Sunday, 4 October 2015

Thinking about the Pope's meeting with Kim Davis without jumping to too many conclusions

In the past few days, we've seen various commentators wildly jumping to conclusions after the revelation that Pope Francis, on his recent visit to the United States,  met with Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who was at the centre of a legal case involving her refusal to authorise marriage licenses for same-gender couples.

Both in the mainstream media and among online commentators, many expressed horror that Pope Francis would meet with Ms. Davis and grant her cause a level of respectability it did not deserve.  The whole matter was threatening to cast a cloud over Pope Francis's visit, including his strong calls for peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability.

In Saturday morning's news (Australian time), there was a statement from the Vatican that emphasised the informal, pastoral nature of Pope Francis's meeting with Ms. Davis, a statement which runs in conflict with some of the claims made by Ms. Davis's supporters that the Pope's meeting with Ms. Davis constitutes an endorsement of her activities.

Looking at all this, there are a few points we need to recognise.

1.  Pope Francis is a Latino, not an Anglo.

We make a mistake when we try to assume that the ideological pattern of an Anglo can apply to Francis. We can't assume that Francis can be put into the same Left-Right "package deal" that exists in the English-speaking countries.  
  • On the one hand, he is decidedly an individual with progressive concerns when it comes to issues of poverty, peace, refugees, and the environment.  
  • On the other hand, he's pretty conservative on issues of gender, sex, and bioethics.  
For an Anglo, this contrast may be confusing.  It goes against our usual ideological "package Deal" in which an individual who is either conservative or progressive within one cluster of views is similarly conservative or progressive within the other. 

However, Francis isn't an Anglo; he's a Latino.  A combination of viewpoints that may seem contradictory to an Anglo makes far more sense to a Latino.  Let's not force him into an Anglo mould.

2.  Pope Francis is a pastor, not a cultural warrior.

Francis is far more of a pastor than were his two most recent predecessors.  (One could almost say that Father Bergoglio was preceded in the papacy by Professor Ratzinger and Field Marshall Wojtyla.)  In a real sense, contrasted particularly with Benedict XVI, Francis is serving as Pope not only for the Roman Catholic Church (let alone for merely the conservative faction of the Roman Catholic Church), but for all Christians,  for all people of faith, and (indeed) for all people of good will, in a style that was last seen in the papacy of St. John XXIII.  Like Good Pope John, Francis is a pastoral Pope. 
In this light, what do pastors do?

Pastors are - or at least should be - far more concerned about promoting the well-being of the people for whom they have pastoral responsibility than in the political success or failure of their personal programmes.
Pastors meet with all sorts of people.  That's part of being a pastor, sitting down with people, talking with them, and listening to them.  When a pastor meets with an individual, there is no sense that the pastor endorses all (or even any) of the other person's viewpoints or activities.  It's what a pastor does.
Pope Francis's meeting with Ms. Davis needs to be seen in the light of his being
  • not an Anglo, but a Latino, and
  • not a cultural warrior, but a pastor.

In short, the narrative of Pope Francis's papacy should not be seen in terms of any expectations of substantial changes of content within the Roman Catholic Church's approach to issues of  gender, sex, and bioethics, but in terms of;
  • changing the tone of the language coming from the Vatican from a "cultural warrior" stance to a pastoral one, reducing both the volume and the temperature of papal rhetoric,
  • appointing far more pastors and far fewer "cultural warriors" to key church positions,
  • making progress in combatting corruption in the Vatican and in dealing with questions of child sexual abuse (noting that substantial action within either area will significantly weaken the influence of the ultra-conservative faction within the Roman Catholic Church), and
  • presenting his successor (hopefully in many years in the future) with a far more inclusive Church than Francis inherited from his predecessor.

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