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Jul 29 15 6:35 AM
Family of Kidnapped Jesuit Priest Thanks Pope Francis
Expresses Gratitude for Pope’s Appeal at Sunday’s Angelus Address
The family of kidnapped Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio thanked Pope Francis for his appeal during Sunday’s Angelus address.
Following the recitation of the Angelus prayer with thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father recalled two year anniversary of Fr. Dall’Oglio’s abduction.
The Italian priest, who worked in Syria for the past 30 years, was kidnapped in July 2013 by the so-called Islamic State. Father Dall’Oglio engaged in Christian-Muslim dialogue, notably through the monastic community he founded north of Damascus and was vocal against government repression.
”I make a heartfelt and urgent appeal for the freedom of this esteemed religious man,” the Pope said on Sunday.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on Monday, Fr. Dall’Oglio’s sister, Francesca, thanked the Pope for his words.
“In the name of our family, I would like to express all our gratitude to the Pope for the appeal he gave yesterday at the Angelus for the liberation of our brother Paolo, since his kidnapping in Syria two years ago,” she said. “I would like to highlight that it was for us a source of great consolation and that same time of emotion and hope.”
Regarding the Pope’s remembrance of others who have been kidnapped, including two Syrian bishops, Francesca Dall’Oglio said that her family “is close to the sufferings of the families of those kidnapped in Syria.
Jul 30 15 5:53 AM
The pope and poverty
Looks like the Pope Francis Fan Club is losing membership. At least that’s what the Gallup Poll folks are saying.
You had to know it wouldn’t last. All that care for the poor business had to be getting on folks’ nerves. You see, most of the people who hear what Francis says are rich.
The poor are not wired. The poor do not have smart phones and computers. The poor do not have televisions or radios. The poor do not have books or newspapers.
Oh, you say, there are poor folks on my block and they have cell phones and computers and TV and radio and books and newspapers.
Wrong. The deeply poor do not live in neighborhoods. They are not “down the block.” They are in tin shacks, in huts, even caves. They are in lean-tos against abandoned buildings. If they can find them, they scrounge garbage mountains for things they need: clothing, furniture, and sometimes food. They hunt or fish or grow their sustenance. They fashion what they can from what is around them. In the country they have wood and stones and dirt. In the city they have the detritus of the rich (or at least of the richer), the droppings of plastic and resin the modern age uses to replace wood and stone.
So, when Francis talks about the poor, most of the people who hear him have no idea what he is talking about. Most of the people who hear him are, relatively speaking, rich.
Here are the numbers: half of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. That is 3 billion people. Now, maybe in the poorest areas of the world — the favelas of Brazil, the jungle villages of Africa, the city edges of India, the seaside settlements of Malaysia and the Philippines — you can manage on that scale of economy. But think of what $2.50 a day allows for and what it eliminates.
People in what they call developed nations have access to all manner of things the truly poor would never dream of. There are department stores and supermarkets and delicatessens. There are planes and trains and buses and cars. There are hospitals and clinics and pharmacies. There are universities and high schools and continuing education programs. There is clean water, clean land, and clean air.
Most of us reading this column, myself included, cannot fathom life without these things. From time to time, one or another is out of reach. Most of the time, it’s all just around the corner.
So, what about the poor? They should be miserable but the people with nothing, who own nothing and whose lives really depend on each other, so often seem happy even in their misery.
I think Francis has the answer. He is, after all, a Jesuit priest. Jesuits pray the full 30-days of the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola at least twice: first on entering the novitiate, and again during what is called their “tertianship,” as they approach mid-life.
The aim of the Exercises is to free the individual to live wholly in God’s care. That does not mean living off the grid. It means living with the understanding that all is gift and that we must gratefully use what we have for our own sake and for the sake of others.
That is the mystery of Francis the world, now apparently including some on the right, cannot understand. As a Jesuit in solemn vows, he truly owns nothing. As pope, he is trying to encourage the rest of us to understand that we also “own” nothing.
Francis is teaching that our distress comes from the need to control — property, money, even the weather. Of course we must care for and be responsible for what we “have” — our homes, our jobs and savings. But we must not be so bent on possessions, on controlling everything that our lives revert to Scrooge-like crankiness. We can no more control things than we can control the weather.
So now, Francis is saying both to individuals and to nations: “lighten up.” You do not need so much. You do not need everything you have. You can spread it around and you should spread it around because in reality you do not and cannot “own” anything. Once you die, you die.
Will the people now turning away because they fear Francis’ condemning capitalism be able to recognize that he, like popes before him, criticizes the excesses and the evils of capitalism, not the system itself? Will the people now turning away because they are, as one conservative pundit put it, tired of being “scolded,” recognize that Francis, like St. Ignatius before him, pointed out that all is gift?
No one says it is easy to live like that. It is not. But it is not all that hard, either.
Jul 30 15 5:58 AM
Is the Pope Negotiating for a Forgotten Hostage Priest’s Release?
Despite countless rumors, nothing has been heard of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio since he went missing in Syria two years ago. Now Pope Francis has sparked hope for the priest’s return.
ROME—No one has ever heard a credible word about the fate of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a 60-year-old Italian Jesuit priest who was kidnapped as he walked along the shelled-out streets of Raqqa, Syria, on July 27, 2013.
Raqqa had become the de facto capital of ISIS, but Dall’Oglio felt at home there, having spent nearly four decades living and working in Syria. There have been countless rumors of his brutal death at the hands of jihadi terrorists, and just as many often fanciful stories of his miraculous survival because of his well-known opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. But there have never been claims of responsibility from ISIS about holding the priest, and Dall’Oglio’s family says he is instead being held by a group connected to al Qaeda, although they say no one has ever demanded ransom.
Italians are no strangers to kidnappings in conflict zones. Several high-profile journalists were kidnapped and let go during the height of the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, including Giuliana Sgrena, whose rescuers were inadvertently shot by American soldiers as they barreled through a checkpoint to take her to Bagdad International Airport in 2005. More recently others have been picked up and let go in Syria, including Greta Ramelli and Vanessa Marzullo, two young aid workers who were freed in January amid speculation that Italy paid a handsome ransom for their release. But there is scant mention of Father Dall’Oglio and nary a poster of his gray-bearded face hanging in public spaces like there were of the other missing.
But on Sunday, Pope Francis pleaded for the priest’s release in a somewhat surprising aside during his weekly Angelus blessing, leaving many wondering if the Holy See knows something about the priest’s whereabouts or if, perhaps, it is negotiating his release. “In a few days, we will mark the second anniversary since, in Syria, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio was kidnapped,” Francis said to thousands in St. Peter’s Square. “I make a heartfelt and urgent appeal to local and international authorities for the freedom of this esteemed religious man.”
Dall’Oglio was no ordinary priest. He was fluent in Arabic and lived for most of his life in Syria, where he converted the Deir Mar Mousa, the Abyssinian monastery in An-Nabk District, into a religious community to foster Christian-Muslim dialogue and cooperation. He nearly died after falling down a crumbling wall of the decaying hilltop building, which is reportedly what gave him the inspiration to dedicate his life to the project. He has written a number of important texts, including one based on his doctorate dissertation called “About Hope in Islam.”
In 2011, Dall’Oglio wrote a widely published open letter to Assad, condemning him for the civil war and urging him to stop killing his people. The priest had seen the devastation firsthand and reported in vivid detail the loss of life and torture among the people he ministered to, and those Muslims who were his friends. Assad replied by expelling the priest from Syria. He resisted for several months but finally left in June 2012 and lived for a time Iraqi Kurdistan. But he returned to Syria in early 2013, against the wishes of almost everyone but his loyal Syrian friends and followers.
Dall’Oglio made such powerful enemies because he understood and often spoke in warning tones about the complexity of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, says Riccardo Cristiano, a journalist for RAI in Italy who recently formed the group Journalist Friends of Father Dall’Oglio to advocate for the return of the priest and act as a conduit for credible information about the prelate.
“‘I appeal to local and international authorities’ is very interesting—is there a channel open? Is this Vatican diplomacy at work? It would seem so.”
Cristiano points to a video lecture Dall’Oglio gave shortly before Raqqa fell to ISIS in which the priest aptly predicted, “Syria, which ought to be the place where harmony and fraternity amongst these varying beliefs could be experimented, instead risks becoming fragmented and broken into pieces.”
Cristiano believes the Holy See may have begun dialogue with Dall’Oglio’s captors. “There is a thread of hope,” Cristiano said after the pope’s address. “The phrase ‘an esteemed religious man’ is a beautiful expression. And ‘I appeal to local and international authorities’ is very interesting—is there a channel open? Is this Vatican diplomacy at work? It would seem so. We hope…”
Italy’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment to The Daily Beast on any ongoing negotiations for the priest’s release, but immediately after Francis’s appeal, Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, tweeted: “Thank you @pontifex for the appeal to free Father Dall’Oglio.”
Until there is credible news of the pacifist priest, hope may continue to spring eternal. Even though the aid workers Ramelli and Marzullo were questioned about their time in ISIS captivity, there has been no official word whether they saw the priest—or any other of a handful of known hostages still in ISIS hands. Shortly before the pair’s release, however, an ISIS supporter tweeted that the girls and the priest would be released soon. Only the girls made it to freedom.
Last year, Francis met with Father Dall’Oglio’s family, but the pope has never publicly appealed for the priest’s release until Sunday. Now it is a waiting game to determine whether he did it to mark the two-year anniversary of the priest’s disappearance or to herald his return.
Jul 30 15 6:07 AM
Pope Francis believes the time for resisting change in the Church is over
The pope wants a Church that is open to all, says leader of Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific
Pope Francis is intent on ending resistance to changes that came with the Second Vatican Council that includes a Church that is open to all and building a society that cares for the environment, says the president of the Jesuit Provinces in the Asia-Pacific region, Fr. Mark Raper.
The fundamental difference between Pope Francis and his predecessors is that he is "not just talking to the converted … he is talking to everyone," Fr. Raper told ucanews.com.
"Fifty years ago the Vatican Council promoted a fundamental change of attitude towards secular society with its concern for the common good and freedom of conscience. The Church was opened up to the world," said the 73-year old Jesuit.
"While many people in the Church have been trying to live this approach, there has often been resistance, even from within the Church,” (Oh, definitely! And ironically, some of the most strident voices of resistance are in the Curia itself!) said Fr. Raper. “Now Pope Francis will not tolerate resistance to this change of approach."
Fr. Raper pointed out that Pope Francis is determined to speak to as many people around the globe as possible and cited the encyclical Laudato si’ (Praise be to you — On Care For Our Common Home) that was addressed to every person on the planet.
"It is a tremendous gift. It is not just a boost to those who consider care for our environment important. It is insightful in new ways. He has brought together solid science, deep theology and a quite radical view of the place of human life in creation. It is most inspiring," said Fr. Raper.
The Jesuit priest said that many people consider that the encyclical was addressed to world leaders in the UN Climate Summit to be held in Paris in November, asking them to take responsibility for climate change and steps to control it.
"Now it is urgent that we mobilize support in preparation for this. It calls for a big change of heart and of consciousness regarding the questions of our human habitat," Fr. Raper said.
"We do this through our educational institutions, in our preaching, writing and through many other means, joining with others. Of course, Paris is a milestone and the question is a long-term one. But there is no time to lose," he said.
Fr. Raper, who heads one of the six conferences that coordinate and facilitate the mission of the Jesuits around the world, also talked about what it meant having a pope who is also a Jesuit.
"Certainly we Jesuits may have felt like we were under a bit of a cloud at times. Jesuits were asked by different popes to keep pushing the boundaries. But when we do, we can be misunderstood," he said.
"Now we have a Holy Father whose way of thinking corresponds with how we were educated. On the other hand, he is not a young man and his time will not last forever."
Fr. Raper’s conference covers Jesuit life and service in Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam, and the countries of the Pacific, notably Micronesia.
The conference serves to help bring an international perspective to and on local initiatives.
"We have a number of priority commitments — care of vulnerable migrants, a focus on the environment, dialogue with Buddhism and Islam," Fr. Raper said. "The Jesuit mission is to promote a faith that does justice in dialogue with cultures and religions."
There are about 1600 to 1700 Jesuits in this conference. That does not include the more than 4,000 Jesuits in the Indian subcontinent.
But Raper voiced concern about the declining number of Jesuits in Indonesia and the Philippines, the two biggest provinces of the order in the region, where he said that numbers are contracting slightly each year.
Asked for the reason, he said: "I cannot give one coherent reason for this, but I was talking to a Buddhist monk recently in Chiang Mai and he had the same message. He sees a decline in vocations to the monkhood, especially in the cities.
"He gave similar reasons to what I have heard among our religious, such as an increase of consumerism, rise of secularism, the culture of the cities and what our superior general calls the 'globalisation of superficiality'. Also, of course, families are smaller, opportunities are greater and there are more distractions."
On the upside, Jesuit numbers are rising in Vietnam, Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Myanmar.
Fr. Raper pointed out that Catholics in Asia have a disproportionately larger impact than its percentage of the population across Asia would suggest. He said this is because of the Church's involvement in education, health and social services that serve all.
"We seek to learn from others. But because we often cooperate with many others, our presence can be quite discrete," he said.
The Church's education, health and socio-economic programs have highlighted respect for human dignity, safeguarded human rights as seen with its campaigns for reconciliation, peace and justice and concern for marginalized groups such as the Montagnards in Vietnam and the Rohingya in Myanmar.
"We do not take public roles of advocacy in every instance. There are times when it may be more appropriate to ensure that those who have real leadership roles are heard," Fr. Raper said.
For instance, someone like Cardinal Charles Bo in Yangon is in a better position to speak publicly and to dialogue with authorities about the need for justice in Myanmar, he said.
Also, having a popular pope, the first Jesuit elected to that office, does make the job for Jesuits both easy and difficult at the same time, Fr. Raper said.
Jul 31 15 5:01 AM
Pope Francis: 'Facts are more important than ideas'
"Facts are more important than ideas" is a statement from Pope Francis that one would have never heard from Popes Benedict XVI or John Paul II.
It is not that Pope Francis is dumb or an anti-intellectual. He is well-read and thoughtful, but by no stretch of the imagination can he be called a scholar. His training as a scientist and his life experience make him approach theory in a different way than John Paul and Benedict. It also helps explain his approach to the environment in Laudato Si'.
John Paul was trained first as a philosopher and then as a theologian, and as a priest, he taught ethics at a university. He wrote in a style that was not easily digested. Benedict was trained in theology and became one of the leading theologians of his generation. Both wrote scholarly books that promoted a particular perspective.
On the other hand, Francis' initial training prior to entering the seminary was as a chemist. He never finished his doctorate in theology. He is what academics refer to as ABD, "all but dissertation." He never wrote scholarly books. He was a wide-ranging consumer of theology, not the proponent of a particular view.
For John Paul the philosopher and Benedict the theologian, ideas were paramount. But for Francis the scientist and pastor, facts really matter.
For John Paul and Benedict, if reality does not reflect the ideal, then reality must change, whereas for Francis, if facts and theory clash, he, like a good scientist, is willing to question the theory.
The personal histories of these three popes also marked them. For John Paul, it was the experience of a church under siege, first by the Nazis and then by the communists. Church unity was paramount in such a struggle. Even after the fall of communism, his model of the church was still that of a church under siege, except now the enemy was much of Western culture -- relativism, consumerism, etc.
Likewise, Benedict was influenced first by the Second Vatican Council and then by the upheaval that followed it and the 1968 student riots, which reminded him of the Nazi Brownshirts of his youth. As with John Paul, unity and order were important values.
As a teacher of graduate students and a director of dissertations, Benedict spent much of his time guiding and correcting students. He did not interact all that well with his theological colleagues. It was not surprising that as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he saw his job as guiding and correcting theologians whom he treated like graduate students, not intellectual equals.
Francis, on the other hand, as a young priest was quickly thrust into the spiritual formation of young Jesuits and became director of novices, provincial and rector of the Jesuit seminary. He dealt with people, not ideas; discernment, not logic, was the guiding principle.
This experience of Jesuit governance was rewarding but not irenic. He experienced conflict and failure. He acknowledges that he was too young for the authority he was given and that he made mistakes. He learned that he needed to listen and consult before making decisions. He brought these learned lessons to his work as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he spent much of his time with people in the slums.
Francis also lived in Argentina at a time when there was a clash of ideologies going on, and he grew to hate ideological thinking. I define an ideology as a system by which we ignore data and experience in order to preserve our opinions. Peronism, communism, and libertarian capitalism were fighting for power. The military, following the idea of the national security state, violently suppressed all opposition.
At the same time, while John Paul experienced communism as a foreign oppressor, Francis met communism as a young man in the person of his first boss and mentor, whom he admired and with whom he maintained friendship for life. He learned early that a communist could be a good person.
Pope Francis is uncomfortable with ideologies on the left and the right. He was critical of certain forms of liberation theology because they incorporated Marxist analysis and supported violent revolution. He felt that these theologians were imposing their ideas on the poor rather than listening to their views.
But Francis is even more critical of libertarian capitalism, which blindly claims that all boats would rise with the tide of economic growth, because the people he met in the slums of Buenos Aires were in fact drowning without boats.
All of this background influenced the writing of Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'. Rather than starting with philosophy and theology, the first chapter of the encyclical starts with science. What are the facts?
The pope and his collaborators began by consulting widely with the scientific community. What is happening to the environment? They went to the scientific community not to argue with it, but to learn from it. If there was a consensus in the scientific community, they accepted it.
Although the church gets a bad rap for Galileo, in fact, the Catholic church has been a supporter of science through the centuries (Jesuit astronomers, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, etc.). This was grounded in Catholic theology that argued that there can be no conflict between faith and reason because both are from God.
This does not mean that there were not bumps along the road (Galileo, Darwin, Freud), but Catholicism was usually able to reconcile itself with new science faster than those for whom the Bible was the only source of authority. Today, conflict is over how science is used, not over what science discovers.
What did the pope learn about the environment from scientists?
Chapter 1 of the encyclical first reports on air pollution: "Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths." Pollution is "caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general."
Then the chapter moves on to the pollution caused by waste. "Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources."
The pope also learned that "a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system" and that "a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity."
Chapter 1 includes a discussion of how global warming can lead to melting of glaciers and polar ice, rising sea levels, and the release of methane gas from the decomposition of frozen organic material. It also notes that "carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain."
"If present trends continue," the encyclical states, "this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us."
Chapter 1 devotes an entire section to the loss of biodiversity, its causes and consequences. "Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity." These are resources that will not be available to future generations.
The encyclical reports on polluted water supplies, dying coral reefs, and deforestation. It summarizes the current thinking of scientists about environmental issues.
Later in the encyclical, Francis writes, "Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet's capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes."
Facts matter when it comes to the environment, which is why Francis begins his encyclical with a presentation of the scientific consensus on the state of the environment and where we are going. These facts present the world with a moral dilemma that will be explicated later in the encyclical.
Facts, in Francis' universe, should not be twisted to fit our ideas. Rather, facts can force us to change our ideas. For example, what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century must change when confronted with environmental crisis we face.
Jul 31 15 10:25 AM
Every leader, whether prime minister or bishop, is rightly suspicious of the adulation that comes their way during their honeymoon period.Since Laudato Si was published, Pope Francis has discovered he is no longer the adorable, cuddly Latin champion of conservative Catholic values who won an unprecedented good press. He has instead become a feared advocate of a radical Christian socialism that looks suspiciously close to Marxism.Many in our post-enlightenment world would prefer a Pope who makes saints, believes in miracles and helps end communism in Poland, a Pope of whom it can confidently be said, this man is himself a saint. There is a growing concern about a Pope who seems dedicated to bringing about an end to capitalism in the West if that is what is needed to put a cap on global warming. Critics have ranged from Anglican bishops to Catholic laity and more in between. "The Roman Catholic Church is currently led by a man whose social, political and economic views have been shaped by Leftism more than by any other religious or moral system," writes Dennis Prager in the influential Frontpage Mag.The Church's social teaching is profound and much of it rings true. It is in the inheritance of Jesus to stand up for the poor, the dispossessed, those on the margins. It is also in the tradition of Christian reformers to be on the margins themselves. They can barrack better when outside the castle gates. Something sounds a bit out of tune when royalty, presidents, prime ministers and the super-rich sing from the same hymn sheet as the Pope. Would anyone trust a Dalai Lama who was beloved of China? A bit of unpopularity for the religious leader is no bad thing and puts harmony into the natural world. It is in the tradition of things.The puzzle is that anyone is surprised or worried about a left-wing tendency in the social teachings of the head of the Catholic Church. It shows how far our Judeo-Christian culture has strayed from its biblical roots if this much understanding of scripture has been lost. Jesus was a radical. He was a scriptural but not a social conservative, even if he did get on rather well with tax collectors. He came to change not one dot or comma of the law. He also came to feed the 5,000.It's pretty clear from what's happening to the Labour Party how the political future landscape lies, in the UK at least. If imposing socialism on the world is part of the Pope's agenda, he won't succeed, any more than he or his predecessors have succeeded in putting a cap on condom use. Nor will he or his cardinals stop the clock on gay equality in the West, or on women's equality. But there is a lot that he and his bishops can do for good.I'm no economist but anyone who's worked for nearly three decades for an international corporate concern such as News UK, as it now is, knows from their own experience that there is only one way to go and that is the capitalist way. Anyone who reads the papers, listens to BBC Radio 4, anyone who lives within the PAYE economy in Britain or any tax system in the West surely cannot fail to understand that the markets work. Just as the Pope on climate change admits he is no scientist, we who are not economists can admit we do not understand how or precisely why. To those who demand an answer, we can simply supply: "They work if you work 'em."The Pope cannot be part of that system. He is the Pope. He needs to be on the outside looking in, so he can be the conscience that reminds us of what is Godly. For a time, as our world adored en masse this new and extraordinary leader, things seemed ever so slightly out of kilter. Some of us did wonder what would happen when people woke up and realised exactly what they had got. Now that the capitalist world has weighed him and found him wanting, the scales have shifted back. Balance is restored.The Pope's focus so far has been on the family and the environment. If I were Pope, I would make a decision to move on, soon, and leave the environment to the scientists and the family to the priests and laity. My focus at this time in the 21st century would be on what to do about the terrible cataclysm in the Middle East. This was a good Pope. Now he has a measure of unpopularity, among the rich and powerful, he has the chance to be a great one. They might not like his social idealism but even they will surely be willing to resource him, if he can get his future priorities right.
Aug 1 15 4:29 AM
Aug 1 15 7:59 AM
The subtitle of Pope Francis’ stunning new encyclical, “‘Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home,” belies the preference of some that a pontiff not venture into economic matters—Jeb Bush, for instance. Etymologically, after all, economics is the discipline of managing a home; the encyclical’s heading therefore presents it as an economics for the world we hold in common. But what kind of economics is it?As the document’s most uncomfortable critics have pointed out, the pope has little faith in the capacity of the market mechanisms of global capitalism to smooth out our reckless abuse of creation on their own. He is less than sanguine also about the capacity of national governments to do the job, especially since many are in the thrall of the same multinational corporations that profit from doing the damage. With neither capitalism alone nor the strong arm of states to turn to, it is no surprise that critics—Catholic ones most venomously—have accused him of economic naïveté and incoherence.There is, however, a different sort of economics that helps us see the sense in what Francis proposes—the economics of the commons. This is a tradition that includes the “all things in common” described in the New Testament Book of Acts and the primacy of the common good over private property, upheld from Augustine to modern social teaching. People throughout history have practiced the art of “commoning” to steward goods that states and markets are not equipped to handle. The late Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in economics for her research on how longstanding communities govern resources like fisheries and forests, and today the commons of information is undergoing a revival through practices like open-source software. Communities manage their commons in many different ways, using many of the same tools we use to manage our households—like relationship, custom, listening, ritual and love. Act like a greedy homo economicus at the dinner table, and don’t expect to be offered dessert.The Italian economist Stefano Zamagni, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, has participated in the development of Catholic economic teaching before and during the present papacy. “From an economic point of view, the environment is a common good,” he told me. “It is not a private good or a public good, which means that we cannot cope with the problem of the environment using market mechanisms per se, or government intervention.” The ideas of Elinor Ostrom and other scholars of the commons have figured prominently in the academy’s proceedings. The Belgian open-source advocate Michel Bauwens and the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, have been invited speakers.The kinds of remedies Francis proposes for our ecological sins often fit the logic of commoning. He calls for cooperative kinds of business that share wealth rather than accumulating it. He calls for prayer, for repentance and for dialogue—the kinds of things we do when something goes wrong in our household.Especially controversial are the passages where Francis proposes “systems of governance for the whole range of so-called ‘global commons.’” Some have understood this as some kind of overreaching world government. But Zamagni insists that it is no such thing. Like the World Trade Organization, for instance, this might be something like the very agencies that capitalism relies on, though far more accountable than the W.T.O. to the world’s poorest, who are often the first to hear and suffer from the planet’s groanings.Commoning is not a replacement for markets or states. Zamagni stresses that the consumerist capitalism that dismays Francis is not synonymous with markets as such. “The pope is not against the market economy,” he says; the problem is an idolatry that imagines markets can solve our moral crises for us. We can respect the usefulness of markets without needing to affirm their omnipotence.This is the first third world encyclical—drafted by an African cardinal, Peter Turkson, and completed by a South American pope. Like Catholic social teaching in general, it declines to bow before the competing altars of Cold War economics. The commoning it calls for is the wisdom of the ancients, still hidden in plain sight among the “informal economies” at global capitalism’s margins. This is the art, at once, of keeping a loving home and of sharing a precious planet.Pontifex Economicus
Aug 2 15 4:33 AM
You can’t understand Pope Francis without Juan Perón — and Evita
BUENOS AIRES — A few years ago, when he was not yet Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, visited the convent where he attended kindergarten in the city’s Flores neighborhood. The nuns gathered around.
“Sister Rosa,” he asked one of his first teachers, “what was I like?”
“A little demon,” she bellowed. The nuns burst out laughing.
(And I imagine no one laughed more heartily than Cardinal Bergoglio himself.)“Jorge was a restless boy, always running around,” said Sister Martha Rabino, 74, the mother superior, who was present that day. “The sisters say he wouldn’t sit still.”
The restless boy from Flores is today a restless pope. In the two years since he was named pontiff, Francis, 78, has brought a distinctive rebellious streak to the seat of Saint Peter. Papal observers predicted that he would shake up the Vatican hierarchy. Few expected him to dive into global politics with this much evangelical fervor.
With Francis preparing to address Congress and the United Nations during his first papal visit to the United States, from Sept. 22 to 27, his moral and political convictions will be on display as never before.
In recent months, the pope’s indictment of unfettered capitalism as “the devil’s dung” and his calls for sweeping cultural and lifestyle changes to reduce global warming have fueled a perception among some conservatives that Francis is a leftist, with Marxist views dressed up in white vestments.
Here in Argentina, where Francis had a reputation as a conservative, those who have known him for decades find such characterizations risible, throwing their hands in the air, as if told the Brazilians were better at soccer or Chile had better wine.
“Absurd,” said Julio Barbaro, a former Argentine congressman who studied at the San Miguel Jesuit college with Francis in the 1960s.
The pope, Barbaro said, is a “Peronist” whose views don’t fit into the left-right boxes of the U.S. political divide.
Gen. Juan Perón ruled Argentina from 1946 to 1955, and again briefly in the 1970s, and Peronism has endured as a dominant force in the country’s political life. It attempts to bridge class divides through the combination of a strong, authoritative leader, a highly centralized and generous social welfare state, and heavy doses of quasi-religious nationalist sentiment. Even after her death in 1952, Perón’s wife Evita was a figure of adoration among the country’s working poor.
Peronism’s appeal for many postwar Argentines, including the young Francis, was its rejection of both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism. “It was a way to help the poor that doesn’t believe in class struggle,” Barbaro said. “It believes in capitalism but with limits.”
Perón was a classic Latin American strongman, too, stifling dissent and styling himself as the embodiment of Argentine national pride; the Peronism of Francis’s childhood did not exalt individual freedom or free markets. But his “third-way” policies and personal touch endeared him to working-class Argentines who were suspicious of wealthy elites yet wary of international leftism at the same time.
Roman Catholicism and Peronism had much in common, and the young Francis was steeped in both.
God and Gandulla
The Flores neighborhood of Francis’s childhood was a kind of early Peronist idyll. Mario Jose Francisco Bergoglio, the pope’s father, had come to Argentina from Italy’s Piedmont region with his parents and five siblings in 1928. Hard-hit by the Depression, they moved to Buenos Aires in 1932, according to Francis biographer Austen Ivereigh. They turned to the church for economic, social and spiritual relief.
The pope’s father found work as a bookkeeper for neighborhood businesses. He married Regina Maria Sivori, the daughter of Italian immigrants, in 1935. Jorge Mario, the first of their five children, was born the following year.
Flores (“Flowers”) was a neighborhood far from the city center that still had patches of pasture land and tiny vegetable plots. The Bergoglios moved to a house on Membrillar Street where Francis would spend nearly his entire childhood, walking to school and catechism, and playing soccer until the sun went down or the police chased the neighborhood boys out of the park.
An archive photograph with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, first from the right on the bottom row, while he was in elementary school in Flores.
Flores was a working-class community of middle-class optimism, populated by Italian, Spanish, Jewish and Armenian immigrants. Delivery men sold milk, vegetables and bread from horse carts, and fresh fish on Thursdays. With few cars, everyone walked or took trolleys.
Francis attended a public primary school two blocks from his home. Ernesto Lach, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland, sat next to Francis in fifth grade, in 1948.
“I remember him as a smart, serious boy, with excellent manners,” said Lach, 79, who still lives in the neighborhood. Their teacher that year, Roberto Brusa, who had trained as a chemist, was stern but inspiring, Lach said. Francis, perhaps because of Brusa’s example, also pursued chemistry in secondary school.
Bernardo “Nano” Gandulla, one of the era’s biggest soccer stars, had recently retired and lived in a house nearby, Lach said, and he “would come out to coach us in the afternoons.”
It was like growing up with Joe DiMaggio in the neighborhood. “We idolized him,” Lach said. Though skinny and not especially skilled with the ball, Francis would become a lifelong devotee of San Lorenzo, one of Buenos Aires’ most storied teams.
“He’s always followed politics and soccer closely,” Barbaro said, “because that’s what his parishioners cared about.”
The family home was clean, orderly and austere, remembered Osvaldo Devries, a childhood classmate of Francis’s younger brother, Alberto, who died in 2010.
“We would go to the Bergoglio house after school to do our homework, then play soccer in the park,” Devries said. The parents, he recalled, were formal and religious.
“I don’t remember ever seeing them show affection to their sons,” Devries said. “There was always something a little distant about them.”
Francis has said that he absorbed his religious views through his maternal grandmother, Rosa. As a young woman in Italy, she was a member of Catholic Action, which defended the church against the rise of fascism. Francis joined a local chapter of Catholic Action as a teenager, when it was closely linked to Perón.
Francis learned to shoot pool and dance with girls at parties. He loved the Argentine style of tango known as milonga, and later worked on weekends as a doorman at local bars.
Francis studied chemistry at a small, specialized public high school that was part of the Peronist push to turn Argentina into an industrial power. He took a part-time job as an apprentice in a lab.
It was around that time, when Francis was almost 17, that he was walking past his neighborhood’s San Jose de Flores Basilica, one of the city’s most spectacular cathedrals, with soaring marble columns and elaborate frescoes. He was on his way to meet friends, and something beckoned him inside. He approached a confessional and said he knew at that moment that he wanted to be a priest, describing a powerful moment he likened to “being thrown from a horse,” according to Ivereigh.
His mother had wanted him to be a doctor, so he had to hide his theology books from her as he prepared for the seminary.
At the lab where he worked, Francis met one of the other women he mentions as a major influence in his life: his supervisor Ester Ballestrino. She was a Paraguayan feminist and communist militant, in her 30s, and she became a mentor to Francis. The two maintained a friendship for many years to follow.
This was a relatively quiet time in Argentina, before the storm that would split the country and Francis’s own Jesuit order.
When a military junta seized control of Argentina in 1976, many saw the coup as a short-term solution to restore order and rein in violent insurgent groups like the Catholic-inspired Marxist guerrillas known as Montoneros and the death squads that hunted them.
The “Dirty War” that followed lasted seven years. At least 10,000 Argentines were murdered or went missing.
One of them was Ballestrino. She had become a founder of the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo,” the mothers of the “disappeared” who marched with portraits of their missing children to alert the world to the horrors of the dictatorship. Ballestrino’s pregnant 16-year-old daughter had been held for months in military custody, then fled to Sweden upon release.
Ballestrino called Francis one night in 1977, and he agreed to hide her large collection of books, including some Marxist volumes that, if found, would have meant a death sentence. She and the other mothers were preparing to go public with a list of 800 “disappeared” Argentines.
She was abducted soon after. As with many of the Dirty War’s victims, she was tortured in the basement of the Navy Mechanics School, then likely drugged and, with others, thrown alive into the Atlantic Ocean from a military aircraft.
Their bodies were buried in a mass grave after washing ashore. Forensic investigators identified their remains in 2005, and Francis agreed to grant their burial in a Buenos Aires church cemetery.
In 2010, three years before he was named pope, trials were underway for several military officers suspected of war crimes, and Francis was asked to testify.
He looks deeply uncomfortable in the recording of his testimony. An attorney asks what he did after learning that Ballestrino had been taken into custody.
Francis said he tried contacting her family. Who else? the attorney asks. He spoke to human rights organizations, Francis said. The attorney asks more bluntly: Did he try to intervene with military authorities?
He did not. “I did what I could,” he said.
He often thinks about Ballestrino, a link to the Argentina of his childhood and his Flores neighborhood, he told biographers Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti. “I blame myself for not doing enough,” he said.
His leftist critics within the clergy and Argentine human rights organizations would blame him, too — and the Catholic church generally — for not taking a more forceful stand against the dictatorship. But Francis said he sheltered several priests who were in danger for their views and saved others by helping them flee the country.
Francis survived Argentina’s darkest episode, but not without scars, or enemies.
The politics of humility
Francis attended seminary at the Colegio Máximo, the Jesuit college in San Miguel, an hour outside Buenos Aires, and would spend most of his next 25 years there as a student, instructor and eventually as the school’s director.
It was at the Colegio Máximo that he came under the influence of Juan Carlos Scannone and a group of other young priests who advocated a “theology of the people” (teologia del pueblo) as an alternative to Marxist-inspired liberation theology. It was the pastoral approach that Francis would adopt, emphasizing humility, simplicity and intimate contact with society’s poor and most vulnerable. A theology of the people meant living among the poor, not talking about them in the abstract.
Scannone today is 83 and still lives at the Colegio Máximo, where he attended Francis’s ordination. No, he assured a visitor, the pope is not an anti-capitalist.
Living his beliefs
“He doesn’t criticize market economics, but rather the fetishization of money and the free market,” Scannone said. “One thing is market economics. Another is the hegemony of capital over people.”
Francis’s split from Argentina’s more left-leaning clergy would define much of his career as a Jesuit. But at the Colegio Máximo, he lived his beliefs — and set an example for others — by practicing a politics of humility, austerity and actions over words.
“He would wake up early and do the laundry before the staff arrived,” said Mario Rausch, a Jesuit brother who still lives at the college. There were several poor neighborhoods nearby, and Francis would walk across muddy fields to celebrate Mass there on weekends. Then he would return to cook huge meals for the whole college. He slept in a small room with a simple, wood-frame single bed.
The Colegio Máximo thrived in the 1970s and ’80s under Francis, but today it seems somewhat like the church itself: beautiful, aging, perhaps a bit empty. Rausch is one of only four brothers who still live there, down from 15 in Francis’s time, spending his days alone in a dusty bookbinding workshop.
Staying in touch
A few months after he became pope, Francis called Rausch one morning to wish him a happy birthday, as he had done for years. The college receptionist couldn’t believe it was really the pope calling from the Vatican, assuming it was a prank. It took Francis — who prefers making his own calls — several tries to get through.
“Where have you been?” Francis teased.
“I never doubted that he would remember my birthday,” Rausch said. “But once he became pope, I didn’t think he’d have time to call.”
There are stories like this all over Buenos Aires, among childhood friends, parishioners and others who have saved letters or notes from Francis in his tiny, nearly illegible handwriting. One of the more recent letters is in the office of Rosana Dominguez, the director of Francis’s primary school in Flores.
The school will celebrate its 100th anniversary in September, a few days before Francis is due to arrive in the United States. The school’s classrooms look shabbier than they did in the Perón era of Francis’s youth. It is a school, once more, of immigrant children whose parents have migrated from Bolivia and Paraguay and settled in a tough, drug-scarred slum nearby.
Dominguez wrote to Francis in February hoping to bring the school’s dire financial situation to his attention at a time when the city government was cutting back and more middle-class parents were sending kids to private — and parochial — schools. To her surprise, Francis wrote back a week later, sending a half-page handwritten letter on Vatican stationery.
“That glorious public school — and free!!” he wrote, the two exclamation points an unambiguous showing of support for her cause.
He would not be there to celebrate the school’s centennial, but told her “my heart will be right there with you.”
“I’m at your service,” Francis wrote, “pray for me.”
Aug 2 15 5:29 AM
Aug 2 15 5:33 AM
Aug 3 15 4:55 AM
Populism and the anti-elitism of Pope Francis
Francis shaping up as a positive surprise for US Catholics
Data released by the German bishops' conference show that more than 200,000 people left the Catholic Church in Germany in 2014, a 22 percent increase from the previous year. Since 2010, more than 820,000 German Catholics have renounced their membership.
We know this for sure because of the German system of Kirchensteuer, the Church tax: if you are a member of a church, you have to pay a tax to the federal government, which distributes the money to the churches. If you leave the Church it has significant consequences on your taxes: you owe less to the government, meaning a very significant tax cut, especially if you are rich. Soccer players and celebrities are frequently the most brilliant examples of the decision to leave the Church for tax reasons.
This decline in membership confirmed the conservative Catholic commentariat, especially in the English-speaking world in its conviction that the German Church and European Catholics in general are heading nowhere fast. The allegation is that the Church in Europe is in the hands of clueless liberal bishops that should not be trusted when it comes to the important decisions for the global Church. And this applies in particular to the October synod that will debate solutions to the problems of modern family and marriage.
It is ironic to see conservative Catholics (who recoil from allowing the modern state to dictate anything to the Church) being delighted about something that touches the Church in Europe because of a Church-State arrangement.
The refusal to pay a tax to the government has immediate consequences on one’s religious affiliation. And it is the exact opposite of the U.S. system where religious affiliation doesn't matter in a country that separates Church and State.
This is just one of the conservative misunderstandings about today's Church. But it goes further to allege an alignment between the ecclesiology of Francis and European Catholicism. In fact, Francis’ ecclesiology is much closer to a “we the people” idea of the Church than to a system — like the Church-State arrangements still working in Germany and many other European countries — that is rooted in the Middle Ages.
Francis is no culture warrior. But his ecclesiology is much more militant than institutional, and the framework offered by the cultural and political divide between liberals and conservatives is even less meaningful than it usually is for understanding Bergoglio’s points of reference.
From the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has presented himself as the pope of the people. On the evening of March 13, 2013 he famously said: “And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and People […] And now I would like to give you a blessing. But first — first I ask a favor of you: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me. I ask the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their bishop.”
He was not providing a fancy way of introducing himself. He was saying Francis’ legitimacy comes much more from the people than from the people with power in the ecclesiastical institutions.
In this sense, as I have argued in my book about Francis, Tradition in Transition, he works through a “popular mandate” that is no less meaningful for him than the mandate he received from the conclave. Pope Francis acts under two different mandates: the mandate of the conclave and a mandate that could inappropriately be called “popular.” The two mandates do not necessarily coincide, as we will see at the synod in Rome next October.
The appeal to the people is not just tactics; it is part of the deep theological identity of Francis. In 1974, opening the provincial assembly of the Jesuits of Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio focused in his address on paragraph 12 of the constitution of Vatican II on the Church, Lumen Gentium and the idea of the infallibilitas in credendo — the infallibility of the faith of the people. It is echoed in his more recent exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Nov. 24, 2013), where there is a similar emphasis on Lumen Gentium 12.
Francis’ philosophy is not just about “the people of God”: it is about the people — period. This is the root of Francis' language against clericalism and especially his frequent criticism of lack of pastoral approach in the bishops. It is not the anticlericalism of the secularist elites. It is the healthy anticlericalism of the Christian people.
During Benedict XVI's pontificate, it was evident that Ratzinger the theologian had some contempt for the Roman Curia of the bureaucrats. In Francis, it is evident his distance from an experience of the episcopate that is typical of a Church that was familiar until a few decades ago. Back then, many bishops came from the aristocracy. If they didn’t, becoming a bishop propelled a cleric automatically to the status of an European aristocrat (with all the benefits and perks typical of European aristocracy).
For Francis, the idea of people is an active subject not only in salvation history, but also in world history. Francis’ Weltanschauung (in English, "world view") is very different from Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (best seller published in 1992) brought about by the advent of Western liberal democracy. And it is distant from Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat (best seller published in 2005) where “flat” means that capitalist globalization will eventually eliminate conflict.
This theological populism of Francis was on full display in his recent trip to Latin America. He mentioned the word “people” 17 times in his impromptu speech to religious in Ecuador and 20 times in his address to civil society in Paraguay.
Francis’ theological populism uses the word “people” with reference to both Church and also in civil-political sense. It is not anti-political populism because Francis encourages people to be responsible citizens and he has high expectations of politicians.
It is rather the populism of the anti-elitists, both in the Church and in civil society and politics. In Francis, there is none of the European ancient regime experience of the Church. This fact about him makes him closer to some key qualities of non-European Catholics, and especially Americans. For Francis, el pueblo and the faith of the people are something similar to the idea of the people and the will of the people commonly invoked in the political mystique of the United States. In this sense, Francis might be a positive surprise for U.S. Catholics in his upcoming visit to the United States.
Aug 3 15 9:51 AM
After his July break, which began only on 12 July this year, following his highly successful but also very demanding trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, this week Pope Francis resumes his audiences, or meetings. He already has three scheduled: one tomorrow afternoon, 4 August, in St. Peter’s Square with male and female altar servers attending the international meeting of alter servers; another on 5 August, when he will preside over the General Audience and on Friday 7 August in the Nervi audience hall he will meet the Eucharistic Youth Movement. On Saturday 8 August, Pope Francis will speak on a radio programme broadcast by the Virgen del Carmine parish in the Argentinian city of Campo Gallo y Huachaca in the province of Santiago del Estero, the “periphery on the other side of the world” so to speak. In this vast territory, the parish priest uses the radio to reach many faithful who are physically far away from his church. Last year, on 8 August, Francis took part in a broad-ranging interview with two priests: Fr. Joaquin Giangreco, a parish priest and Fr. Jose Liebana, a vicar. The news was confirmed by the parish priest himself during Sunday mass last week. He also informed that this radio project was made possible thanks to the help and support of the then cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The Pope has always maintained direct contact with this parish community, the parish priests emphasised.
Aug 4 15 4:30 AM
The pontificate of Pope Francis with his emphasis on poverty has resulted in a new tone of austerity in Vatican circles, with clerics avoiding any show of ostentation in favor of a new sobriety in dress, transportation and manners. (This definitely does not apply to all of them and most certainly not to the Prefect of the Household)Francis has put aside official Vatican limousines, wears plain black shoes instead of soft red loafers and sits down to common meals with priests and other clerics in the cafeteria of the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where he is living. His Vatican spending cut shave affected almost everyone, and even the office in charge of naming saints has been told to lower expenses.A shopkeeper named Luciano Ghezzi who sells clerical wear says that styles have definitely changed in the era of Pope Francis. When the Pope tones down his own dress, he says, “it is natural that everything around him takes on a more sober tone.”“I know the bishop of Santo Domingo well,” Ghezzi told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. He has a wardrobe full of crazy miters. But he told me that now he is ashamed to wear that sumptuous headgear.”Last Sunday the Pope spoke in his Angelus message of moving beyond concerns of eating, dressing, success and careers, inviting his listeners to spend more time preparing for eternity.According to Father Filippo Di Giacomo, a priest-journalist and connoisseur of the Vatican, these days fewer cardinals show up willingly at fancy restaurants where they might get spotted by paparazzi.“Even the relatives of religious are now careful not to give presents that appear too luxurious, because they know that the Pope does not like them,” said another vendor of religious goods, Giovanna Salustri. Her golden crosses, rings, reliquaries and monstrances, chalices, ciboria and censers sit unsold in her boutique shop. “Look at the beautiful cardinals’ crosses in the cases,” she adds, “made of silver studded with amethysts and lapis lazuli, each costing between 200 and 500 euro. Nobody buys them anymore because Francis wouldn’t like it and would never give his blessing to these objects. He always says, give the money to the poor.”Father Di Giacomo recounts the story of how Francis, on being elected Pope, refused to go to the tailor but ordered his cassock from the Serpone catalog, a Naples outfit.
“He’s like that. His cassock is polyester and cotton and cost at most 120 euros, not silk and mohair like many of the cardinals,” he said.Life for the 46 cardinals and 80 bishops living in Rome has changed, at least in appearance.“The caravan of midnight blue cars has ended,” says Father Di Giacomo, referring to the parade of chauffeured automobiles that used to be seen every morning taking many of the prelates to their offices.Francis, he said, is traveling in the Ford Focus. So now the Cardinals go on foot.( The part time Prefect travels in a mercedes limo. When he was spotted going for a coffee in CG he was accompanied by a Vatican security guard and two armed police. He is accompanied by Vatican security in public while cardinals walk alone. Curious. He lives in a palazzo more lavish than the residence of the Pope and in my opinion he will soon regain summer custody of CG. Two weeks this year - two months next year?
Aug 4 15 10:20 AM
Aug 5 15 2:05 AM
Aug 5 15 2:12 AM
Pope Francis has again strongly called on Catholic communities to have a welcoming and merciful attitude to Christians who have remarried outside the church after a divorce, saying that such people “are not by any means excommunicated” and should be made to feel a part of their communities.In his first weekly general audience Wednesday after a month-long pause for the scorching Italian summer heat, the pontiff focused his remarks entirely on how the church should treat divorced and remarried persons. He said it does no good to try to keep them at a distance from the community.“If then we look at these new bonds also with the eyes of small children ... with the eyes of children, we see again the urgency to grow in our communities a real welcoming towards people that live in such situations,” Francis told those gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the audience.“How can we recommend to these parents to do all [they can] to educate their children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a sure and practiced faith, if we put them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they might have been excommunicated?” the pope asked.“These persons are not by any means excommunicated,” the pontiff said, repeating: “They are not excommunicated.”“It absolutely does not work to treat them as such,” he said. “They are always [to be] made part of the Church.”Francis has been speaking in his general audiences for the past months on different roles in the family and on situations facing families around the world, as a way of preparing for a global meeting of Catholic bishops on family life he has called for October.That meeting, known as a Synod, is the second of two the pontiff called for 2014 and 2015. One of the issues known to be at discussion among the hundreds of prelates attending is how the church treats divorced and remarried persons, who are currently prohibited from taking communion if they do not obtain an annulment of their first marriages.The pontiff opened his audience Wednesday by saying that while “the church knows well that such a situation contradicts the Christian sacrament,” it is always looking with the “heart of a mother” to seek out the good for people.He also called on priests “to manifest openly and coherently the availability of the community” to welcome and encourage divorced and remarried persons.Priests should be welcoming, Francis said, so that remarried persons “may live and grow always more in their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with attending the liturgy, with the Christian education of their children, with charity and service to the poor, with a commitment to justice and peace.”The Gospel reading opening the audience Wednesday was taken from Gospel of John, when Jesus tells the story of the Good Shepherd who knows their sheep and would choose to lay down their life for them.“The biblical symbol of the Good Shepherd summarizes the mission that Jesus received from the Father: that of giving his life for the sheep,” said the pope. “Such an attitude is a model also for the church, that welcomes her children as a mother that gives her life for them.”Quoting from his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the pontiff said: “The church is called to always be the open house of the father.”“No closed doors,” he told the audience, repeating: “No closed doors!”
Aug 5 15 10:34 AM
Parsing the words of Pope Francis is a notoriously hazardous undertaking, as he tends sometimes to say things that seem almost deliberately open to multiple interpretations — remember “Who am I to judge?” — and then play his cards close to the vest in terms of what policy implications, if any, may ensue.That’s a caution worth reiterating as his words at Wednesday’s general audience on divorced and remarried Catholics make the rounds. The bottom line is that while what the pope said was interesting, it didn’t signal any specific policy choice.At the moment, the Catholic Church is gripped by a debate over whether Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church ought to be allowed to receive Communion. That was the hot-button issue at last October’s Synod of Bishops on the family, and it will be front and center again at a follow-up synod this October.Currently, Church rules bar the divorced and remarried from Communion. One wing of Catholicism, up to and including several cardinals, supports flexibility in inviting such people to the sacrament on a case-by-case basis. That view was summed up by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich last October as, “Not for everyone, and not for no one.”Another wing, also including several cardinals, believes such a move would be a betrayal of traditional teaching on the permanence of marriage.Although there are no hard figures for the number of such Catholics worldwide, they form a pool estimated at 4.5 million people in the United States alone. As a result, this is an issue that isn’t merely symbolic, but packs real-world pastoral significance.In that context, anything the pope says on the subject is bound to generate reaction. On Wednesday, he took it up in a brief 660-word reflection, the gist of which was to call the Church to greater compassion for people in this situation.Francis said from the outset that marrying outside the Church after a divorce “contradicts the Christian sacrament.” At the same time, he insisted that such people remain part of the Church — they are not “excommunicated,” he said — and need to be cared for, in part for the sake of their children.“If we look at these new unions through the eyes of small children … we see even more the urgency of developing in our communities a real welcome towards people who live in these situations,” the pope said.The welfare of the children seemed the pope’s paramount concern.“How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith,” Francis asked, “if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Francis said there are no “simple recipes” for the right way to embrace the divorced and remarried, but nevertheless said it has to be done.Francis also insisted on the need for “discernment” in individual cases, citing the difference between someone who “suffered” the break-up of a marriage versus someone who “provoked” it.He pointed to the need “to demonstrate openly and coherently the disposition of the community to welcome and encourage” the divorced and remarried, “so they can live and develop ever more their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, listening to the Word of God, attendance at the liturgy, the Christian education of their children, charity and service to the poor, [and] a commitment to justice and peace.”So what does that mean for the Communion debate?One could read the pope’s call for welcome and encouragement as an indirect boost for the reform position, a way of preparing Catholic opinion for an eventual change. That’s an especially tempting conclusion in light of his emphasis on discernment in different situations.Just as easily, however, one could read his language as a way of preparing people hoping for such a change for disappointment. Francis could be saying, “Even if we don’t budge on the Communion ban, that doesn’t mean we’re abandoning you.”It’s notable that Francis explicitly said that remarriage after divorce “contradicts” the sacrament. Moreover, in ticking off ways in which divorced and remarried believers can still be part of the Church — through prayer, attending liturgies, etc. — Francis didn’t say anything about Communion.Bottom line: Both sides could read what Francis said Wednesday and feel encouraged, but neither can claim a papal endorsement.In the end, perhaps that was the point.Perhaps what Francis really wanted to say is that whatever he does about the Communion question after October, no one should pretend that the hard work of outreach and reconciliation with divorced and remarried Catholics will be finished.
Aug 6 15 5:43 AM
Why The Pope Is Talking About Divorced And Remarried Catholics
Pope Francis is raising questions about the Church’s stance on Catholics who have divorced and remarried, urging his fellow believers to be more welcoming to what Catholic leaders have sometimes referred to as “wounded families.”
Speaking to a large crowd at the Vatican on Wednesday morning, Francis’ brief address focused primarily on Catholics who are divorced or remarried “outside the church,” or without getting an annulment to the first marriage. Falling into a cadence he reserves for points about which he is especially passionate, Francis insisted that priests should embrace divorced couples, saying “[they] are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way!”
“They always belong to the church,” Francis said, reportedly sparking a round of applause. “The church is called to be always the open house of the Father. … No closed doors! No closed doors!”
Various mainstream and Catholic publications were quick to cover the remark, wondering aloud what it could mean for the Church’s longstanding debate over divorce. Granted, the pope didn’t technically say anything contrary to existing Catholic teaching, which cites Christ’s negative description of divorce in the Bible to prohibit granting communion to churchgoers who remarry. He noted that entering into this kind of union “contradicts the Christian sacrament,” and admitted that there is “no easy solution” to the issue within the Church’s current theological framework.
Nevertheless, the pontiff’s insistence such couples remain active participants of the Church — that they not be kept “at arm’s length” — appears to be part of a larger project of his papacy. It’s certainly not the first time he has signaled a more open-minded approach to these kinds of couples: In June, Francis told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square that there are times when it is “morally necessary” for a married pair to separate when children are at risk. He made similar comments last December, lamenting that divorced Catholics are often “excommunicated de facto,” urging the church to “open the doors a little bit more,” and asking “Why can’t they be godparents?” And when Pope Francis presided over the weddings of 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica last September, the group included Catholics who had been married before (although their previous unions had presumably been annulled).
So why is Francis so eager to discuss this contentious issue, and why is he talking about it now? The answer seems to be a mixture of practicality, theology, and politics. Although instances of priests openly rejecting divorced couples because of their marital status are relatively rare, it does happen, and simply preaching the policy can lead to people feeling unwelcome in — and possibly even leaving — Catholic parishes. And as John L. Allen Jr. points out over at Crux, the number of people potentially impacted by the current divorce policy is vast: There are roughly 4.5 million divorced or remarried Catholics in the United States alone. Meanwhile, Pope Francis has been heralded for attempting to craft a more welcoming, less exclusionary Catholic Church, making his unease with this policy seem natural.
The timing of Francis’ comments, however, is likely a preemptive move in preparation for the upcoming synod (gathering) of high-profile bishops in October, a followup meeting to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Last year’s convening, which included heated discussions about divorced Catholics as well as other theological concerns such as same-sex marriage, was criticized for offering mixed messages on several issues — including divorced Catholics — by publishing confusing statements and pitting conservative and liberal wings of the church against one another.
But this year Catholic leaders are trying to preempt such controversies by meeting ahead of time. According to the National Catholic Reporter, factions who both favor and oppose opening up communion to divorced couples have begun organizing their supporters to deliver a coordinated message at the synod. This is particularly true of bishops from Germany, where most of the country’s Catholic bishops reportedly support granting communion to divorced Catholics — in part to curb the growing number of parishioners defecting from the church in the region. (The conservative faction, however, has been getting its message out much earlier - Mr. Jenkins only has to ask Muller, Burke, and yes, Ganswein, who have not been shy about speaking to the media. Muller and Ganswein, in particular, are both Curial officials; they should know better than to be speaking to the media about this issue. Clearly, the concepts of "discretion" and "impartiality", which it behooves them to practice as Curial officials and subordinates of the Pope, are alien concepts to these two garrulous men.)
True, the synods only serve as an advisory to Francis, and cannot in and of themselves change Catholic teaching. But the outcome of these debates could inspire Francis to take formal action on the issue of divorced Catholics. While he has yet to endorse a formal change in policy, the pontiff is clearly already making use of his pulpit to advocate for a more welcoming approach.
Aug 6 15 5:57 AM
The Pope knows the power of leaving people guessing
Where do Pope Francis’ remarks today on the divorced and remarried leave the debate?
On Wednesday's General Audience he addressed the topic once again.
“The Church knows well that such a situation [divorced and remarried couples] contradicts the Christian Sacrament,” he said before explaining: “However, her look of teacher draws always from her heart of mother; a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and salvation of persons.”
Many have argued he is personally in favour of a development of Church teaching in this area. After all, his papacy has been characterised by mercy and last year he chose Cardinal Walter Kasper to address cardinals on the theological arguments behind allowing admitting the divorced and remarried to communion.
Those in favour of a change will be encouraged by his emphasis at today’s general audience that the divorced and remarried are “not excommunicated.” And they will also like his point that the children of the divorced and remarried are the ones who suffer if their parents are “held at a distance” by the Church.
But his comments can be read both ways.
In his remarks Francis said divorce and remarriage “contradicts” the sacrament of marriage and quoted Benedict XVI who in 2012 said there were no “simple recipes” for admitting the remarried back to Communion. Is the Pope saying that church teaching should stay the same but be presented more mercifully?
And in what he said today Francis is clearly preparing the ground for October’s Synod on the Family where this question is likely to re-emerge. The force of the opposition against such a change at last year’s gathering may have surprised him.
Perhaps it is his Jesuit formation, but a characteristic of Jorge Bergolio is his capacity to leave people guessing about what he really thinks. In a 2005 profile of Bergoglio, Jose Maria Poirier described him as being able to “move pieces along with the best chess players” while his former press secretary Guillermo Marco said in a RTE documentary the Pope’s “head is like a game of thrones, in a good way,” a reference to the fantasy television series about warring noble families.
The synod in October is set up for a battle that might at times resemble those from the television series, and some bishops may urge Francis to impose his will on the synod. This appears unlikely given his collegial approach and his belief that processes are as important as the outcomes. His leadership over the production of the Latin American bishops’ 2007 Aparecida document – the manifesto for the contemporary Latin American Church – is an example of that collegiality in action.
At the last synod his only intervention was to encourage those participating to speak freely, while he listened. Sometimes the best strategy for a pope is to remain silent.
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