19 September 2015

FRANKINCENSE AND MIRRORS

LAST UPDATED: 10/12/2015
"The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented."

A few weeks ago, Pope Francis announced that the Vatican would allow its clergy to grant forgiveness - during the Church's "Year of Mercy" - to those who have participated in abortions.

While in the USA, Catholic priests already (for the most part) have the authority to forgive it without needing to get their Bishop's approval, an abortion can still lead to excommunication in many other countries. So, this announcement is rightfully being celebrated as a benevolent message of mercy from the Pope. 

Mercy has been a recurring theme for this Pope. In some ways, he has ushered in a kind of Vatican III, without the hassle. He has confounded the most religious stalwarts with messages of tolerance and reunion. He's even called on mankind (rich countries in particular) to practice environmental stewardship. But, what Pope Francis has done - in allowing abortion to be forgiven for one year - has a sinister, smoke-and-mirrors side to it that must be addressed.

True, a statement like this helps to alleviate mental anguish for many. But, true mercy shouldn't have to come with a slap across the face. The Church should have been prepared to make this the new normal for the very same reason it has been a non-issue in the United States: membership. Putting a 12-month timetable only fuels the stigmatization of abortion, which only perpetuates a cycle of pain and anguish. This cycle is a major reason people leave the Church in the first place. He already acknowledges that this is one of the most difficult and painful decisions people ever have to make. Why add to the pain?

As His Holiness embarks on a 10-day visit to Cuba and the United States, we've already started to see the chatter about the impact he is making on the world's largest denomination. The elevation of Pope Francis, with his convincingly empathetic mission of mercy and tolerance, has undoubtedly strengthened the 'Rock.'

In spite of all the forces surely acting against him along the way, he has done quite a lot to recalibrate the Church for the 21st Century. It's understandable that shedding all that old incense, pomp, and circumstance isn't going to be easy. But, this is his moment to show us how far he's willing to commit - if he's really willing to commit - to a Roman Catholic Chuch for this century.

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UPDATE 09/30/2015 - 10/02/2015 : Well, in light of the recent news that His Holiness, Pope Francis, met secretly with grifter, Kim Davis, it is even more clear now that this Pope - with all the warmth on display throughout his American visit - may indeed like to deal in mixed messages. Whether he knew exactly who Davis is, or if he was led to that meeting under pretense, there are smoke and mirrors very much at play here. And either case points to a Roman Catholic Church, operating business as usual.

[According to the New York Times, the meeting was more generic than the Davis camp would like us to believe. See below.]

I'd be upset if I were on the Kim Davis side of this issue. What does it say that a meeting like that needed to be kept secret while the Pope was in the U.S.? There's no profile in courage, in secrecy. Don't forget, the Pope met many others during that visit.

However this unfolds, it is worth noting that this Pope thinks he'll only be Pope for four or five years. More importantly, the world will be watching the October Synod meeting, where there may be more revealed about the Vatican's attitude towards Catholic LGBT families.

Considering the encouraging tide of progress for the civil LGBT movement of late, with a defining victory at the Supreme Court this summer, it is difficult to believe that this fight is still so fresh and painful - for so many religious LGBTs.

We're not dealing with the U.S. Constitution here, to be clear. Religious institutions, specifically their long held beliefs and teachings (no matter the denomination), do not necessarily reflect the broader society they're in. The key is a society that can respect and live within that balance, as we've enjoyed - more or less - in this country for hundreds of years.

The fatal flaw of the current "religious freedom" debate is their failure to acknowledge that - at worst - religion is only being removed from places it never belonged. There are no lions. Meanwhile, the biggest error the LGBT movement can now make would be to inject itself into areas in which it may not belong.

Of course religion and homosexuality can divide families, but this has no bearing on civil rights. It's a horrible personal ordeal, yes. But one must not forget that our relationship with a "higher power" need not be based or dependent on any man-made institution. At the same time (as the Holy Father has said), who am I to judge those who may think otherwise?

Godspeed.

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... Extra, Extra:
 Later in the day (10/02/2015), according to the Times' story update, the Vatican issued a follow up to their follow up to make crystal clear the Davis meeting was not intended as an endorsement, and that hers was but a name on a list.

This excerpt contains a quote from the editor of the national Jesuit magazine, America, and refers to this strong undercurrent working against the Pope, referred to in my original post. Here's Father Martin:
“I was very disappointed to see the Pope having been used that way, and that his willingness to be friendly to [Kim Davis] was turned against him,” Father Martin wrote. “What may originally have prevented [the Vatican] from issuing a statement was the desire not to give this story too much air. But what they eventually came to realize was that they needed to correct some gross misrepresentations of what had happened. It shows that Pope Francis met with many people on the trip, and that she was simply another person who he tried to be kind to.” 
Well, that says it all.

But, do read the Times update. It goes on extensively about the Vatican making sure to point out that Pope Francis, while in DC, met with his openly gay former student, and his longtime partner of 19 years.

Thank you, Rome, for demonstrating - under this Pope - your clear intent to be and remain respectful to the broader LGBT community and our families, even in the face of such nakedly desperate distortions of the Kim Davis charade. (You'd be surprised where the devil's hands are most evident these days.)

We, who return that respect, see you.

The last word comes from President Obama, speaking about the Pope at a Friday press conference:

"Pope Francis, I love. He's a good man with a warm heart and a big moral imagination... he expresses the essence of Christianity."

Amen.
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UPDATE 10/12/2015 : Clearly, the entrenched conservatives within the Church are losing their bleep over this Pope's approach. It is worth noting the lost irony, that this Pope's approach - more than any other Pope's in modern history - has been to mirror and live precisely the teachings of Jesus Christ himself. Those calling for their voices to be heard must stop and listen. Perhaps they'll finally be able to hear.