Pope Francis, global village pastor

He is the spiritual father the world is looking for, whether they realize it or not.

That’s how papal biographer and Vatican analyst George Weigel put it when we spoke the other day to mark the first anniversary of Jorge Bergoglio’s papacy.

The analysis of his first year, and what it’s the first year of, continues.

A year into the papacy of Pope Francis, however, the world and the Church continue to wonder just what this pontificate will bring — and no small part of that puzzlement, it seems to me, has to do with the “narrativizing of the pope” that has been underway in much of the world media for the better part of a year. Perhaps now, on this first anniversary of his election to the Chair of Peter, it’s time to set aside the narratives and look at what the pope has actually said and done, in order to get a better sense of where he may be leading more than 1.2 billion Catholics and those outside the Catholic Church who look to Francis for leadership and inspiration.

This is incisive.

His most significant papal document to date, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, showed him to be a man completely committed to reenergizing the Church as a missionary enterprise. This evangelical vision of the Catholic future, which was the dominant motif of the last half of the pontificate of John Paul II, is also in continuity with a regularly repeated injunction of Benedict XVI: The days of culturally transmitted Catholicism, or what some might call Catholicism by osmosis, are over and done with.

Though the continuity in teaching and tradition remains unbroken and unchanged, there’s a new tone and style and character in the chief shepherd’s office.

For all his high media profile throughout the world, Pope Francis is actually committed to a certain downsizing of the papacy. His recent complaint about the image of the pope as “Superman,” in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, is not simply a matter of Bergoglio’s objecting to journalists’ turning him into something he knows he isn’t; it reflects his sense that, when the pope is the sole center of attention in matters Catholic, all others are getting a pass on their evangelical responsibilities. Much attention has been paid, over the past year, to what are essentially symbolic aspects of this papal downsizing…

Check them out, he names several.

At the same time, this papal downsizer has shown himself to be a deadly serious reformer of the Roman Curia: a task, he told the Corriere, that was the primary concern of the conclave that elected him. His creation of a new secretariat for the economy as one of the premier offices of the Curia, and his naming of the no-nonsense Australian cardinal George Pell to head it, is little less than an earthquake in the structure of the Holy See. Finance, personnel policy, and administrative oversight have been taken away from what Francis evidently regards as a sclerotic Italian bureaucracy. And those responsibilities have been given to what is expected to be a lean (and, when necessary, mean) operation, which in its crucial first years will be headed by one of the toughest and shrewdest of churchmen, who (not unlike Francis) combines a priest’s heart with a keen nose for corruption.

Francis’s challenge to his newly named cardinals — that they think of themselves as servants, not courtiers — is another expression of his determination to challenge everyone in the Church to greater evangelical fervor. So was his recent charge, to the Vatican office that helps the pope select bishops, to search widely — perhaps more widely than has been the case in the past — to find for Catholicism the local leaders it needs: men of proven evangelical determination, who can call both priests and people to live their missionary vocation more actively, often in difficult cultural circumstances.

Anyone who followed the naming of new cardinals noticed immediately that the pope went, literally, to the ‘existential peripheries’ to which he refers often.

Which brings us to something else that ought to have been learned about Pope Francis over the past year: this is a man with a deep, compassionate, yet searching sense of the profound wounds that postmodern culture inflicts on individuals and societies. Many regarded it as something of a throwaway line when, in one of his daily Mass sermons, the pope made a positive reference to Robert Hugh Benson’s 1907 novel Lord of the World, the first of the 20th-century literary dystopias. But the more closely one reads Pope Francis, especially in those daily homilies, the more one begins to get the sense that Benson’s vision, of a world in which power-madness and aggressive secularism masquerade as reason and compassion, is quite close to Bergoglio’s vision of what he has sometimes described as the idolatries of our time. The pope has spoken passionately about those who have been left behind, materially, in the world economy. But he has spoken just as passionately about the spiritual and cultural impoverishment that comes from imagining that everything in the human condition is plastic, malleable, and subject to change by means of human willfulness.

This is important, in any hope of understanding this pope and where he is leading people.

The pope knows that, amid the polymorphous perversities of postmodernity and the pain they cause, the Church attracts primarily by witness, not by argument. To those who imagine themselves beyond the reach of compassion, the Church offers the experience of the divine mercy. No one, the pope insists, is beyond the reach of God’s power to forgive. That experience of mercy, in turn, opens up its recipient to the truths the Church proposes: the truths the Church believes make for the human happiness that is being eroded by the idolatries of the age, especially the idolatry of the imperial autonomous Self. Mercy and truth are not antinomies, in the Catholic scheme of things. Mercy and truth are two entwined dimensions of God’s reach into history, and into individual lives.

Time [magazine] read the Pope’s self-query, “Who am I to judge?” as the opening wedge to that long-awaited concession by the Catholic Church that it had been wrong, all along, about the sexual revolution. That is not what the pope thinks, having gone out of his way in Corriere della Sera to praise the “genius” and “courage” of Pope Paul VI for “applying a cultural brake” in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, for standing fast against the tidal wave of Sixties permissivism that has led to so much unhappiness and sorrow, and for opposing “present and future neo-Malthusianism.” When Francis asked, “Who am I to judge?” he was responding as a pastor to the particular situation of a man experiencing same-sex attraction. And as the pope said, if that man was trying, with the grace of God, to live an honest and chaste life, he ought not be judged by his temptations, any more than anyone else in this world of endless temptation. Mercy and truth, as always, go together. For the mercy that tells us that we are not beyond the pale of forgiveness is the mercy that leads us into the truths that make for genuine human happiness.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a very old-school Jesuit, and it’s clear that, as such, he is going to be pope his way, not anyone else’s…

And as such, he is capturing the world’s attention, for reasons they may not even know or be correct in identifying. All they know is that he is reaching the human heart and mind and soul on a depth not even perceptible to the senses, except for that of the transcendent. Many people who are not Catholic, including the altogether un-churched, have called him ‘our pope’. And so he is.

Francis. The first.

First year anniversary of this papacy. First pope named Francis. First Jesuit pope. First from the Americas. But the 266th Peter, in continuous succession of the first rock on which the Catholic Church was built.

Though some people see his ‘difference in style and tone’ as translating to a whole new package of different governance of the church all the way to changing church doctrine, this is not the case. That needs clarification.

Fr. Bernardo Cervellera clarifies here.

One year on from the election of Pope Francis as successor to the Apostle Peter, we are becoming increasingly aware that he is guiding the Church towards a revolution, fought not by the sword but by personal witness, without throwing away the past, but by helping authentic tradition to flourish once again.

This has been evident right from the outset, that first evening of 13 March, when presenting himself to the world from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica he asked us to pray together, and silence immediately descended on the packed square, which previously had been full of restless murmurs. Instead of proclaiming programs, he called for silence to listen to God’s program (the one that “always precedes us”).

The Bishop of Rome asked for the prayers of the faithful. Some naive television commentators saw this gesture as a sign that he would dispose of hierarchical clericalism. Indeed, with his silent bow, the Pope lowered himself: to show that he is not a monarch, but a person with a mandate, someone who takes very seriously what one billion Catholics do every day with the rosary: “We pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be for the intentions of the supreme Pontiff”. The most traditional element was expressed in unison with the single most revolutionary, most ….progressive element.

The uniting of these two elements, the traditional and the progressive, appears to be characteristic of Francis.

Which needs continual clarification.

From this point of view, Francis is the ripest fruit of the Second Vatican Council, and especially of a “sound” reading of the Council. In these intervening decades – as was masterfully explained by Benedict XVI – the Church has been divided between a hermeneutic of rupture and a hermeneutic of continuity. The former read the Council as a watershed between the past and present-future: the latter read the development of the life of faith in unity with the past, albeit a past that is re-read and re-applied to the needs of modern man…

And now, Francis comes along.

50 years after the Council, Pope Francis goes beyond these two ruptures, the right wing and the left wing, and reaffirms the Council and the reading thereof as an exegesis of continuity. This is why his every action is both traditional and modern; he spends time in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and in a moving and loving silence draws close to the long lines of the ill and sick who each Wednesday fill the front rows at the general audience, worshipping both the “body” and the “flesh of Christ.”…

However, the world and those on the fringes of the Church are precisely those unlikely to understand this Pope’s witness, in their tug of war pulling him from the right and from the left, from above and below, without ever really allowing themselves to be touched by his vital message .

That is a key insight. Stay with that thought.

Alongside those who ask him to clarify his teaching, speak out in defense of those “values ??” that contemporary society wants to rid the world of, there are those who see him merely as a representative of Latin America, an emblem of how the Church from the developing world has defeated the wealthy Church of the North Americans and Europeans…

There are those who pull him even further, applauding his “openness” (real or supposed) towards homosexuals, gay marriage, communion for the divorced, women cardinals, in a rush toward the future.

But none of these interpretations stop to consider the present: a transparent man in his faith and the joy of his relationship with Christ, which is why he does not offer the world a doctrine or an ideology, but an encounter with Christ himself.

Full stop. That is Pope Francis, summarized in a sentence. It’s the Francis the pop culture media don’t yet get.

The pope, who – in keeping with the tradition of the social doctrine of the Church – said that an economy can not exist without ethics, is accused of being a Marxist. At the same time, those who seem to applaud him as a revolutionary at every unusual gesture, are turning him into a “cult” icon of mass consumption, without being touched in the slightest by his invitation.

That came up on my radio program this week in a compelling conversation with Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow, and National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez. Kathryn summarizes well here.

The viral photos. The magazine covers. “The Francis effect.”

But as my friend Father Steve Grunow, CEO of Word on Fire (the people who brought us the Catholicism series that partially aired on PBS in recent years), put it earlier this week, there is a danger for the faithful and for interested observers that we treat Pope Francis a little like a St. Francis statue in a garden: It feels good to have him there. He’s popular. He’s holy. I feel good about the Church now, some say. But the point is that he wants to bring people to Christ and challenge Christians to be real. To simply feel good about him or dismiss his challenges — which are the radical challenges of the Gospel – misses the message.

The message is simple. So simple, modern culture that politicizes and complicates everything, needs help even grasping it. Here’s help.

There is something about Pope Francis that has captured the aspirations of the world. It’s something of God. He is a humble servant who points us in the direction of the compelling, joyful alternative that is the life of the Gospels. It’s a self-sacrificial alternative. He seems to be just the tender father we needed as a guide…

The pope has referred to the Church as a field hospital. We go to the doctor for checkups, for advice, for medicine. And so it is here. Come to Church, all who are weary, is again and again the pope’s message. There is love there — for you — from the Creator of the universe. There is mercy there: Never tire of asking for God’s forgiveness. There is such grace-filled liberation in this…

Perhaps that’s all you really need to know about Pope Francis: He is invitational; he invites everyone to the life he has dedicated his life to, walking other people through it, because in it he knows the peace and merciful love the world needs. It’s an ecumenical blessing as it offers healing and flourishing. And, yes, a light that illuminates everything.

The world is noticing, whether they really see what they’re gazing at or not. Yet.

Bradley Manning’s gender identity confusion

Referring here to that which is going on in the media, actually.

This little piece by Wesley J.  Smith contains the essentials of the moment, and it is a changing situation at that. No pun or double entendre intended.

There are legal methods of having one’s sex reassigned. Thus, until a court order is rendered, a “he” who identifies as a “she,” remains a legal he.

But in our post modern times, even that is seen as too limiting. We have a new law in California allowing boys who identify as girls to use girl’s bathrooms and locker rooms in public school (and visa-versa), based on their self-identity. Now, with Bradley Manning claiming to be Chelsea, Ryan Kearney goes into high dudgeon at the New Republic because the media didn’t instantly change their reporting. From, “He is Not Bradley Manning, She is Chelsea Manning: Deal With It:”

This morning, Wikipedia users changed Manning’s entry on the site accordingly, such that it now reads, “Chelsea Manning (officially Bradley Edward Manning; born December 17, 1987)” and refers to Manning throughout as “she.” And yet, from ABC News to CBS News to Reuters to The New York Times to Politico, much of the mainstream media insists on using the male pronoun. Even the “Today” article about Manning’s statement defiantly refers to her as “he,” most notably when quoting the very sentence in which Manning asks that she be referred to as “she.”

The Guardian, to its credit, changed its topic page to “Chelsea Manning.” This should not be the exception, but the rule. Even the Associated Press stylebook says so: that reporters should “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

Even theAssociated Press stylebook! All bow.

No. We need structure here and a proper legal process. Rule of law. Rule of law. Rule of law.

Until Bradley Manning is officially declared Chelsea by a court–with an amended birth certificate issued and a legal judgment of sex reassignment–he remains a legal male. That should be the standard, not a personal statement read on a television show or a change in appearance.

First, read Wesley’s post at the link, it not only links to the New Republic article he cites and quotes and critiques, but to a number of hyperlinks in that article that reveal how much confusion is running rampant at the moment in the media.

Second, I heard a panel discussion on how the media are handling this on a morning television news show, and the experts  on it – regulars on a weekly program that critique’s media handling of top news stories of the week – cited that New Republic article and the obvious tailspin the media are in right now figuring out how to handle reporting on the Manning story. And the issue of whether Manning having a sex-change hormone therapy at Ft. Leavenworth should be at taxpayers’ expense.

NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez responded to Wesley Smith’s post citing skepticism or at least wariness about the ‘rule of law’ mantra and whatever structure that would bring, given the current cultural climate.

Wes — I can’t say I’m worshipping at the altar of the rule of law. If the law ceases making sense, marginalizing not only conscience but common sense, it’s not like we should all be getting in line to reorder our lives to its fiction. I suspect you’re holding onto hope that law ultimately does make sense in America, but I’m not sure that’s the trend. Certainly not if the law is going to follow where our cultural feelings have been leading.

I appreciate and agree with both of them often enough on issues of how humans should treat other humans and what constitutes the common good and a moral society. But Kathryn’s right about that last point. And politics and too many courts are downstream of culture. The only or best course correction is an all-in effort to change it all, especially the culture.

I believe this little nugget from Pope Francis helps get us on the right course. At least it helps people learn how to talk with each other.

Media’s choice coverage

I’ve quoted Walter Lippmann for years on the ability to shape public opinion by feeding the public information chosen from a field of topics and presented in a calculated light with crafted language framed within fixed parameters. He’s getting more relevant all the time.

Here are two circumstances that call this to mind.

At the start of last week, a well-coordinated and darned near unprecedented legal challenge was launched by 43 Catholic institutions against the president and his administration over a federal mandate to purchase or provide something that violated their First Amendment right to religious liberty and fundamental right to human conscience.

In what had to be more willful and calculated than inept, the media largely ignored the story.

For the third night in a row the broadcast networks have refused to cover this correctly. This momentum is fueled by CBS Evening News’ outrageous decision not only to spike the Catholic lawsuits but instead to lead the news with yet another story about the Catholic sex abuse scandal. The broadcast devoted two minutes and 31 seconds to the accused abusers and allegations that occurred decades ago. That’s roughly eight times more coverage than CBS Evening News gave the historic lawsuit on Monday.

With all due respect to Brent Bozell and the Media Research Council, I have to say this is not surprising and deserves the jabs but only constitutes ‘more of same’ in the realm of news reporting these days. We know big media manipulate the news and don’t cover things like the massive March for Life rally each January filling the Mall of Washington with peaceful, young, cheerful and staunchly pro-life activists on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They just don’t. Too bad. But what does it matter? The media have rendered themselves largely irrelevant and more so in recent years, so the more we express angst over their lack of coverage of big and obvious stories, the more weight we give them and their coverage in general.

Here’s the second situation.

On Friday morning, I caught a television interview with a former New York Times investigative journalist about the lack of media coverage on the plight of the doctor in Pakistan who helped US forces find Osama bin Laden. She said ‘though his treatment is shocking and outrageous, the media are concerned about making his plight worse.’

In other words, the media are making calculations, what to cover and what to ignore in coverage, according to the effect coverage may have on outcomes.

That’s not just managing the news, it’s manipulating the news.

So faith based leaders have stepped up to speak for themselves. Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace interviewed Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl said the media has missed the boat on the major news story of the lawsuits, and he clarified.

“This lawsuit isn’t about contraception,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “It is about religious freedom. Embedded in the mandate is a radically new definition of what institutes a religious community, what constitutes religious ministry–brand new and never fortified in the federal level. That’s what we are arguing about.”

“The lawsuit said we have every right to serve in this community as we have served for decades and decades,” he continued. “The new definition says you are not really religious if you serve people other than your own and if you hire people other than your own. That wipes out all of the things that we have been doing, all the things that we contribute to the common good–our schools, our health care services, our Catholic charity and even parish soup kitchens and pantries.”

Wallace raised the question of the “accommodation” as some media keep doing, though time and again journalists who understand it point out there was no accommodation. Things were just stated in a different way to make it appear there was a change in the HHS mandate, like allegedly shifting the burden of providing drugs and procedures from Catholic institutions to insurers in nothing more than a verbal sleight-of-hand.

Criticizing the Obama administration’s “accommodation,” Cardinal Wuerl said that “so many of our institutions, certainly the archdiocese, is self insured. We are the insurer. So, when you say, don’t worry, we changed this and only the insurer has to pay. And we are the insurer, there is no accommodation.”

And the HHS mandate remains unchanged. Which is why this fiasco is becoming a train wreck. And sooner or later the media may take more interest in that.

Where is Sarah Palin going?

Memorial Day weekend was slow for news, so Sarah Palin’s bus tour dominated the headlines. She launched a bus tour, and she seems to be driving the media crazy.

Especially the ride she chose.

For sheer mastery of celebrity theater, Sarah Palin cannot be beat.

Ms. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, let the anticipation build for hours on Sunday in the Pentagon’s North Parking Lot, where thousands of bikers (and their rumbling Harleys) had gathered for the annual Rolling Thunder rally ahead of Memorial Day.

This was tailor-made for both supporters and detractors.

Sarah Palin is going rogue again, confounding the press and delighting fans on a family bus tour that could be a prelude to an unconventional White House campaign — or a branding exercise for Palin Inc.

The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee has kept reporters scrambling across three states for three days, refusing to publish her schedule while traveling the countryside in a flashy, painted campaign-style bus.

After announcing the tour of East Coast historic sites last week, Team Palin went silent on the itinerary and refused to accommodate press coverage.

Which really provokes them. She controls the message, and she’s not telling them. And they hate it.

“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know” about seeking the presidency, Palin told reporters who caught up with her yesterday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, according to the Associated Press.

What is evident, say party strategists and political observers, is that Palin, Senator John McCain’s 2008 vice presidential running mate, would be a force if she chose to join the fray and can also shape the contest even from the sidelines.

“If she entered the race, she automatically and immediately shoots to the front of the pack,” because of her fundraising prowess, support among conservatives and Tea Party activists, and media stardom, said Greg Mueller, a Republican strategist and public relations executive.

Big if. But they just don’t know, because she’s not following their rules.

Everything about her “One Nation” bus trip, except the bus, is the antithesis of how most politicians would do what she’s doing. The question is whether she could ever run for president this way.

Palin is partway through her tour of symbolically important historical sites along the East Coast. After a weekend in and around the capital, she stopped at the Gettysburg battlefield and then saw Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

She will get to New Hampshire, whose political significance is well-known, late in the week. But this is not, she has insisted, a political campaign. Still, the trip has renewed speculation that she could be heading in that direction, though no one but Palin and her husband, Todd, may know the real answer.

So while they try to figure this out, they’re not paying as much attention to candidates who really are running campaigns.

Republican candidates who are intensely wooing early-state voters found themselves eclipsed for another day by the former Alaska governor, who repeated Tuesday that she was pondering whether to run. Unlike them, Palin found herself surrounded by reporters and voters, her bus tour bringing her back to the forefront of GOP politics regardless of her ultimate decision.

“Whether she runs or not, Palin needs to stay relevant in order to leverage her celebrity, influence and earning capacity,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican consultant who helped coach Palin when she was preparing for her vice presidential debate with Joe Biden in 2008. “She just proved that she still can generate crowds anytime she wants. Her machine just got oiled and taken out for a test drive.”

As if anyone had a doubt.

At this point I would say, ‘Here’s what I think…’ But I don’t know what I think.


Palin’s fans have no problems with her approach. While her poll numbers have dropped with the electorate at large, she is still popular with many conservatives in the Republican Party and Tea Party movement.

“I’m thinking maybe she just wants to meet regular people who want to come out, and not to have some big speech,” said Julie Monzi of Gettysburg, who was waiting outside Palin’s hotel to see her.

“This way it’s more intimate and more the people who really want to see her,” Monzi said of the bus tour. “She’s wanting to see America, wanting to see our history, and this makes it more personal.”

That’s probably one point of agreement for a lot of different folks. For whatever reason, it’s personal.

Church, news and….reliable sources

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley says that during the U.S. bishops intense efforts to tackle the whole abuse crisis, prevent anything like that from happening again, and above all safeguard children…..their strongest ally in Rome was Cardinal Ratzinger.

Media were vital in drawing the crisis to the surface in the first place in 2001, and deserved the Pulitzer for that. Who’s watching the watchdogs now, and how are they behaving?

Stay with ‘Just B16’ for comprehensive coverage and analysis.