A Liberal Pope? - John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents the article “A Liberal Pope?” by John Samuel Tieman.

“Being homosexual is not a crime.” With those words, Pope Francis made history. In an interview with the Associated Press, he continued, “Yes, but it is a sin. Fine, but first, let's distinguish between a sin and a crime. It is also a sin to lack charity with one another.” Francis became the first pope to call for the repeal of all laws that criminalize homosexuality.

Many liberals hail Pope Francis as the Chairman Mao of Catholicism. Conservative Catholics are choking on their communion wafers. We live in a strange world where we mistake mere tolerance for liberalism.

Francis is no radical. You get nowhere in the Church's hierarchy unless you tow the dogmatic line. Francis was made bishop, archbishop, and cardinal by Pope John Paul II, the patron saint of conservatives. Conservative Catholics, like EWTN, note that Francis has changed no doctrine. Nor is he likely to change disciplines like priestly celibacy. Don't hold your breath for female ordination. You'll turn blue.

It's not so much what he's changing as what he's emphasizing and deemphasizing. He emphasizes a “preferential option” for the poor and the oppressed. He deemphasizes culture war.

Francis is no radical. That can't be said often enough. He is, however, the son of South America. This Argentine bishop emphasizes something that has long been a part of Latin American ministry, the “preferential option”. Given a choice between helping the rich or the poor, the powerful or the oppressed, preference is given to the poor and oppressed. This is central to Francis' ministry and, indeed, his mindset. At the same time, Francis deemphasizes the culture wars. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods,” the pope said early in his papacy.

Part of this emphasis and deemphasis can be understood symbolically. The pope relieved Cardinal Raymond Burke from all his influential postings. Cardinal Burke, a canon lawyer and the former Archbishop of St. Louis, is a leader among conservative cardinals. Burke publicly stated, for example, that Catholic politicians, who support legalized abortion, should not be given Communion. More recently, in another symbolic move, the pope passed over conservative Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, and promoted San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy to the College of Cardinals. The Diocese of San Diego is an ecclesiastical province of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A cardinal usually leads the Los Angeles Archdiocese. So, simply put, the boss got passed over. The symbolic honor, the red hat, went to the bishop, not the archbishop. McElroy has drawn criticism for his controversial positions on abortion, immigration, global warming, same-sex marriage, and ministering to folks who are LGBTQ. Many consider him the most progressive bishop in the US. These promotions and demotions are, to some extent, symbolic. But the signals are clear. And we are talking about the Catholic Church. If you think that symbolism is lost on Catholics, then you need to cross yourself, say three Hail Marys, and make a sincere Act Of Contrition.

Pope Francis has washed and kissed the feet of prisoners, AIDS patients, Muslims, and drug addicts. But Pope Francis is no radical. True, the late Rush Limbaugh denounced Francis as a “pure Marxist”. However, the Church does not endorse any one economic system. It does, however, denounce exploitation. John Paul II condemned various forms of socialism that tended toward Stalinism. Pope Francis criticizes exploitative forms of capitalism. There's nothing new here. We just haven't heard capitalism criticized for a while. At least not with such emphasis. Francis denounced “the idolatry of money.” Trickle-down economics he characterized as “a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power, and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

But this pope is, in truth, old school in so many ways. For example, his attitudes toward women. Francis is a Jesuit. He has lived his whole life in a celibate, all-male environment. I like Jesuits, and I like people who like Jesuits. I got my doctorate from a Jesuit university. My wife and I attend a Jesuit parish. But, as Phoebe says, when she's around Jesuits, it's like the time we were in the Castro district of San Francisco just after the annual Gay Pride Parade. The boys were nice to her. But I'm the one who got invited to all the cool parties. In his “Evangelii Gaudium”, Francis talks about women's "sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess." He mentions "the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood." He carries on with these statements of "feminine genius" in a manner stereotypical and even retrogressive.

While the pope may not be a radical, he is refreshing. He won't change doctrine. He has, however, changed the emphasis on the direction of ministry. And therein lies the hope.

2023.02.13 / 10:41
John Samuel Tieman
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