Pope Francis, The Magenta Catholic

Saturday, September 21, 2013 - 8:01am
Pope Francis, The Magenta Catholic

Charles Camosy argues that only in a world dominated by our lazy binaries could Pope Francis be considered "liberal" simply because he doesn't fit into "conservative" categories.

Commentary by:
Charles C. Camosy (@nohiddenmagenta),  Guest Contributor
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22 ReflectionsRead/Add Yours

Pope Francis prays in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on September 7, 2013.

License: AFP/Getty Images.

Lots of people are talking about our (still very new) Bishop of Rome — and especially his recent interview in America. Mark Silk says we have a "liberal" pope. So do Rod Dreher and many other commentators.

Do we? Perhaps it shows the limits of using secular political language that I'm not exactly sure what it means for Pope Francis to be considered "liberal" (thank goodness for America's new editorial policy rejecting the use of secular political categories in a Catholic context), but most self-described Catholic liberals are against authoritarian popes. How does this pope describe himself in the interview?

"My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative."

Catholic liberals are also generally suspicious of "pre-Vatican II" liturgical and devotional practices. Like use of the Latin language, praying of the rosary, and Eucharistic adoration. How does Pope Francis feel about these things? From the interview:

"I pray the breviary [in Latin] every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration."

But if there is one thing we know after the America interview yesterday, Pope Francis wants us to lay off issues like abortion, right? Except the very next day after the interview was published, Pope Francis said the following in an address to gynecologists:

“Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to be aborted, has the face of the Lord…. Although by their nature they are at the service of life, health professions are sometimes induced to disregard life itself…. If you lose the personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber and makes people capable of mutual help.”

The point Francis is making, which Benedict XVI and John Paul II have been making (less well) for decades, is that abortion is connected to a host of very important issues. If you obsess over abortion, you not only do a disservice to the Gospel (which is, of course, primary), you also paradoxically undermine your ability to work for justice of our prenatal children. One of the things which makes yesterday's interview so powerful is that Francis has been far more effective in making this point than were his predecessors. But the point he made is perhaps the guiding principle of Benedict's Caritas in Veritate.

Only in a world dominated by our lazy liberal/conservative, red/blue binary could Pope Francis be considered "liberal" simply because he doesn't fit into "conservative" categories. Quite rightly, Francis is a magenta Catholic — unburdened by the totally inadequate secular political categories that almost everyone is once again using to discuss and judge his papacy. And he gives every sign that he will continue to confound the wisdom of our time — but this, of course, is precisely what we should expect from the Gospel.

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Charles C. Camosy is an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in the Bronx. He works on initiatives that foster intellectual solidarity between binary groups that find conversation difficult. He serves on the ethics committee of the Children’s Hospital of New York and as an advisory board member for the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He's the author of the forthcoming book, For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action and regularly blogs at Catholic Moral Theology.

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22Reflections

Before even reading this article I have to comment on the lead... it seems to me that "liberal" theology is not necessarily to western "liberal" politics. It is a shame that the word liberal is the only word available to describe to very different concepts.

Perhaps faithful is the word,faithful to God and to his, as well as ours, humanity...

I would guess that in a very large number of cases abortion has not been an "easy answer" for those who've had them. But in our binary world abortion is looked upon as an "easy answer." If Pope Francis is able to hit our binary discourse in the head and cause it to become more thoughtful, cause us to stop taking sides and instead begin (again) to think for ourselves, he will have surely done God's work on earth in bringing us back to the full burden and freedom of free will.

I agree with Mr. Carmosy. However, I think Mr. Carmosy's point is exactly what Pope Francis is attempting to address within the Church - the willingness and and lazy habit of indulging in easy binary thinking. Because binary thinking within the Church has been so prevalent within the conservative groups, it feels liberal to suggest a new approach. In fact, revolutionary does not automatically equate with liberal. I, personally, will take thoughtful, many-layered and connective dialogue any day over what we have had in the recent past!

First time I've encountered the notion of "binary groups", but welcome the idea. I suppose there have to be "either/or" categories as well as "both/and" ones. Clearly life (and the Gospel) resist any such reductions or distillations. I wonder if it is the western culture in general, or the cultural media (lazy?) that depends on competing ideologies for it's fuel. I also wonder if Francis' nuance and willingness to appear paradoxical will wear out our religious observers, and they will determine it's just too much work to understand a pope who won't sit still for his customary labeling.

No, Pope Francis is not conservative or liberal -- he is radical, as radical is found in the Gospel. I have seen that "radicalness" in action on a local level, but for the world to be reminded of it and see it carried out faithfully s something we have sorely needed for a while.

I find Prof. Carmosy's commentary fascinating and liberating! I think to put Pope Francis in a box in attempt to easily understand him does all of us a disservice and cuts off the conversation. I find Pope Francis to be a breath of fresh air and I believe he offers a more complex view of some very complicated issues--thank you God!

He's a "Christian", in the best sense of the word, simple as that. I'm not Catholic. I'm not a fan of dogma and doctrine, but I'm a huge fan of Jesus of Nazareth. The new, pope, it seems to me, is following in Jesus' footsteps. Jesus was not about rules and condemnation, he was about love and salvation. I wish the new pope well, and hope he continues down Jesus' path for the rest of his pontificate. You can't go wrong with a path like that.

On abortion, sounded like political back-pedaling to me.

My belief is that there is much truth on all sides of issues. To see Christ as Redeemer is to see the reconciliation of opposites. Life is complicated and sometimes choices must be made between saving one life at the expense of another as in cases where the life of the mother in problem pregnancies may be in danger. There are some cases where very young girls cannot carry a child to term. Could Pope Francis understand this?

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