Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pope Francis

It was refreshing for once to hear Pope Francis strike a more moderate tone when speaking about gay relationships in his impromptu press conference, on board his plane returning from South America.



He said that he wasn’t in a position to judge on homosexuals who try to live a good life seeking God.
However on reflection this seemed a somewhat grudging admission that does not really address the key issue.


Would he have used the same language for example in speaking of heterosexuals?
Of course not! So his attitude, though admittedly coming across as perhaps more conciliatory that his predecessor, conceals a big problem.


Francis, indeed was keen to maintain the traditional line that the Catholic Church does not condemn homosexuality in itself but rather the expression of sexual acts by homosexuals.
However this begs the huge issue that for persons born gay, in effect he is telling them that they cannot hope to give direct expression to their sexual identity. Thus it must be repressed entirely or sublimated directly in a spiritual fashion.


Now it is true that celibacy is still maintained by the Church - though the position is becoming increasingly controversial - as the appropriate state for Catholic priests. But then again the traditional view looks on this as a special calling or “vocation” which is granted only to the relative few who wish to serve Christ in a special way.


However when it comes to homosexuals, somehow the assumption is made that all must adopt the same special calling if they wish to be considered acceptable members of the Church. Alternatively they can seek to mask their identities by pretending to be normal heterosexuals. And if they if then marry and have families, though in fact living a lie, at least they will have the satisfaction of being considered as valid members of the Catholic community!


The position of the Catholic Church is in fact at bottom untenable based on a false stereotypical notion of sexual identity.


Indeed fundamentally it looks on homosexual identity - somewhat like a psychotic condition - as a disorder of the personality. So, just as one might not directly blame a person for being psychotic, likewise the Catholic Church will say it does not blame a person for being homosexual. But fundamentally, it does not accept homosexual orientation and indeed its whole sexual identity as having any basic validity.


And I think that most fair minded people will see this as simply an outrageous position which in practice does absolutely nothing to help homosexuals deal with the many difficult issues they have to face as a minority in a society that has long discriminated against them because of their identity.


There is an important shadow side to this attitude of the Catholic Church on homosexuality (which helps better explain its nature).
This is rooted in its strong conception of God as being (exclusively) male. So one extreme, excludes the other (as its unrecognised shadow). So, if we see God spiritually in homosexual terms (i.e. based on an exclusively male relationship) this thereby tends to exclude acceptance of gay relationships in physical sexual terms.


When one reflects on Catholic theology, this male symbolism is indeed very pronounced.
So God is looked on as the Father who sends his beloved Son (Jesus Christ) into the world to redeem it.
Though the Virgin Mary is admittedly granted a privileged place, it is made entirely clear that she is not God and owes her place as a special favour of the Father.


This then is very much in keeping with the continuing attempt to identify the entire ministry of the Church in exclusively male terms, with any privileged position for women granted as a special favour by their male lords (ultimately symbolised by the Holy Father).


Indeed in is same impromptu address yesterday, Pope Francis spoke of his wish for a greater role for women, but once again maintained the traditional Church stance that women should continue to be excluded from priestly ministry.


So again though superficially seeming like a healthy departure, we find that in fact that he is not really willing to challenge the status quo.


Again it seems outrageous to me that the institutional Church can continue to maintain such blatant discrimination against women at a time when secular society has come to see the traditional exclusion of women from so many positions in society as unjust (and indeed has already made considerable progress in addressing these issues.)    


Rather lamely the Church uses the fact that Christ himself appointed male followers as leaders to justify its exclusion of women from ministry (and of course thereby from the exercise of power within the institution).
However if we are to appeal to the example of Christ as a guide to subsequent behaviour, how can we possibly accept the present position of an institutional Church - not alone centred at the heart of the old Roman Empire - but enjoying a special privileged political status (i.e. the Vatican) as a separate state within Rome?


How could anyone remotely maintain that this is the Church that Christ intended his followers to create in his name?


Now again, while Pope Francis does genuinely give the impression that he is deeply uncomfortable with all the trappings of power and privilege associated with life in the Vatican, yet once again he is not willing to directly challenge the status quo (e.g. by signalling that the papacy should move from the Vatican).


So I have raised three issues here which Pope Francis in his short reign seemingly has sought to address.
However, a great deal more is clearly required than what he so far has been willing to offer.