Friday, February 14, 2014

Subsidiarity Begins at Home

Lots of reminiscing has been going on about Pope Benedict's abdication/retirement a year ago. Much of it is bathed in or shot through with emotion, mostly positive and characterized by gratitude for all he did during his papacy. Even if the thing is mixed with a little rage, it is still acceptable and comprehensible. Personally, the hardest part for me is the media-driven rhetoric which began at that time attributing to the cardinals of the Church a firm determination to change things with a new pope, i.e. "reform the Roman Curia". This resolve scandalized lots of people around the Catholic world who had never been all that exposed to the anti-Roman bug. Maybe this explains why at the time of the Second Vatican Council the rhetoric shied away from the word reform in favor of speaking about renewal. Maybe if a year ago the cardinals had applied the expression "the curia is in urgent need of aggiornamento", we could have avoided some of this past year's ugliness or judgmentalness.

At any rate, this is where we find ourselves, guilty as charged, sort of condemned without a trial. The word reform has known better days. What to do? I really don't know, but the measures taken so far seemingly to satisfy the cardinals' zeal for the Kingdom as interpreted by the media are not much less perplexing. My guess would be that this explains some of the anger directed at Pope Francis, which people vent through articles and blog posts on the internet. Will this too pass?

According to the maxim "Fools rush in where angels dare not tread", I guess I want to take issue with one or another of the blog posts I have come across; they confront me with challenges I cannot or foolishly will not ignore; there are more, but I will take two which were "inspired" by the Univision summary survey of the pre-synodal inquiry on family related issues, Catholic morality, if you wish. Respect for the author is how I would justify venturing into a critique of this one entitled "In thunder, lightning or rain?" on The Sensible Bond. Obiously, the author of the blog, "Ches", is not alone in his assessment of the Univision survey. To quote another article which appeared on SLATE:

“On gay marriage, respondents backed the church. Support for same-sex marriage outnumbered opposition in only two countries: the U.S. and Spain. Everywhere else, opposition outnumbered support. In Argentina and Brazil, the margin was very tight. In France, it was clearer: 51 to 43 percent.  In Italy, it was quite clear: 66 to 30 percent. In Uganda and the Congo, the opposition figure was nearly 100 percent. Two-thirds of the entire 12-nation sample opposed same-sex marriage.

That doesn’t mean the Vatican can rest easy. The pollsters found that overall, young Catholics were more likely than older Catholics to favor gay marriage, by about 18 percentage points. Unless that gap disappears as young Catholics age, the church will face stress over this issue. On contraception, the stress is already severe. Seventy-eight percent of the 12-nation sample endorsed contraception. In all three South American countries, the support level exceeded 90 percent. Only one country, Uganda, showed a majority in sync with the church’s position.

In theory, being pope, rather than president, means you don’t have to consult polls. In practice, however, a church hierarchy that’s out of touch with its grass roots is in trouble. If your followers don’t agree with you, they aren’t really followers. On issues of family morality, the Vatican has a problem. But the problem isn’t just that Catholics don’t agree with the pope. The problem is that Catholics don’t agree with Catholics.”  [The Pope’s Catholic Problem By William Saletan, on SLATE]

The challenge for me comes from what appears to be a will on the part of Ches, in particular, to tip the scales from the reasonable but unruly exclamation "We've got a problem!" to that of "Francis, you've got a problem!" With this approach one ends up putting distance between oneself and the Holy Father and ultimately doing no more than rattling some other Catholics' "cages". More than likely, your average Catholic who tries to live morally is apt to be provoked into reacting with the typical response, "Not fair! He's only one man!" There's a certain wisdom in this even if we are speaking about the Vicar of Christ.

The Sensible Bond really weighs in on the Pope's failures in leadership and therefore plays the resulting big-time-scandal card. I cannot say that Ches' approach is not fair, but I guess I have a hard time imagining St. Catherine of Siena teaching an ecclesiology which boils down to "The buck stops at Domus Sanctae Marthae". Jesus charged St. Peter and his successors in the Petrine Ministry with "strengthening the brethren". St. Catherine managed to get up close and personal and make some very specific demands on the Pope in exile at Avignon; we might not be able to get that close, but beyond praying for him or being stymied by his approach to the office of pope, I think we owe him our filial counsel. My question, if I could ask him directly, would be: "Holy Father, how do you see the Petrine Ministry? I am sorry but it just isn't clear how you exercise that ministry for the sake of the life of the world today."

Too many of us spend too much time casting down this Pope, as was the case with his successors going back for a couple generations, casting him down from the pedestal to which we have assigned him. I suppose in the pecking order of things both Ches and I should just quietly work at earning our bread and leave such attempts to the one or ones chosen by the Holy Spirit to give the Holy Father, not a nudge from his pedestal, but perhaps an arm around the shoulder on a leveled playing field. Truth to be told, I think the responsibility lies with the College of Cardinals, as they are somewhat responsible for the whole media binge discrediting the Pope's closest collaborators and to an extent not just conditioning its ability to act, but I fear at times hogtying the whole operation. The kind of reform needed is something other than a witch hunt. The cardinals or some cardinal, hopefully, can make it better.

In the next days Pope Francis will have his council of eight cardinals in Rome, he'll have most of the College in Rome for a consistory, and preparatory meetings for the extraordinary Synod for the fall of 2014 will be held. Join me in beseeching God to touch the heart and give the words to whichever one of those prelates come to Rome whom the Heavenly Father might choose, to speak to the heart of the Holy Father and give him the strength he needs for confirming the brethren. Give him the strength to console and grant hope to Ches and to tens of thousands of Catholics like him, that they not despair, that the battle against the gates of hell has been engaged, and that the victory is ours in the Only Begotten Son of God.

The widespread ignorance of the catechism, the moral confusion and laxity which stand today in frightening contrast to the good order and faithfulness of earlier generations of Catholics now passed on to their eternal reward cannot be reclaimed by fiat from on high. In our own countries, in our own dioceses, in our own parishes and communities, in our own homes and in our own lives, we each of us like St. Augustine have to respond in all humility and simplicity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit (St. Augustine heard a voice saying take and read. Take and read your catechism! Take and read your Bible!). Subsidiarity begins at home. The work is ours to do and we can do no less than pray for the Successor of St. Peter, that he be for our day and time that rock, that anchor with whose help we stand secure. Nevertheless, the struggle is more ours than his.


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