Pope Francis I

The news has broken that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina has been elected Pope. A Jesuit, he has taken the name of Francis I, no doubt a nod to the Franciscan tradition. He was in contention in 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI was elected and is now 76 years old.

The current take is that he straddles the divide between liberals and conservatives in the church. He has a passion for social justice but is staunchly conservative on sexual matters. As an Argentinian, his election is a symbol of the global shift in the Roman Catholic Church away from Europe.

more here: (from John Allen).

Watching the opening of the conclave with the sound turned off

I watch very little TV and the only time I watch the cable news channels is if the treadmill I select at the gym is underneath a TV turned to one of those channels. Even then, I don’t hear what the pundits and reporters are saying because my earbuds are firmly fixed and I’m either listening to music of my choice or a podcast (often that of workingpreacher.org).

This morning CNN was showing the mass and the procession of the cardinals into the Sistine Chapel. As liturgical processions often are, it was impressive. And as those of us interested in such matters usually do, I noticed the variety of vestments. Some cardinals were wearing elaborate lace cottas; others had more simple garb. I spied one that looked very much like my own. As is often the case in liturgical processions, the camera caught the hand of a bishop (? he was in a purple cassock) stretching up to rearrange the stole of the cardinal in front of him.

Such processions are intended to convey the majesty and power of the Church. That’s true whether it’s a procession of cardinals or a more simple procession at a parish Eucharist. This one did so. As the cardinals moved from the baroque splendor of St. Peter’s to the Renaissance beauty of the Sistine Chapel with its frescoes by Michelangelo, the images sent around the world were meant to signal to all of us the power, majesty, and endurance of the Roman Catholic Church.

The symbolism, or intended symbolism, of the cardinals’ procession this morning, with all of its pomp, its appeal to historical precedent, and frankly its nostalgia, seems rather hollow in the face of the crises facing the Roman Catholic Church and religion in general in the west. I was struck by the narrow demographic reality of those who will elect the pope, the ostensible head of a church with over a billion members. 115 cardinal electors, all of them male of course, the majority European. Their average age (almost 72 years old) is slightly above that of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Remarkably, that’s above the average age of the group that elected John Paul II in 1978 (67). The youngest is 53: Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of India. 58% of them were named by Pope Benedict XVI. 35% are members of, or retired from, the papal curia (24% in 2005) They are not representative of the world-wide church; but then they are not meant to be. More on the numbers here or here.

Writers for the National Catholic Reporter have this to say about current speculation concerning which cardinals have the inside track:

Many here, following lead of the Italian press, are calling this “a race with four horses.” Scola is said to be in post position, with Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Brazilian Cardinal Pedro Odilo Scherer and at least one American following.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan seems to be gaining supporters, the Italian newspapers say, but Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl is a possible compromise candidate should the cardinals be unable to find a pope in the first few rounds of balloting.

The Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, has been the subject of sustained criticism in the 10 meetings, or general congregations, the cardinals have met in over the last week.

The Internet, and especially social media, have dramatically altered the conclave, or at least the world’s experience of it. The difference from 2005 is remarkable. My twitter feed is full of jokes, links to commentary, and comments about the election. There is intense interest in it, even among those of us who are not Roman Catholic. On one level, I suspect that interest is generated by the appeal of contests–whether they be elections or sporting events.

And we might wonder with Garry Wills whether the next pope even matters. Sure, he might be able to make changes in papal bureaucracy; if he’s a miracle worker, he might find a way through the sexual abuse crisis. But can a pope do anything about the increasing secularism of the West and increasing religious conflict elsewhere in the world? We are in an age of globalization but there are also powerful centrifugal forces at work (just ask the Anglican Communion). Will the Roman Catholic Church be any more successful in negotiating among the crises and the cultural forces that are challenging it? Can the head of a hierarchy increasingly isolated from the daily lives and concerns of the vast majority of humanity offer the good news of Jesus Christ in words that connect with them and their experience?

Watching the procession from St. Peter’s to the Sistine Chapel with the sound off may be an apt metaphor for the ultimate significance of what’s taking place in the conclave today and in the days to come.

Electing a pope in the midst of institutional and cultural crisis

The cardinals have gathered although the papal conclave hasn’t begun. Journalists from all over the world have descended on the Vatican for the election, and speculation is running rampant.

There are two issues that I find important about Benedict’s resignation and the next pope. First, the resignation itself. As many have pointed out, it is a remarkable event in itself, a sign of Benedict’s understanding of himself, his office, and the needs of the Church. Whatever else one might say about Benedict’s reign as pope, and his time as head of the Congregation on the Faith, this humble act sheds new light on everything he’s done so far. It’s radical, ground-breaking, and it will force future popes to take seriously the possibility of resignation. The power and prestige of the office has been changed forever.

The second issue is the conclave and the speculation about who will succeed Benedict. To say the Roman Catholic Church is in crisis is obvious. It is also an understatement. The dysfunction within the Vatican that led to the Vatileaks; the ongoing crisis over clerical sexual abuse, but even more the hierarchy’s complicity in that abuse, have brought shame upon the church and deep despair among both clergy and laity. The episode this past week, with Britain’s only cardinal elector forced to step down and not attend the conclave because of his own past sexual discretions is one sign of the rot at the heart of the system. That another cardinal, Mahony of LA, will attend in spite of his mishandling of the crisis, suggests that whoever is elected will have to work hard to rebuild trust in the hierarchy and the Church overall.

All this suggests that the hierarchy, the cardinals, and the curia have lost touch with the cultures in which the Church lives and have lost touch with much of the clergy and laity as well. As many of those who I link to point out, the Roman Catholic Church is in deep need of reform. The real question is whether the participants in the conclave realize how urgent the need is. Just as the Vatileaks scandal revealed how out of touch Pope Benedict was with the inner workings of the Vatican, and Pope John Paul II’s incapacity in his later years, it may be that those involved in the election have no idea of the depth of the crisis in the wider church and the wider world. We will no the answer to that question when we find out who they elect.

Diarmaid MacCulloch on the crisis in the Roman Catholic Church

Andrew Brown on the three challenges facing the next pope:

  1. the need to reform the Vatican bureaucracy
  2. the crisis among clergy
  3. the crisis among the laity: shrinking membership

An interview with Hans Küng and his Op-ed in the New York Times:

In this dramatic situation the church needs a pope who’s not living intellectually in the Middle Ages, who doesn’t champion any kind of medieval theology, liturgy or church constitution. It needs a pope who is open to the concerns of the Reformation, to modernity. A pope who stands up for the freedom of the church in the world not just by giving sermons but by fighting with words and deeds for freedom and human rights within the church, for theologians, for women, for all Catholics who want to speak the truth openly. A pope who no longer forces the bishops to toe a reactionary party line, who puts into practice an appropriate democracy in the church, one shaped on the model of primitive Christianity. A pope who doesn’t let himself be influenced by a Vatican-based “shadow pope” like Benedict and his loyal followers.

From GQ: background reading on the “Vatileaks” scandal, a profile of the papal butler and the journalist who broke the story

So much from outsiders. Here are some voices from within the church

From Cardinal George of Chicago (who will be participating in the conclave):

So what we expect as Catholics from the pope is simply that he be the successor of Peter — that he be faithful to the charge given him and be the rock who will keep us from floating away into the sea of relativism that is often what we live in, in this particular kind of postmodern culture. That’s the biggest gift he’s going to have.

John Allen has a must-read piece on how this conclave differs from the 74 before it; and especially from the one in 2005 in which Cardinal Ratzinger was elected.

Peter Steinfels writes in Commonweal:

By resigning, Pope Benedict served the church well. He has spared it another prolonged period of mounting disarray. He has “humanized” the papacy, as Joseph Komonchak and others have pointed out. He has jolted the church into allowing that something generally considered unthinkable for centuries is really not beyond doing after all. And he has set the stage for his successor to do likewise.

That is important. The Catholic Church needs shock therapy. True, among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, millions of saints are leading lives of prayer and charity so ardent, brave, sacrificial, creative, and enduring that they bring tears to normal eyes. They are the best of us—and then there are the rest of us. Except in parts of Africa, the much-heralded growth of Catholicism is simply in line with the growth in population—or not even that. Latin American Catholics are increasingly turning to Pentecostalism or drifting away from religious practice and affiliation altogether, although not yet to the extent occurring in Europe and North America.

I’ll be following America‘s coverage of the conclave.

A heartbreaking study of Catholics who have left the Church

The Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton had the courage to invite scholars to survey those who have left Catholicism. It was a self-selected group (people who responded to published invitations, rather than scientific samplings), but still, the responses to the survey break my heart, and should break the heart of anyone with a passion for the Good News of Jesus Christ. Access to the scholars’ work is still not available, but America has posted an article they’ve written. Among the findings:

It should be noted that most respondents said no to our question about any “bad experiences” they may have had with any person officially associated with the church. Mention was made, however, of bad experiences in the confessional; refusals by parish staff to permit eulogies at funerals; denial of the privilege of being a godparent at a relative’s baptism; verbal, emotional and physical abuse in Catholic elementary school; denial of permission for a religiously mixed marriage in the parish church. In one case the parish priest “refused to go to the cemetery to bury my 9-year-old son  because it was not a Catholic cemetery.” Several respondents noted that they were victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

In the context of his reply to this question about “bad experiences,” a 78-year-old male said something that could serve as a guideline for the bishop in reacting to this survey. This man wrote, “Ask a question of any priest and you get a rule; you don’t get a ‘let’s-sit-down-and- talk-about-it’ response.”  It is our hope that there will be more sitting down and talking things over in  the Diocese of Trenton, and perhaps in other dioceses, as a result of this  survey experience.

The authors’ conclusions:

Considering that these responses come, by definition, from a disaffected group, it is noteworthy that their tone is overwhelmingly positive and that the respondents appreciated the opportunity to express themselves. Some of their recommendations will surely have a positive impact on diocesan life. Not surprisingly, the church’s refusal to ordain women, to allow priests to marry, to recognize same-sex marriage and to admit divorced and remarried persons to reception of the Eucharist surfaced, as did contraception and a host of questions associated with the clergy sex-abuse scandal.

The survey invited respondents to provide their name and contact information if they wanted direct connection with the bishop. Of the almost 300 who responded to the survey, 25 offered their information to the Bishop. I would love to be the fly on the wall in those conversations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we as Episcopalians might respond pastorally to the crisis in Roman Catholicism. Short of putting direct ads in newspapers and other media, how do we communicate that our liturgy is quite similar, that we welcome divorced and remarried people, gays and lesbians, and those uncomfortable with the authoritarian hierarchy. The increasing rigidity of our Roman Catholic neighbors makes our openness all the more important, and our message all the more crucial.

Bishop O’Connell deserves praise for undertaking the study, and for his invitation to meet with respondents.

An earlier discussion of the issue is here.

A new translation of the Roman Missal

For those out of the loop, that would be the Latin Mass. It’s been in the works for some time, but next Sunday marks the beginning of its official use. The controversy has already begun among Roman Catholics, and perhaps not too surprisingly, among Anglicans as well.

Some background and early reactions to the new translation are here. A video providing some in-depth material is here. The full list of changes is here: peoplesparts

It’s interesting that the CNN piece refers to “confusion” in the pews. We’ve been dealing with “confusion” in the pews for decades now, in the Episcopal Church as well as with conflict over the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which many people call “new” although it’s over 30 years old.

One of the most significant aspects of these changes is that it marks another break between Roman Catholics and other Christians in the English-speaking world who had relied on similar translations of many of the key liturgical texts (the Lord’s Prayer, the creed, et al).

Here is one person’s response to participating in its use in a parish already.

There are some significant changes, like the people’s response to the celebrant’s “The Lord be with you.” It becomes “And with your spirit.” That’s a more literal translation of the Latin, of course, and exactly the same as Rite One in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Other changes are less obvious, and more controversial: “consubstantial” replaces “of one being” in the Nicene Creed. Again, it’s more literal, but what person lacking a theological education understands it; and what person with a rudimentary theological education will not immediately think of Lutheran Eucharistic theology.

The Bishop of London (Church of England) has had to warn his clergy not to use the new missal in Anglican worship.