Nightmarish morning of looking at the Catholic bloggers just cherry-picking Evangelii gaudium quotations relevant to America or the UK or their pet hobby horse. It is so lopsided when theologically untrained or politically blinkered First World bloggers come to think of themselves as moral theologians or able to speak with any authority on how to read a document that is primarily and especially concerned with the poor. When I raced through the Apostolic Exhortation yesterday and highlighted passages that delighted or challenged me, it was just a lay reader plunging into a text for the first time. I would cringe to think of anyone feeling I was singling out those passages as more worthy of note than others or that I was presenting any kind of guide to reading a text emerging from a synod of bishops with (one hopes) detailed and up-to-date understanding of their own dioceses, parishes and parts of the world and what might be needed. And Pope Francis not just synthesising these defined priorities, but making them his own, emphasising what is closest to his heart but in am embracing, inclusive and paradoxical manner.
Blogging is always partial, personal, provisional. I shudder to think of ‘selected’ Catholic bloggers getting embargoed material beforehand ( as has been suggested) and what these opinionated and ignorant lay bloggers might make of such a privilege. Why shouldn’t crowds of the poor of favelas or refugee settlements get to hear the Joy of the Gospel before others? Why not Catholic scholars who have spent years studying traditions and teachings?
Ugh, ugh, ugh.
Though he doesn’t lay out a comprehensive blueprint for reform, he goes beyond mere hints to fairly blunt indications of direction:
- He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
- He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
- Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
- He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
- Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
- He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”
On two specific matters, however, Francis rules out change: the ordination of women to the priesthood, though he calls for “a more incisive female presence” in decision-making roles, and abortion.
Francis says the church’s defense of unborn life “cannot be expected to change” because it’s “closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”
The pope’s toughest language comes in a section of the document arguing that solidarity with the poor and the promotion of peace are constituent elements of what it means to be a missionary church.
Francis denounces what he calls a “crude and naïve trust” in the free market, saying that left to its own devices, the market too often fosters a “throw-away culture” in which certain categories of people are seen as disposable. He rejects what he describes as an “invisible and almost virtual” economic “tyranny.”
Specifically, Francis calls on the church to oppose spreading income inequality and unemployment, as well as to advocate for stronger environmental protection and against armed conflict.
A dream to live by.