Saturday, February 11, 2017

La Civiltà Cattolica and the “Spirit of the Age”

Rev. Antonio Spadaro, SJ. (Photo: Magyar Kurír.)
Brace yourselves. Once again, someone in the Vatican has challenged Church doctrine in a way that implicates Pope Francis, on an issue about which he has already spoken — women’s ordination to the priesthood. (Surprise, surprise, the culprit is a Jesuit.) Arguably, the last pope to have total control over his staff was St. Gregory the Great. Certainly, it’s dubious whether any pope since Pius XII has had a curia and bureaucracy that were all striving to the same end. But even the most doughty of papal defenders must occasionally find himself irritated by Francis’ seeming unwillingness to ride herd on the Vatican administration.

This is Where We Came In …

On Tuesday, February 7, Sandro Magister reported on an article published in the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, written by Fr. Giancarlo Pani, SJ. Titled “La Donna e il Diacono,” Magister claims that in the article, “Fr. Pani calmly rips to shreds the ‘last clear word’ — meaning the flat no — that John Paul II spoke against women’s priesthood.”

Yawn, you say; haven’t we seen this movie before, during the reigns of Benedict XVI and St. John Paul himself? Ah, says Magister, but this is different! You see, the Holy See inspects and authorizes every line it publishes! Plus, the editor is none other than papal confidant Fr. Antonio Spadaro, and Fr. Pani is not only a deputy editor but his closest colleague!

And Francis is the first “not to limit himself to what is already known, but wants to delve into a complex and relevant field, so that it may be the Spirit who guides the Church,” concludes La Civiltà Cattolica, evidently with the pope’s imprimatur.

The first rule in dealing with news from the Vatican: Not everybody in the Vatican is on the same page. In fact, going off-script is almost an intramural sport. Most bureaucracies have functionaries whose agendas differ from the person supposedly in charge of the mess. The Vatican differs only in that the subversion is more rampant and sometimes more blatant. Since Pius XII, the popes have as often had to work against the bureaucracy as with it. Nobody should assume that anybody in the Holy See does anything unusual with the full knowledge of the Pope, or even with the minimum knowledge of the next person up the food chain.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Chittister Challenge 2: Supply, Demand, and the “Culture of Life”

On Saturday, January 28, Joe Heschmeyer published an essay, “Seven Answers to the ‘Pro-Lifers are just Pro-Birth’ Argument,” in his blog Shameless Popery. The essay offers rebuttals to a meme featuring the quote from Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, that I wrote of a couple of years ago. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Joe, who is a student at the Pontifical American College in Vatican City (and, I believe, should be coming up on his transitional diaconate this year). I earnestly commend the essay to your attention; it’s very well balanced in its treatment of the argument.

Supply and Demand

However, Joe’s essay did prompt me to do a little more drilling on the subject, to embrace a little more of the political context in which the argument arises. The recent elections brought to the surface a long-standing tension between two different camps within the pro-life movement, camps which I will for brevity’s sake call the supply-side and demand-side branches. While the meme Joe dissects arose in a pro-abortion context, the quote has also had currency among demand-side pro-lifers.

The supply-side pro-life camp, which we could also call the first-wave movement, is mostly concerned with the legality of abortion and euthanasia, along with some related issues such as assisted suicide, cloning, IVF, and contraception. Politically, they tend to be older and more conservative or right-wing libertarian. As Joe rightly points out, conservatives are more likely to donate time and money to support charitable causes than are liberals, so it’s not like they’re stingy. However, precisely because their politics are more conservative, their view of the scope of “pro-life” is, for want of a more charitable word, narrower. They highly resist the importation of other issues, such as Syrian refugees or undocumented immigrants, into the pro-life purview and refuse the creation of government intervention programs. Because their concern is mostly with the legal and political mechanisms permitting the “death industry” to exist, one can say they seek to shut off the supply.

By contrast, the demand-side camp or second-wave movement tends to be younger, as well as more moderate to liberal in their politics though less willing to affiliate with either party or identify with either ideology. The demand-siders recognize that economic and social issues often drive the choice for death; by addressing those issues, they seek to reduce the demand. For this reason, they’re more likely to support government intervention and more willing to pay the taxes required to support the efforts. The pro-life movement as a whole is concerned with what Vice-President Mike Pence called “[society’s] most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.” The second-wave movement, influenced by the consistent life ethic articulated most notably by Cdl. Joseph Bernardin and in St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, extends its recognition of vulnerability to immigrants, refugees, the homeless, and other socially marginalized people.[*]