The pope means well, but…
Pope Francis has belatedly, if not gratuitously, issued a decree allowing the blessing of same sex couples throughout the Roman Catholic realm. Priests can now bless same-sex unions. This blessing must not be construed to be a sacrament, as marriage is. God does not bless sin, the argument goes, and this relates to same sex unions and any union outside of marriage. Thus, the declaration is not meant to be an endorsement of same-sex marriages, but allowing the grace of God to be available to all God’s creatures.
The declaration — Fiducia supplicans — sought to make clear that what is intended is an endorsement of the person and not sins committed by such individuals. It was carefully worded to avoid any ambiguities — though one is not sure if it achieved this.
A priest can bless a homosexual couple, but the couple would need to be instructed that the grace that comes to them through this blessing cannot be confused with that which comes through marriage. Is God’s grace selective and does one have to tiptoe around God’s liberal generosity in extending his grace to anyone in whatever station in life they find themselves?
As I heard one man remarked, help me with this “confusement”.
I can understand the pope’s ecclesiastical reticence and his adopting a more pastoral than a magisterial, rule-driven approach. It is this rule-driven emphasis that has been the problem with churches with highly hierarchical structures like the Roman Catholic Church. In the main, this approach has tended to be more suffocating than liberating. It has made it difficult for people to make a distinction between the liberality of God’s grace that flows to the sinner and the judicial assertion of the Church’s authority over things deemed to be sinful.
Nonetheless, the latest attempt by the pope is a step in the right direction. In his brief reign he has gone further than any of his predecessors in the last 100 years in pulling back the curtains and allowing some fresh breeze to blow in the monolithic structure of the Vatican. He has trod where many before him feared to.
Recently, he has been embroiled with some of the leaders in the church who want to maintain the status quo and the musty atmosphere that prevails. But he is unfazed in what has to be done and one believes that if he had greater physical vitality and energy there is more that he would do to the chagrin of the ultra-conservatives in the church.
In a real sense, every pope, or leader of a church for that matter, is very much a “prisoner” of the post he or she occupies. The pope is no different where the papacy is concerned. He is bound by the protocols that are centuries-old and any attempt to shake the foundations of long-accepted rules and regulations is bound to cause serious personal discomforts. Thus, any leader wanting to do so must be prepared for a lot of pushback. This is the nature and bane of religious organisations with strong, hierarchical cleavages. Like the Titanic, they are not easily turned in mid-ocean.
Yet, there needs to be that turning, however imperceptible. For the Roman Catholic Church, this is particularly so in the area of the ordination of women. Just as same sex couples cannot enjoy the grace of God in marriage, neither can women access the grace of God that comes through the sacrament of ordination. For the church it seems only sufficient for women to be given token responsibilities, such as the lay administration of the Eucharist and some other elevated roles that were recently allowed, or only to be recognised for their sterling contribution to the church.
But their call to ordination, which is essentially a call of the Holy Spirit, properly understood, cannot be allowed by a male-dominated hierarchy. I say properly understood to underline the fact that a woman’s gift for ministry is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit in that person’s life. Can such a call be abrogated by the magisterial authority of any religious organisation?
Sure, the call must be tested in community, but where is the possibility of such tests being made when the matter has already been determined by doctrine which may not even comport with the urgings of the Spirit? Just asking.
I am grateful for the ministry of Pope Francis because he has approached his task, first and foremost, as a pastor. This is the task that anyone wanting to be a minister of the gospel must have. I hope that the seeds he is planting for reform will bear good fruits for the future, and that the Church of over one billion adherents will become less fossilised than it presently is. My prayers are with him.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life’s Storms; The Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life, and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.