I'm beginning to wonder.
I've always been very skeptical of the Pope's charm offensive, that it is damage control; putting a smiley face on a taser that is still fully charged. Now, a lengthy interview in Italian with Fr. Antonio Spadaro of La Civilita Cattolica, a Jesuit journal, has the press, and especially gay journalists and commentators (religious and not) sitting up and paying attention, asking "is this for real?"
One of the parts of the interview that made everyone stop and do a double take is one like this as reported in the NYTimes:
In remarkably blunt language, Francis sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a “home for all” and not a “small chapel” focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings. “It is not necessary to talk about these issues [abortion, gay rights, sexuality] all the time,”…. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. “We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”I can hear gasps in the many corners of the Roman Catholic Church who really do want a smaller purer church (the "faithful fragment" in the words of Pope Benedict), and have worked for such ever since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. And what about all those Catholic bishops in the USA who spent so much time beating American nuns over the head for spending too much time with social gospel and not enough time doing sex-policing?
And then there is this money-quote a little later on the NY Times article:
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he told Father Spadaro. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”The Pope evades the question, but it's an interesting evasion. He does not parrot the Vatican party line parroted almost word for word for years by his predecessors and their underlings, that gays are "intrinsically disordered." In terms of substance and doctrine, nothing has changed, but perhaps we shouldn't expect that kind of change (at least not coming directly from the top). Popes may have the final word in matters of faith, but they are usually very reluctant to undo the legacies of their predecessors, lest a future successor undo all of their work. This built in inflexibility is a weakness of the papacy as it has evolved over the last 500 years (I am Protestant after all). It is easier for legislatures to change their minds than for judicial monarchs.
Bishops' pronouncements are a dime a dozen and usually not worth the paper they are printed upon. I remain skeptical, but I am keeping an open mind. I'll be convinced when the Pope does something concrete like setting the Church against the criminalization of gays and homosexual acts around the world. For decades, the Roman Catholic Church led the resistance in many countries to any laws relaxing criminal penalties on gays and lesbians, or that extended to gays civil rights protections (especially here in New York City). If he at least stops that effort, then I'll be convinced. In the words of the motto of the great State of Missouri, "Show me."
Another passage from the NY Times article that most did not notice, but that got my attention was this:
Asked what it means for him to “think with the church,” a phrase used by the Jesuit founder St. Ignatius, Francis said that it did not mean “thinking with the hierarchy of the church.” He said he thinks of the church “as the people of God, pastors and people together.” “The church is the totality of God’s people,” he added, a notion popularized after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which Francis praised for making the Gospel relevant to modern life, an approach he called “absolutely irreversible.”What an extraordinary thing for any Roman Catholic bishop to say! That is clean contrary to the position of his predecessor Benedict who always said to clergy and laity chafing under the Vatican yoke to "explore obedience." It is actually closer to a lot of Protestant and Anglican thinking about the Church (at least as I understand those things). The article goes on to note that Francis gave no comfort to those in the church who want to bring back the Tridentine Latin Mass, and that the ultra-traditionalists are now his harshest critics. It's this quote more than the vaguely sympathetic waffling on gay issues that makes me think that this man might be for real after all.
I don't expect the Pope to unilaterally change the Roman Catholic Church's stand on gay issues, but it seems to me that he would very much like to shelve it and move on to another very different project for the Church from policing people's sex lives. I think he might like to let the Church's stands on gay issues sit and collect dust while he changes the Church from a police station to a field hospital.
And meanwhile, there appears to be some real upheaval in Evangelical Christianity brewing over the gay issue. Dan Savage, no Christian himself, appears to be behind it with his NALT ("Not All Like That") campaign for gay and gay friendly Christians to come out of their closets. This seems to have struck a chord with a lot of Evangelicals struggling with this issue in isolation, with no help from their leaders or their congregations.
So far, the effort is successful enough to really threaten a pair of noted homophobes:
Savage modeled this campaign on his earlier "It Gets Better" campaign. It features videos of people giving first hand testimony to their desire to reconcile their sexuality with their faith, and by others who have gone through agonizing personal struggles with this issue, usually all alone, and are taking matters into their own hands:
Kudos to Dan Savage for providing a safe and sympathetic platform for the Robertsons to share their experiences. I am quite certain that they are not alone among Evangelicals.
Kudos to Joe Jervis who despite his abundant distaste for the Christian religion, reports such efforts as NALT with scrupulous fairness and even occasional sympathy.