Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Benedict's Parting Words: Papacy As "Great Weight" (and My Reflections)

Dennis Coday and Joshua McElwee report that on his last public day on the job, Pope Benedict has told crowds gathered in St. Peter's square that the papacy has been a "great weight" on his shoulders. 

My response:

I can well imagine that the papacy has been a great weight on Benedict's shoulders. And I feel sympathy for an aging person who has had to bear such a great weight. 
At the same time, I look at my many brother and sister Catholics for whom Benedict's exercise of pastoral authority--first as the right-hand man of John Paul II in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then as pope--has been a tremendous weight. I think of the more than 150 theologians silenced, stripped of jobs, told not to write or teach any longer. 
I think of women told decisively to remain content with second-class citizenship in the church as they are barred from ordination. 
I think of the poor in the developing sectors of the world for whom the liberation theology movement, which John Paul and Benedict decimated, was a means of organizing against injustice and finding community. 
I think of the gay and lesbian human beings deliberately targeted by this pope, who has added to Catholic magisterial language the ugly phrase "intrinsically disordered" to describe those who are gay and lesbian. 
I think of priests defocked because they dared to support women's ordination, of nuns censured simply for giving faithful witness to gospel values in the world in which we live today and for living the charisms of their communities. 
And then I think of Jesus's statement in the gospels about his mission to relieve us of heavy burdens, and I think that this placing of great weights on the shoulders of many human beings and many fellow Catholics by the chief pastor of the Catholic church does not deserve sympathy.

I've already been implicitly upbraided for saying these things by one reader of the response who appears to think it's unChristian and unloving. As I've just said to a fellow Catholic blogger in an email exchange, there's an interesting dynamic in the Catholic community at these times of historic transition: on the one hand, there's a kind of open invitation to share ideas freely; but on the other hand, there's a need--and it seems strongly and characteristically "Catholic"--to slap some fellow Catholics into place, if their sharing verges on sensitive issues or speaks the truth too bluntly.

That's how I read the implied criticism that my previous remarks are unChristian and unloving. It's a very characteristic "Catholic" slap to remind me to keep my place, to engage in pretend accolades of an outgoing pope simply because he's the pope.

As I've imbibed the syrup of some of those accolades at major U.S. Catholic blog sites in the past few days, I've begun to feel downright nauseated. A diet of constant treacle is hardly nourishing. These typically "Catholic" accolades, which engage in pretense and rhetorical diversion when courageous truth-telling is needed, don't really do a very good service to the Catholic community, it seems to me.

If nothing else, they gloss over completely the tremendous harm that this pope has done to many brother and sister Catholics--and I have to wonder how those Catholic commentators who imagine that they represent the Catholic identity in an exemplary way as they applaud Benedict with no honest recognition of the harm he has done to many of their brothers and sisters fit that harm into their exemplary definition of Catholicism.

Do all of us who have suffered tremendously under this pope's leadership of the church simply not exist for these definers of the Catholic identity and keepers of the bounds of the Catholic conversation?

And in what particular way is it unChristian and unloving to talk about the obligation of the one who exercises Petrine ministry in the church--who holds the office of chief pastor, chief shepherd, in emulation of Jesus--to lift burdens from the shoulders of those already heavily burdened, and not to impose more burdens?

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