Friday, April 08, 2016

Pope Tevye And The Fiddler On The Roof Of St. Peter’s

My Analysis Of Pope Francis’ Exhortation Amoris Laetitia

Throughout two years of anticipation for Amoris Laetitia, few hoped it would open the door to same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, while many hoped it would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to openly receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Because of the way Francis weighs his options and considers various points of view before making any decision, he reminds me very much of the dairy farmer Tevye in the musical Fiddler On The Roof. He is a man who loves tradition but he loves his family even more. In the course of the musical, Tevya gives in to his daughters’ wishes until he is finally pushed to the wall over an issue he cannot condone. This Exhortation he calls Amoris Laetitia – The Joy Of Love - constitutes such a wall for Pope Francis regarding divorced and remarried Catholics seeking to receive Communion, and LGBT Catholics seeking sacramental marriage.  In order to become hopeful or to read-it-and-weep, let's have a look at what he says.

[Read on]

In Section 2., Pope Francis sets out his guiding principle: avoid the two extremes of changing everything and changing nothing.

The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

Section 3. is interesting. He reminds us that not everything needs to be resolved by the Magisterium, and that interpretations of authority can vary. He also says this about diversity:

Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.

In Section 6., he says he will conclude his Exhortation with
Finally, I will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral discernment of those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us

This is a gathering of dark clouds. Is he going to say that my same-sex marriage falls short of what is demanded by the Lord?

Chapter One is a whirlwind tour of all the references to family that resonate with this pope. It might be of interest only to those who know nothing about the bible because it shows you the literary Judeo-Christian influences that form the Catholic mindset. Does he skirt any biblical references to gay marriage in this? Of course not, because that institution did not exist when this stuff was written. Yes, King David had a boyfriend he might have wished to have married, but we don’t find that wedding in scripture because it was unthinkable at the time. Instead, we get from scripture only David’s Amoris Laetitia – his joy of love. In the same way, we read about the disciple John as the lover of Jesus sharing a special relationship. They shared Amoris Laetitia - the joy of love….but not marriage.

In Chapter 2, Pope Francis notes that families have changed through the years. Spouses now share more responsibilities equally. In Section 33., he hits his oft repeated belief that in a marriage, personalism is good but that individualism is bad. Also, he notes but offers no explanation for the decreasing number of marriages in many countries. I am glad to see In Section 34 that he understands this basic fact of contemporary western culture:

The ideal of marriage, marked by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome. The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals.

Pope Francis is right to wring his hands about the fact that there is a disposability to marriage these days in which the contract is burned as soon as the slightest problem arises, with couples splitting and recoupling in ways that make family life too complex to manage. But in section 38., He cites Africa as an example of good and stable marriage. Really?

In Sections 42. and 45., Pope Francis decries the impoverishment of the declining birthrate and the sad reality of abused “street children.” You’d think this would be a great opportunity to laud same-sex couples who choose to accept disadvantaged children into their lives, but no.

In Section 52., Pope Francis slams shut the doors of the Roman Catholic Church in the face of same-sex marriage.

There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.

In Chapter Three, Pope Francis says he will gaze upon Jesus to understand family, but instead, he reverts to a rehash of what recent popes have written, including Benedict XVI’s excruciating comparison of marriage to the crucifixion of Jesus in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

The section of Chapter Three called “The Sacrament of Matrimony” is noteworthy because it reaches the essence of Catholic belief and practice. Catholics say that sacraments are vehicles for the delivery of God’s grace. (Think of God as an ocean and “grace” as an uncontrollable tide or flood of God.) Here, Pope Francis has a perfect opportunity to say that same-sex couples share a love that often facilitates the flow of grace, but he refuses to even mention the possibility. By omission, he is saying that no good can come from such a union and that is could never be sacramental.

Sections 80. and 81. are a weird pretzel in which Pope Francis dances in circles about conjugal acts, procreation, how children don’t come from the outside of a family (?) and how even couples that are childless can still be open to the “meaning” of procreation. This is the kind of bad poetry that elderly celibates often produce. Skip this part or risk becoming infuriated by it.

In Section 125., Pope Francis says that marriage is a “friendship marked by passion” but he again refuses to look at how this very good definition might be applied to same-sex unions. He has not really thought this through. In Sections 133. – 141., he talks like an “agony aunt” about the need for three magical words in marriage, “Please, thank you and sorry” but he refuses to look at how his marital advice easily would apply to same-sex couples.

His waxings about virginity and celibacy in marriage (Sections 159.-162.) are at best apologetic.

Section 172. will offend same-sex couples with children. Here, Pope Francis says that every child has a right to the distinct love of both a father and a mother, without which a child is just a “plaything.”

In Sections 179. and 180., Pope Francis praises the generosity of couples who adopt children, but he refuses to include same-sex couples in that praise.

For those waiting to hear what he has to say about the headline issue of divorced and remarried Catholics being barred from receiving Communion, he begins to “go there” when he condemns those who are judgmental and divisive, saying in Section 186.,

When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily.

If that’s true, I know a planet full of popes, cardinals, bishops and priests who ought to be denied Communion!

In Section 197., he extols the virtues of the larger family that can include relatives, the sick, those living alone and those who are troubled, but he refuses to specifically mention or include the LGBT people who are denied the opportunity to marry and form families according to his definition.

Section 202. of Chapter Six is eye-popping in that it is the first clear indication that Pope Francis is in favor of a married clergy. He says that pastors have shown a lack of understanding about married life because they are single, and that the married clergy of the eastern sects of Catholicism do a better job of it!

In the replies given to the worldwide consultation, it became clear that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families. The experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy could also be drawn upon.

While Pope Francis is on solid ground in Amoris Laetitia when he talks about the need for communication, respect, gratitude and courage in moments of crisis faced by husbands, wives and families, he does not apply any of that wisdom to same-sex couples.

Sections 243. and 299. will disappoint any divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion openly. Pope Francis says they should be treated with care and kindness and respect, but he stops short of giving them access to receiving Communion.

Likewise, Section 250. will disappoint any LGBT Catholics who want equality in their church. Pope Francis says they should be treated with care, kindness and respect, but he stops short of offering marriage.

Section 251. puts the final nails into the coffin of Roman Catholic same-sex marriage in its flat and simple reiteration of what Pope Francis has said elsewhere:

In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homo- sexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex”.

Rather than leave bad enough alone, in Section 283., regarding the education of children, Pope Francis takes a shot at teaching “safe sex” which he sees only as an evil way of avoiding procreation.

Frequently, sex education deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex”. Such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance.

Noteworthy is that Pope Francis does not quote just the Old Testament, St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, the last few popes before him, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his own older homilies. He also quotes, in Section 284., the Jewish socialist psychologist Erich Fromm! Oddly refreshing, but I guess we are supposed to overlook the fact that Fromm was a divorced man of multiple marriages.

Again, rather than leaving bad enough alone, he takes a shot, in section 258, at the trans community when talking about how children ought to be taught to accept the bodies they are born with rather than play “creator” by making adjustments.

the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created,  for “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation... An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it”.

In Section 293., Pope Francis reports that his bishops discussed their treatment of folks who are in civil (not sacramental) marriages or simply co-habitating. The bishops decided that it is preferable to try to make nice-nice with those couples only because they might eventually be enticed to convert their sinful unions into sacramental marriages. This obviously precludes any nice-nice-making for same-sex couples because that eventual door to sacramental marriage remains closed ever more firmly by dint of this document.

In Section 300, Pope Francis finally admits that there is nothing new in this Exhortation and that we shouldn’t have expected any rule-changes from him or his bishops. In Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia, he reminds priests that they do have the ability to recognize certain factors in the lives of Catholics who are divorced and remarried that might mitigate their status as “mortal sinners.” Among those is the “It’s just too difficult to practice that virtue” argument that Pope Francis suggests priests use when wrestling with the issue of giving Communion to folks living in sin. Again, he does not suggest deploying this mercy in the treatment of same-sex couples.

At the conclusion of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis says “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy.” I think he really believes that. Sadly, he cannot bring himself to fully practice what he preaches.

1 comment:

R J Keefe said...

I'm not in the least surprised. I expect Francis to change the tone of discussions without altering dogma. You might say that he is loosening the hold of a celibate male solidarity on the Church (especially with that reference to married clergy!).

The source of the ideas behind Catholic dogma must be more closely investigated. It's important to insist that Augustine is not a canonical thinker. We must learn to do without Augustine. He represents a widespread but lamentable (and ultimately non-humanist) erotic philosophy: he cannot sleep with a man, but he cannot love a woman.