Mar 16, 2013

Pope Francis, Muslims and Gays

(This looks like a fun ride. Reminds me not so much of John Paul I as of John XXIII.)

Finally, the story I was looking for. UK's Daily Telegraph has just reminded us that when Benedict made his infamous remarks about Muslims some years ago, then Cardinal Bergoglio issued a sharp rebuke to his pontiff, saying "Benedict's statement doesn't reflect my own opinions. These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul I built up over the past twenty years." Bergoglio then encouraged his subordinates to do the same. When Rome reacted swiftly to the negative criticism,  removing a subordinate Bishop from his position and threatening Bergoglio's own position, the Cardinal chose to boycott Pope Benedict's second synod, remaining in Argentina.

This, in my opinion, is a very telling incident. It demonstrates without ambiguity that Bergoglio does not consider the pope above criticism and sharp rebuke from his fellow Bishops/Cardinals. No absolutism here, and that is a very healthy sign. This is the kind of demythologized approach to the papacy I was praying for in the election of a new pope. I don't believe any pope, however openminded, can do much to effect substantial change in doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church, not in the short term at this point in history. What a humble pope can do, however, is reduce the aura of infallible mystagogy that surrounds the Papacy as it has evolved over the past 150 years, thereby making it easier for Catholic bishops in particular to raise their timid voices suggesting change. The gordian knot of Papal authority has to be unraveled before change swelling up from the grass roots can be accepted at the top. I believe the church has just taken - wily nily - a step in that direction. Hang onto your hats, this is going to be a very interesting ride, no matter what traditional pronouncements may be made on sexual, gay and feminist issues.

Secondly, and more obviously, Bergoglio's sharp rebuke to Benedict shows how open to other faith communities he truly is. His favorite painting is Chagall's White Crucifixion, which is coincidentally part of my side bar on the right here at Gay Mystic (look down below). The painting imagines the Crucifixion as a symbol of the suffering inflicted on the Jewish people over  the centuries, with Jesus clearly depicted as  Jewish sufferer of injustice - wearing a Jewish prayer shawl. It's now known Bergoglio has had a very close relationship with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires. From the Muslim incident, we can now be reassured his Jewish sympathies do not preclude openness to the Muslim community as well.

I have just breathed a three day sigh of relief at the election of this man, not because I believe a pope alone can do much difference, but because of the evident goodness of the man and my own peaceful, joyful interior response, a response that does not feel like it is of my own making, but seems like a gift of the Spirit within. Walking humbly out onto a balcony is not enough to convince. When that is coupled with a deep interior joy and peace within oneself, then it feels like the Holy Spirit is encouraging one to trust in this interior disposition as a sign of authenticity. My interior sense is telling me something wonderful has just happened to the Roman Catholic Church. It will not be the end of all problems, far from it, and the man himself may have to be sharply rebuked in turn down the road.  But a small step has been taken in the right direction and we are all the richer for it. The pope has to be put in his place, and Pope Francis may be just the man to do it.

I have tried to bring this same spirit of discernment to the issue of his behavior during Argentina's dirty war and the conclusion is the same, a deep sense of inner peace that whatever faults he may have committed during those years, they were not egregious crimes, and he has somehow learned from the experience.

However - to come down to earth a bit - I've just finished Alex Sanchez's marvelous gay teen Christian novel, The God Box  (part of my required reading for a gay teen novel I'm working on). Without a doubt, this is the finest young adult novel out there for struggling, doubting, searching gay Christian teens. A beautiful, heart-wrenching gay love story, which also includes a horrible life threatening incident of gay bashing, the novel successfully interweaves into the narrative a series of brilliant investigations of the key 'anti-gay' passages in the Bible, giving young gay Christian teens the very best in progressive, enlightened biblical exegesis. The novel also ends on a high note of true and passionate love between two gay teens, but only after taking us through a valley of Christian fueled homophobic hate. This is a classic.

Finishing this right at the 'end' of the hoopla surrounding the election of Pope Francis, I felt sharply reminded that however good a man the present pope may be - and I believe him to be very very good - he is going to have to be challenged down the road on his own attitudes towards the LGBT community. The psychological, moral and spiritual well being of young gay teens is at stake - not to mention their very physical survival in some cases. The church which has probably caused the most damage of all organized religions to gay people throughout history  has to be held to account, and good Pope Francis is now the central symbol of unity of this Church. Get ready, Pope Francis, we demand to be heard.