlightement?


  1. The Pope is an old fashioned Catholic. He certainly believes that homosexuality, abortion, same sex marriage, etc., are sins. I gather from what he said that those issues should not be priorities of damnation from the pulpit. You won't see women becoming priests under his term. He's made appointments and moves to clean up the Vatican bank and stop corruption. Good luck to him on that. He believes he is a true servant and serves the poor. I am not a believer, but it is nice to see a different attitude coming from the Vatican. I wish him well.

  2. Neither am I a believer, and yet I feel some sense of real human spirit (other than God or religion) must be responsible for his actions since becoming Pope. I also did a short post upon seeing it in the news.

    Oh, welcome back to cyberspace Swash Zone.

  3. When I read this post, I recalled an idea put forth decades ago by political scientist Theodore J. Lowi, author of a ‘themed’ textbook titled, American Government: Incomplete Conquest. What relevance does an out-of-print textbook on American government offer in this instance? This:

    According to Lowi, no matter how enlightened any form of government appears in on paper, all governments have a primordial mean streak, an instinct to lash out and violate their own doctrines, laws, and values – a kind of survival instinct when challenged or threatened.

    The Vatican is, after all, a form of government, so why not apply this concept.

    In this instance, the primordial mean streak is Church Authority. It explains the actions of the Vatican in handling the pedophilia scandals – reassignments in secret of offending priests to faraway parishes, and a steadfast refusal to cooperate with civil authorities. These incidents of pedophilia, plus decades of scandal and corruption inside the Curia, are clearly violations of church teachings and every standard of common decency. Yet, the Vatican asserted Church Authority over civil authority and compromised its moral credibility.

    Enter Pope Francis. As the good Captain suggests, we should not expect any major changes in church doctrine, if any, but we are seeing a shift in emphasis away from ecclesiastical authority and papal infallibility to a more humbled down acknowledgement of human fallibility. I believe this is what accounts for the newfound tolerance of Pope Francis towards, gays, lesbians, atheists, etc. Welcome indeed, but will this newfound tolerance survive this pope?

    If there are any readers passing through who are Catholic, I welcome their thoughts.

    1. I heard this pope has sealed all documents about child molestations. He speaks louder than his predecessor against priest molestations, but works harder to conceal the evidence.

    2. Anon,
      Do you have a link or citation that you can share with us?

    3. Francis's decree includes stricter rules governing the disclosure of secret information or documents and stipulates a punishment of up to eight years in prison if they concern the "fundamental interests" of the Holy See, or Church government.


      I just Goolged "Pope Francis child molestation"

      Pope Francis has made it a crime to molest children, BUT, only on Vatican grounds.

    4. I think that Primordial Mean Streak, or PMS as some call it is characteristic of all institutions or at least all institutions wielding power. Individuals too, and thinking about it - many animals. Feeding hands get bit, you know.

      Perhaps it's an expression of an innate Machtgelüst or der Wille zur Macht as Nietzsche discussed, but perhaps, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes PMS is just PMS.

  4. I think this Pope has come at the perfect time for the Catholic Church with the pedophilia scandals and waning attendance. The Church needs a lot of money to function but beyond that I think Pope Francis is very sincere in his desire to bring the Church back to the people. But we've heard these overtures before from the Vatican. Perhaps not as frank as the current Pope but still this has been tried before. If he lives long enough perhaps this Pope will make some lasting changes. But I think the Church's global influence has been graduallyfading for a long time and this may all be too little too late.

  5. There is a process of evolution in all religions and some ubiquitous patterns when you look at how religious institutions change their relationships with the secular world over time. Islam, for instance began as very liberal with respect to the secular and pagan practices of 6th and 7th century Arab life. It was much later that ecclesiastical power grew as prosperity and liberty waned. Islam has had many 'fundamentalist' movements, although I think it ironic in both Christian and Islamic attempts to return to some original state few can agree and even fewer have any idea what that original state was.

    The Roman church of course, having been part of a powerful empire and essentially crafted to be part of a powerful empire and eliminating sects and scripture that conflicted with the needs of power has had an opposite trajectory, not relinquishing power until it was forced to. In an increasingly secular, democratic Western world, any leader has to recognize that the attempts to war with "modernism" fail in the long run and there are disturbing words on the wall.

  6. Nonbeliever, raised Catholic here. Yes, Pope Francis seems to be a breath of fresh air, as was John XXIII, another pope who opened the windows and let fresh air in. When he died, a lot of the old attitudes and doctrines re-emerged--John Paul II certainly was no liberal and, as Gary Wills predicted in his book "Papal Sin," JP II's legacy to the RCC would be a gay priesthood.

    Will this pope address all the RCC's problems? Treat women as equals? Change the illogical birth control prohibition? I seriously doubt it, but that all remains to be seen.

    Meanwhile lots of ex-Catholics and nonbelievers are not quite ready to swoon.

  7. Anon, when you don't apply the appropriate context to information you end up with a confused reporting of technically factual information presented in such a way as to draw baseless conclusions.

    'Francis's decree includes stricter rules governing the disclosure of secret information or documents and stipulates a punishment of up to eight years in prison if they concern the "fundamental interests" of the Holy See, or Church government.'

    The decrees calling for stricter rules governing the disclosure of information applies to mismanagement and corruption of the business affairs of the Vatican. Not only is the Vatican a city, it is also a business. It's self-sufficient and self-governing. Like any municipality or city-state. it is entitled to maintain privacy regarding infighting and disagreements. There is nothing to suggest that in any way these new rules apply to child molestation and abuse.

    To the contrary, the Vatican has declared sexual acts against children a crime. Of course it only applies to the Vatican. The Pope has no authority to make laws that apply outside of the Vatican. That's left to already existing secular legal systems. The point is not that the laws against child molestation only apply to the Vatican, but that the Vatican has now implemented laws to prohibit and punish child molestation that takes place within Vatican City. The intent is to take more responsibility for prosecuting child molestation and to make it clear that the Vatican offers no sanctuary for those who commit their crimes elsewhere and then seek protection by relocating to Vatican City. Outside of Vatican City, the laws against child molestation will apply as they have always done. The Pope has no authority to declare that there will only be punishment of child molesters by the Vatican.

    There is much to question about the Church's policies on many topics without attributing negative motives to policies designed to move the Church into the 21st century.

    1. The Pope certainly has authority beyond the Vatican. He cannot decree any laws in a particular city, or State around the world; but he has authority to decree the behavior of his priests, Cardinals, the legal actions of the Church etc.. The church has worked aggressively to hide molesters, obstruct local law investigations on molestations, and engage in legal maneuverings to protect the church from litigation. This Pope has done nothing to stop those activities.
      Jeff Anderson is a lawyer who has tried for decades to get the church (including the Vatican) to open its files and identify these molesters. I refer you to his site for a better understanding of this issue. In fact Mr. Anderson was in the process of trying to question the old Pope who was making decisions on directing the actions of his members regarding molestations, when the Pope resigned and is now hiding behind Vatican walls to escape questioning, or responsibility. The new Pope is sanctioning these moves to obstruct responding to legal investigations about molestations around the world, and refuses to open those files to legal authorities who are trying to find out the extent of molestations, and more importantly which offenders are still out there creating a danger to children. .

    2. Forgot to add:
      According to Mr. Anderson that quote I used also refers to documents other than financial and was one reason he has been turned down once again to gain access to the Vatican's molestation files. The new Pope is still protecting his members from investigation and prosecution.


  8. I will agree and point out that Google is a useful tool, but no substitute for comprehensive knowledge. I've had too may arguments with people who insist that what they just read on Google was "research" into may a complex subject and of course the Internet as a whole has more misinformation and biased information than anything else. Every crackpot, malicious or otherwise has a list of web sites to back up his claims.

    Again, I applaud Francis' efforts so far, but only time will tell how far he can or intends to get given the institutional inertia and the constraints on him.


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