By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
A recent article by Mary E. Hunt on the web site Religion Dispatches offered an example of the benefits of paying attention to what is being said on the secular left. What our adversaries have to say on an issue can offer us insights we do not hear from our allies in the culture wars. Sometimes they offer reasons for optimism, sometimes greater reasons for concern. Hunt’s article, which focused on the “liberal” policies of Pope Francis, provides both.
Hunt describes herself as a “feminist theologian” and a “Roman Catholic active in the women-church movement,” who “lectures and writes on theology and ethics with particular attention to liberation issues.” The reason for optimism? Hunt’s criticism of Pope Francis should give comfort to those on the right who feel the Pope is surrendering on important Catholic teachings; Hunt doesn’t see any surrender. Rightist critics of the Pope should see that she may be right. The reason for concern? What she says makes clear that there is no way to “dialogue” and “seek common ground” with Catholics like her. The Church Hunt is calling for is one that will surrender the essential parts of its Catholic identity. She is calling for Catholics to sell out to her secular left-wing agenda.
Hunt tells us she isn’t fooled by Pope Francis’ simplicity and commitment to the poor. She agrees that he may be a “fine human being,” but that “his predecessor popes and some of their episcopal sycophants gave the” papacy “such a bad name that the bar is low. Undoing their structures and policies” will “take longer than these first nine months of the Francis papacy.” She sees Francis’ public image as the product of a “very powerful public relations machine” headed by Greg Burke, a “former Fox News and Time writer” and Opus Dei member, who has been “senior communications adviser to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State” since June 2012.
The image concocted for the Pope by Burke has been designed, writes Hunt, not to reform the Church but as a deception, “as a way of shoring up a model of the church that has endured for centuries,” with no object other than making it “look good.” If Hunt is correct, the efforts by Pope Francis to be more open and accommodating to critics of the Church are meant to win converts to the Church and the Gospels, not to sell us out to our enemies.
There is a “serious danger,” Hunt continues, in making the “papacy look good” through the “warm feelings” that Francis is generating around the world, when the Pope has made clear his commitment to orthodoxy by statements such as, “On the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and said no. Pope John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.” The Pope, Hunt argues, is reaching out to the world, but in the name of a Church faithful to its heritage and teachings.
Indeed, Hunt sees no hope for meaningful and productive change until there has been a “deeply diminished authority role for the pope and a much stronger emphasis on the pope’s function as a symbol of unity of the whole church,” a church “based on the assumption of widespread lay participation in an increasingly democratic church.” That church, she is confident, will bring about reforms such as “the ordination of women, married clergy, acceptance of divorced and/or LGBTIQ persons as full members of the community.” (What does the “IQ” stand for? I had to look it up, too. “Intersex and Questioning.” What’s next? Your guess is as good as mine.)
But that is not going to happen. Pope Francis has not opened the door to those changes. Even those most opposed to many of the new Pope’s statements know that is the case.
Hunt is even upset at Francis’ now-famous “Who am I to judge?” comment about homosexuals that has distressed many orthodox Catholics. Why? She wants him to judge, to take a stand in favor of same-sex love: “I want him and everyone else to judge love positively where and when they find it.” She wants him to undo the hurt inflicted upon LGBTIQ individuals by the Church. She expects all “human beings” to “affirm what is good, not abdicate their responsibility to do so in the public forum, even if they are the pope, for fear that they will offend those who do not affirm the same goodness.”
No one expects Pope Francis to do that.
In short, Hunt sees no real progress taking place under Pope Francis. “Where are the women theologians called in to consult” with Vatican authorities? Where the lay people preaching “at the pope’s daily Mass so he would listen instead of speak sometimes? Where are the lesbian and gay seminarians to explain the facts of life to an old Jesuit who entered the Society of Jesus before gay was gay?” Once again, she is correct. Those things are not part of Pope Francis’ agenda.
I can tell from my correspondence that there are many Catholics growing impatient with the things Pope Francis is saying and doing. They can point to several reasons for their impatience. But Mary Hunt’s analysis of what has happened since Francis became Pope comes across as an accurate depiction of where things stand. Pope Francis has done nothing to indicate to Catholics like Hunt that he intends to change the Church in the way they advocate. Their anger and disappointment speak volumes.