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Tearing of the veil
Publication Date : 25-09-2013
It’s almost unbelievable that Pope Francis became pope only less than half a year ago. The changes he has ushered, or rammed, into the Catholic Church in that short time have been so sweeping you’re hard put to recognise it as the same Church it was a year or so ago.
Especially given what his predecessor, Pope Benedict, had made of it, which lent the most ironic meanings to the phrase “the Rock.”
First was his insistence on the Church casting off its imperial robes, which it had donned since Constantine turned Christianity from a fugitive religion whose fold was being hounded, persecuted and violently killed, to the most powerful religion on earth. One invested not just with spiritual power but also a temporal one. The Inquisition testified to its coercive power, which it used fanatically cruelly in the Middle Ages, its effects not entirely dissipated by this time.
Pope Francis didn’t just call for simplicity, he lived it, eschewing the rich papal robes for simple clothing even on special occasions. He didn’t just call for tending to the poor, he lived it, continuing to travel to the most wretched spots of the planet, as he had done as a bishop in Buenos Aires, and as he did in Brazil when he visited the slums of Varhinha a couple of months ago. Coming across a group of seminarians in that visit, he exhorted them to not live complacent lives but to “make a mess”, a quite remarkable way of putting things.
But it’s what he’s done this past week that has truly been startling.
Already the object of distrust of the conservative clergy and religious, not to speak of conservative politicians and state heads—he spoke out against Barack Obama’s plan to blast Syria, a thing that could not have endeared him to the United States—he came out as well against his predecessor’s favourite concerns, which were dogma and doctrine.
In general, he spoke about the need to shift the crux of Christian teaching and life from “small-minded rules” to love and compassion.
More specifically, he challenged the Church’s proscriptions against abortion, divorce, homosexuality, women priests, and priests marrying.
While he continued to excoriate abortion, he left a wide berth for women exercising a right to their bodies. A thing that at least loosened Vatican’s opposition to contraceptives if not unbound it completely.
Divorce the Church will continue to frown upon, but with a lot of leeway for Catholics with failed marriages to have “a second chance.” The Church, he says, already recognises annulment, and cites his predecessor as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Antonio Quarracino, who said he believed half of Catholic marriages around the world could be annulled. That was so because people married “without maturity, without understanding it was for one’s entire life or because it seemed socially necessary”.
Women priests the Church will continue to eschew as well, but not as a matter of faith, only as a matter of tradition. Matters of tradition can always change. Asked about gays, he replied: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” An evasive answer, true, but one that takes away the rebuke or stinging condemnation of them. There’s a lot to be said for priests remaining celibate, but again so by tradition, not by doctrine. His second-in-command in the Vatican, Pietro Parolin, says the practice could be changed in principle to “reflect the democratic spirit of the times.”
The implications of all this for us are patent. It pulls the theological rug out from under the local clergy that have been vociferous in defending all of the above, specifically the ban on contraceptives, with one bishop even attributing the crippling typhoons to God’s wrath because of RH.
In fact, it has nothing to do with God’s wrath, it has to do only with their petty jealousies, or fear of losing dominion over the faithful.
Pope Francis’ trenchant comment should dispel the idiocy: “I see in certain illustrious elite Christians a degradation of what’s religious. They prefer to talk of sexual morality, of everything that has anything to do with sex. That in this case you can do it, that in the other you can’t. We’ve left aside an incredibly rich catechism, the mysteries of faith and belief, and end up centering on whether or not to march against a proposed condom law.”
On a larger plane, the implications of all this for Catholics, which count a throng of Filipinos among them, are enormous, if not as obvious.
Pope Francis’ utterances have been generally received positively by Catholics the world over. “I’m a devout Catholic, always have been,” said Frank Recio of Florida. “I think the Catholic Church had gotten out of touch with the way the world was evolving.” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan was more ecstatic. Pope Francis, he said, “speaks like Jesus and is a breath of fresh air”.
His comparison may not all be that exaggerated, never mind sacrilegious. The way I see it, this development signifies nothing less than moving away from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
From a world that emphasised decrees and punishment to a world that embraces love and compassion. From a world that called for smiting the wayward and raining fire and brimstone on the wicked to one that calls for doing the most for the least of one’s brethren. If I recall my Bible right, the New Testament was ushered in by the tearing of the thick curtain that separated the Holy of Holies, which was accessible only to the top honcho or highest Pharisee, from the rest of the temple where the rest of the faithful worshipped. It was a break, it was the death of the old order, it was the beginning of new way of life. That is what Pope Francis has done not just for Catholics but for humanity.
He has torn the veil.