Left? Right? Wrong

I’d like to use John Allen’s summary as a springboard into what I think are deeper issues with the Pope Francis interview. Another commenter I read today–it might have been on PrayTell–suggested that Pope Francis is operating on a totally different axis than left-right. That’s certainly true.

As a person with more than a quarter-century in the trenches, I hope I get something of the smell-of-sheep remark that is so often cited. Parish ministry is frustrating at times, but I would never see myself retreating to a chancery for any longer than an afternoon workshop, or to a monastery for anything longer than a week’s retreat.

John Allen is right here, as a reporter:

Francis has twice now uttered a firm “no” to women’s ordination to the priesthood, and he’s unlikely to radically change teaching on matters such as gay marriage, abortion or contraception. A desire to project a more merciful tone on those matters isn’t the same thing as disagreement with their substance.

Abortion is a non-starter for me. It’s not the holocaust some people like to call it. It’s not just another health choice like others advocate. It’s a deeply unfortunate choice some people are forced into and others take for granted like any other narcissistic aspect of modern culture. Pope Francis is right to preach at doctors, and correct to remind the rest of us abortion has a context.

Contraception is, like it or not, a settled issue.

And for people who are born same-sex-attracted, and who possess the human desires for companionship, this is as settled a matter as we’re likely to find outside of homophobic places like Russia and Africa.

Women’s ordination is an issue for another generation. It doesn’t lie within morals or faith, and no attempt to make an otherwise-helpful metaphor the driver for a convenient theology will convince or settle. Women in ordained ministry will eventually be settled, but probably not until a greater degree of unity is solved on the universal level, and men come to better grips with women in the small struggles of who’s-the-boss.

All of Mr Allen’s political footballs are mostly non-starters for me. I’m looking for better from institutional Catholicism, and competence in the curia is a great place to start:

During the late John Paul II years, for instance, the Congregation for Divine Worship was led by a prelate with no real background in liturgy; the Congregation for Education was presided over by a non-educator; the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples was headed by a bishop with no experience of the missions; and the Council for Health Care Workers was run by someone who’d never dealt with heath systems prior to that job.

Defenders of the system often say it allows for looking past résumés to the inner qualities of potential appointees, and sometimes this allows candidates with the right stuff to surface and shine in unexpected ways. On the other hand, it also means people sometimes end up in jobs as rewards or to inject geographic balance and find themselves in way over their heads.

Curial heads aren’t the only ones bobbing for air. We need better bishops, too. Prelates in a lot of places are way over their heads. I don’t believe the bumbling bishops are bad men. There’s too much canon law laboratory and too little pastor-at-the-frontier in many of them. The better bishops cover up deficiencies by globetrotting, or a sense of humor, or a shoot-from-the-hip frankness. The bishops wise enough to hire good talent and then trust it–those are the dioceses that are doing decently.

That’s the main thing about which I have hope. We need an atmosphere for true discernment. We need the right people with the right spiritual gifts going to the right places to do the right work at the right time.

This is less about the tired old 20th century tussles about left and right. This is a time for a different time of right.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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