In Pope Francis Era, Catholics Still Finding Their Footing

Catholics have been fighting among ourselves since St. Paul, but they maintain unity by respecting the authority of the pope.

The message of the Broadway classic, Fiddler on the Roof, is contained in the title. The fiddler symbolizes the effort required to play sweet music while simultaneously balancing religious traditions on the pitched slope of modernity. Now, with Pope Francis, there is a Fiddler on the Roof moment for Catholic America. The left-wing and the right-wing will have to find balance just as the fiddler adjusted to the sloping roof in order to stand erect. It won’t be easy.

We Catholics have been fighting among ourselves since St. Paul (Acts 15) argued against Mosaic observances, but we maintain unity by respecting the authority of the pope. That respect, incidentally, distinguishes us from other Christians. Pope Francis has changed the emphasis of Catholicism by setting new priorities. Even without considering doctrine, he has called for an about-face, wherein the right-foot emphasis of his two predecessors has now shifted 180º to a left-foot emphasis. Proof of the shift is found in our collective scrambles to interpret Catholicism so as to favor our own predispositions.

Take, for instance, the two contrasting descriptions of the speech from out-going USCCB President, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The loudest right-wing voice from the Catholic League praises the farewell as evidence the fight against the Obama Administration started under Dolan will continue unchanged. John A. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, however, notes that the emphasis on religious liberty in the cardinal’s farewell address shifted away from that issue in the United States to focus on other countries. Which interpretation was correct, or are both consistent with the balancing act now necessary?

Similarly, Archbishop Chaput who (in)famously stated that conservatives were confused by Pope Francis, delivered a battle cry to combat poverty and social injustice that put him back in line with the papal emphasis. Chaput delivered his presentation in Mexico and it merited praise from NCR columnist, Michael Sean Winters, whose piece carried the title, “Hell to Freeze Over Soon!” suggesting the rarity of his agreement with Philadelphia’s cultural warrior. Note, however, that Chaput like Dolan pointed his message to conditions outside the United States. This avoided the need for retraction while simultaneously relocating the speaker with the pope and still in line for promotion by a cardinal’s red hat.

The game goes on in the media. The Associated Press report on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Evangelii Gaudium, stated that the pope had affirmed that abortion was “non-negotiable.” Since this exact phrase does not appear in the papal letter, one can only assume that it was placed there because the writer felt it was required to balance the strong denunciation of trickle-down Capitalism and neo-liberalism emphasized by progressive Catholics.

In the same sort of balance-seeking, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a Vatican official downplayed the possibility of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics such as had been raised by the bishops of Germany in response to Pope Francis’ initial request for input on the subject. That response did not end the hassle, as the German bishops retorted that Müller’s article ran counter to the pope’s request for dialogue.  

This Catholic balancing act will continue with high visibility as bishops order the faithful in their dioceses to respond to the questions posed by the pope in preparation for the next synod. One can expect, for instance, that response to the issue of gay marriage will be interpreted differently according to each respondents starting point on right or left. The overwhelming majority will oppose Catholic marriage for gays and lesbians within the church, but the issue is about legal recognition of civil marriage in society. I have participated in such discussions and a key factor for many religious people is deciding if they think “being gay” is a genetic condition or a moral choice. In other words, are people born with attraction to the same sex in God’s plan or is such attraction “unnatural” and something that can be removed by therapy and refusal to sin? The pastoral response to legalized same-sex marriage, I submit, is greatly affected by how sexual orientation is defined. For a Catholic Fiddler on the Roof it is the difference between breaking the tradition or “bending it a little.” Our unity comes from singing “L’chaim to life!” with Evangelii Gaudium.

Image courtesy of Semilla Luz.

  • di89

    In other words, are people born with attraction to the same sex in God’s plan or is such attraction “unnatural” and something that can be removed by therapy and refusal to sin?

    This is exactly the confusion.

    The Church does not expect or demand that people change orientation through therapy (or prayer or anything else) nor does it consider same sex orientation a sin. “Unnatural” means out of the usual order of things.

    You can agree or disagree with that, but please don’t misrepresent it.

  • itsthedax

    If you don’t want to have a ceremony for a gay couple, then don’t. There, problem solved. Glad I could help.

    Of course, that has nothing to do with they’re right to get married.

  • Clifford Stevens

    Conservative Catholics will still object to the Catholic Church’s Social and Economic doctrine and Catholic Liberals will object to the Catholic Church’s moral teaching. In other words, they want the Church to follow their Republlican or Democrat political positions.

    Both choose their Party over their religion.

    Father Clifford Stevens
    Boys Town, Nebraska

  • Who is Jesus

    DC was founded by freemasons. “They go against God”. – Dianne Foster Reiddy, House of Representatives Stenographer 20 years. On the eve of the House vote on Obamacare.

  • Anneinnj

    As the Church’s center of gravity increasingly moves to the third world, I think we can expect to see more emphasis on issues of social and economic justice (poor people in the world will look to the power of the church to get a larger slice of the pie), but the Church will be able to maintain its stance that gay people are disordered and women are second-class citizens.

  • leibowde84

    “I have participated in such discussions and a key factor for many religious people is deciding if they think “being gay” is a genetic condition or a moral choice. In other words, are people born with attraction to the same sex in God’s plan or is such attraction “unnatural” and something that can be removed by therapy and refusal to sin?”

    - Since NO ONE KNOWS EITHER WAY … shouldn’t we just give homosexuals the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is inherent?! Explain to me how not doing so wouldn’t be extremely cruel.

  • dryan1982

    I think the Church needed someone like Francis at this time. The Church has been defined by things that many people see as negatives, such as its positions toward gay marriage or abortion-for far too long. It was high time someone put an emphasis back on positives such as charity and community involvement through the church. And after the many scandals that so damaged the Church’s credibility in the last decade there was definitely need for a reformer who would tackle the obvious corruption and bureaucracy within the Church hierarchy. And I even think that after the late years of John Paul II, when his health forced him into greater seclusion, and of Benedict, who was far less prominent, the title of Pope was about due for a more charismatic and outspoken figure who would help re-energize the Church. I am impressed by Francis so far, I hope he can keep it up.

  • icowrich

    Well, Paul does say “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” It leads me to wonder what a gay person that burns with passion is supposed to do.

  • FelicityHangnail
  • CCNL

    The following will end any kind of religious footing (only for the new members of this blog)

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

  • hggoodrich

    This new Pope is getting much review in the press. It may be by design as things out of the rapid news cycle are considered less important. This press campaign is directed specifically at Roman Catholics as the rest of Christianity remains satisfied with the results of the Reformation and do not care what the Pope thinks, says, or does.

    Many non-Roman Catholics, who have no emotional stake in that church, have concluded this Pope wants a primary faith focus to be on the poor and disenfranchised and this will require church money and effort, therefrom, to be shifted to accommodate that new focus. The concern of the Bishops is that with a refocus of church money they will have much less influence in their area bishoprics and that influence has always extended to non-Roman Catholics through politicians and community leaders who find a Bishop’s support convenient and a good self promotional tool. Trying to help and enfranchise the poor interrupts businesses that rely on profits from exploiting the poor and disenfranchised. Organized voting is a true threat to exploiters.

  • CCNL

    And you know this how?

    Another view:

    Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous contemporary theologian, has a different take on hell. He reasons that God does not tolerate imperfection in his spiritual realm. Therefore, any soul dying in mortal sin will simply disappear since hell the imperfect state does not exist.

    In his book, his book, Church: The Human Story of God,
    Crossroad, 1993,

  • tidelandermdva

    There is the evidence of tradition that there was a Abraham and a Moses. There is certainly no proof that there was not; therefore the belief, that there was not, is a matter of faith. There is evidence of a Jewish people consistent with those traditions. There is certainly strong tradition of the life of the Buddha. The conversions of his insights into a deistic religion is contrary to that tradition. Not sure what you include when you say there was no “Easter”. There is certainly an Easter. There is every year; wait for it. Interesting that you do not claim there was no Jesus. Not much problem with the rest.

  • CCNL

    Buddhism- “Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow.”

    “However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):”

    Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circumstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother’s womb.

  • responsablity

    We love Catholics faith.. Why does bill gate and Techno company want to keep asking for the H-1B people?

    Our school teacher wants us to go into S.T.E.M. but we were only born here and we get sad when we read this.

  • exeuntomnes

    Just take it easy. It will all become so clear….after you’ve gone. In point of fact, the Incarnation changed history. Period.

    Read a bit more…in depth; consider that cyclical history is not at all what it’s about.

  • exeuntomnes

    You don’t always get what you want; but, you get what you need.