“Spirit” of the Pope's Return from Rio | James
V. Schall, SJ | CWR
Reminiscent of the immediate post-conciliar era, we're seeing a battle between the “spirit” and the actual words of Francis
Adopts a Milder Tone toward Gays and Women”
— Headline, San Francisco Chronicle July 30, 2013.
in Tone on Gays Thrills Local Catholics”
— Headline, San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 2013.
Remarks on Gays: Pope: ‘Who Am I to Judge?’”
— Headline, San Jose Mercury-News, July 30, 2013.
In the struggle between illusion and reality, illusion (even delusion) often gains the upper hand. Images can overshadow an idea thought to be fixed. The above three headlines are taken from local papers suddenly paying careful attention to remarks of the Holy Father. Though none of the editorials or news columns actually said that the Church had changed its teaching on homosexuality, the unavoidable impression from the headlines and the articles was that finally the stubborn old Church was on its way to doing so. This reaction was what these varied writers made of the Pope’s remarks on homosexuality, the ones that they thought most important from the papal trip to Brazil.
Judging by the local press, very little went on at World Youth Day in Rio until the Pope’s interview with the Press on his return flight to Rome. Then, like a clap of thunder, the news arrived that the Church had suddenly changed. Instead of opposing gays, the Pope was welcoming them. A new day had dawned. The San Jose Mercury-News editorial affirmed: “What a heartening declaration from the Roman Catholic pontiff. We hope it helps open the minds of some vocal Christians opposed to gay rights.” The Chronicle editorial, entitled “Reboot for Catholicism,” continued: “While he (the Pope) hasn’t gone as far as many liberal-minded Catholics would like, he’s clearly aiming to move the church in the direction of both modernity and radical empathy—the very direction it needs to go after so many years of scandal and turmoil.” We have little doubt about “how far liberal-minded Catholics” and others would like to see the Church go in this area—to full-scale acceptance of the gay life and all it implies.
All the things that the Holy Father said to the millions of youth in Rio about belief, prayer, concern for the poor, humility, and other basic Catholic themes paled by contrast to the remarks about gays. The casual reader of these newspaper accounts could not help but thinking that some radical change of Church doctrine had taken place on the flight back to Rome, one almost the equivalent of denying the validity of the Incarnation.
In context, as even the headlines in Huffpost Gay Voices (July 31) noticed: “Pope Francis Against Gay Marriage, Gay Adoption.” What changed, evidently, was not the doctrine but the “mood” or perception of it. The Pope specifically said: “No overt homosexual activities” are possible or moral. From now on, however, as a friend suggested, we are in for a period not unlike the post-Vatican II era. We then saw a war of words between “the spirit” and the “meaning” of the Council. Now it will be between the “spirit” and the wording of WYD Rio, Return Flight.