Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What’s “Bergoglio’s Gig”? Even the Experts Throw Their Hands Up

In the Church, at all levels, criticisms of the pope are no longer being silenced. They are voiced openly:

ROME, November 24, 2014 - The tempestuous October synod on the family, the appointment of the new archbishop of Chicago, and the demotion of Cardinal Raymond L. Burke have marked a turning point in the pontificate of Pope Francis.

The disquiet, the doubts, the critical judgments are coming out more and more into the light of day and are becoming ever more explicit and substantiated….

The following are three testimonies of the new climate.

Whereas Cardinal Burke was visibly and symbolically demoted, the conservative Cardinal Francis George retired – and was replaced by someone at the opposite end of the conservative/liberal spectrum. George writes:

The question is raised: why doesn’t he himself clarify these things? Why is it necessary that apologists have to bear that burden of trying to put the best possible face on it? Does he not realize the consequences of some of his statements, or even some of his actions? Does he not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t. I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise these doubts in people’s minds.

That’s one of the things I’d like to have the chance to ask him, if I ever get over there: "Do you realize what has happened, just by that very phrase ‘Who am I to judge?’, how it’s been used and misused?". It’s very misused, because he was talking about someone who has already asked for mercy and been given absolution whom he knows well. That’s entirely different than talking to somebody who demands acceptance rather than asking for forgiveness. It’s constantly misused.

It’s created expectations around him that he can’t possibly meet. That’s what worries me. At a certain moment, people who have painted him as a bit player in their scenarios about changes in the Church will discover that’s not who he is. He’s not going in that direction. Then he’ll perhaps get not only disillusionment, but opposition that could be harmful to the effectiveness of his magisterium. […]

Cafeteria Catholics Galore: The Roman Catholic socialist Luca Diotallevi describes the trend, which he calls “low-intensity religion”:

What is taking place is not a moment of religious decline and secularization, it is on the contrary a moment of "religious boom."… The great advantage of this option consists in the fact that it gives the religious consumer an almost infinite variety of choice and of recombination among the goods and services placed on the market by the most varied providers of religious supply.

Low-intensity religion also offers great opportunities to the religious authorities. If these are able to reduce their normative demands, they are guaranteed a great future and a discrete spotlight as religious entrepreneurs.

In this competition, the new providers of religious supply - from the Pentecostals and Charismatics to the New Age - have good cards to play: an extreme flexibility, a great indulgence toward expressivity.

But the traditional religious providers also have substantial resources at their disposal: a consolidated “brand,” an enormous reserve of symbols and rites, a great understanding of the local markets. This is, of course, on the condition of liberating themselves from the “old” scruples of orthodoxy and orthopraxis; on the condition that they accept having less significance in order to have more visibility.

Within Catholicism as well many religious providers have adopted and are adopting the forms of a low-intensity religion.

In this atmosphere it is no accident that the Catholic Church should develop a problem with the sacrament of marriage. This is literally inconceivable in a perspective of low-intensity religion, which instead devotes great but generic attention to the well-being of the family.

Careful consideration of the features of the religious boom currently taking place is indispensable for understanding the meaning of processes and crises like those that concern the Catholic clergy. To a large extent these processes and these crises are an expression of the attempt to assimilate Catholicism with a low-intensity religion.

And great lucidity is also required to avoid resorting to solutions that are in the spotlight today, like those that would have priestly ordination no longer reserved for celibate males. The Christian traditions that ordain married men and even women, and therefore have a proportionally larger quantity of clergy available, find themselves facing exactly the same problems and often in decidedly more acute forms.

Bonhoeffer called it "cheap grace", and it has been around for a long time.

Rodolfo Lorenzoni is a conservative Roman Catholic who works for the Italian state television network, where he covers the Vatican. He says in a recent book:

It is curious, in fact, that the mass media and Francis got themselves hitched as soon as Bergoglio came out onto the loggia of Saint Peter’s Square uttering his “buonasera.” Apart from the fact that I would have expected him to say “The Lord be with you,” in the very moment in which I heard that greeting I immediately intuited the coming danger. That is, I glimpsed the misunderstandings, omissions, distortions, conformisms, superficialities to which we would be constantly subjected by the media in order to exalt a certain type of pope at the expense of another. In order to give us the “figurine” rather than the substance.

And in fact right away came the nice full-page headlines, the slogans launched and repeated on every website, the insistent requests on the part of editors and directors to emphasize the soundbite or the big gesture, the ones that bore into the eyes and into the head of the viewer and keep him from changing the channel.

The operation has worked brilliantly, I must say. There is the matter, however, of going deeper into the analysis, above all under the scientific profile of the theory of mass communication, of sociology, of information technology.

But then, and I should say above all, I would like to really get to know him, Francis. Because as a journalist and as a Catholic, as a person who takes care to try to follow the Church and the pope, frankly I do not yet understand who this man is and where he intends to lead the Church of Christ.


  1. The statement of Cardinal George is striking. To my knowledge he's naturally soft-spoken rather than outspoken. So it takes quite a lot to provoke that public expression of dismay at Pope Francis.

    1. It will be interesting to revisit some of these comments this time next year. Either Bergoglio will persuade "the bishops" to back off, and we will see further confusing ("Bergoglio-esque") changes, or else they will dig in their heels, and there will be some fights. I seriously doubt that we'll see "the Church" moving in lockstep for the foreseeable future.