Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Progressive Perspectives on the Papacy (Part 5)

The Wild Reed's special series examining the papacy continues with Catholic theologian Mary E. Hunt's truly radical (in the truest sense of the word) perspective, one that conveys her interest in "getting rid of the papacy and other trappings of monarchy in favor of a democratic, participatory model of church."

It's a perspective that's shared in Hunt's commentary "What the Papal Transition Means and What Feminists Can Do About It," published just days before the March 13 election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. Following is an excerpt.

. . . No matter who is elected, the process is mortally flawed because it represents a model of church that is long out of date. Until and unless structural changes take place to develop a well integrated, representative governing model in which all members of the Catholic community – including women, married/partnered people, young people – are involved there will be no change. Beginning with local base communities and parishes, adult members need to have real decision-making power about personnel, money, property, sacramental, and social justice work. The same goes for dioceses and regions such that increasingly representative bodies make decisions that clerics cannot overrule. This includes people from the poorest most marginalized parts of the world whose well being and dignity ought to be the center of Catholic concern but clearly is not. We who are part of the community expect and demand that we exercise voice, vote, and responsibility in ministry and in governance.

I am not interested in the personal characteristics of a new pope, even in betting on the outcome of the papal horse race. That is the patriarchal frame of the discussion, which I think feminists need to reject. If I respond favoring Cardinal X over Cardinal Y, or if I sketch out the characteristics of a “kinder gentler” pope, then I am conceding that the model is acceptable. It is not.

I am interested in getting rid of the papacy and other trappings of monarchy in favor of a democratic, participatory model of church. Please don’t suggest that I become a Presbyterian. Though some of my best friends are Presbyterians, I am what a Catholic can and should look like in the 21st century. This is the change we need.

Even though my goal of dismantling the kyriarchy* is unlikely to hold sway, I want to look at the religious significance of the elite, exclusionary approaches to governance that are playing out on worldwide television and web because they have a shaping influence. I try to forget what I know about all of the inner dealings of the Roman Catholic Church (electing a pope is like watching the law and sausage being made – not a pretty sight) and imagine what those who simply see the spectacle played out on screen think. I suspect that what people see is at once convincing and confusing.

The trope of tradition is very persuasive. Even though the most recent pope resigned and then made up new rules for the conclave that will replace him, most people do not see the clear elasticity of the church. Those in power reserve to themselves such conscience-bound decisions as resigning from the papacy, while women who make choices about their own bodies are labeled sinners. The gentlemen change the conclave rules with the wave of a Motu Proprio (“on his own impulse”) as they call it, but when we lay people decide on our own impulses to use birth control or to love in a same-sex way we are considered sinful.

The smoke and mirrors that the media report on draw people’s attention to mistaken notions of timeless, tradition-bound splendor. It is hard to compete with the costumes – everyone knows about the pope’s red shoes that signify the blood of the martyrs – the music, the buildings, the grounds for what appears to be God’s own realm. People love the quaint notion that the Cardinal electors will be locked away without their smart phones to let the Holy Spirit decide on the pope’s successor. I do not want to offend anyone, but I am realistic enough to think the deal is long done and the pageantry, not unlike the Wizard of Oz, is simply good for business.

What astounds me is why intelligent people, especially those in the media, are not scratching their heads in utter confusion about the whole scene. Shareholders, stakeholders have absolutely no input into the process. Imagine if this kind of election took place in Cuba or in Washington! I would think they would have some critical questions to ask – where are the women, where are the young people, where are more people of color who make up the growing majority in the church? Of a billion people this tiny cadre has all the power? What is wrong with this picture?

A great deal is wrong with it. The worst part, in my view, is the instrumentalization of religion, of people’s faith, to reinscribe and reinforce ways of being and acting as if they were the will of the divine. This is blasphemy. I make no such counter claim that my approach is what God wants. Rather, I assume that human beings can and should organize themselves in ways that reflect their most deeply held values. To see 115 men hold the power in a worldwide community is frightening because of what it means about their sense of the divine. Obviously they think God favors men over women, the few over the many, their privileged information over the sensus fidelium. Where they read this in Christian scripture is not clear. I respectfully disagree and urge us to change the power model as quickly as possible, beginning by withdrawing financial support from the institutional Roman Catholic Church.

There are deep social implications of the world’s largest Christian denomination modeling a monarchical way of being in an increasingly democratic world. Apart from looking ridiculous and offending people at every turn such that the second largest denomination in the US is ex-Catholics, the outcome of this exercise is to reinforce the power of patriarchy. If these men can act with impunity then other corporations can have few if any women in their boardrooms. If this monarchical model is acceptable, than governments do not need to allow their citizens voice and vote. If God wills the outcome of a papal election, then surely God wills wars, ecocide, and other human-made problems. I reject this theology. . . .

To read Mary Hunt's commentary in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Progressive Perspectives on the Papacy (Part 1)
Progressive Perspectives on the Papacy (Part 2)
Progressive Perspectives on the Papacy (Part 3)
Progressive Perspectives on the Papacy (Part 4)
Beyond Papalism
Casanova-Inspired Reflections on Papal Power - at 30,000 ft.
Mary Hunt: "Catholicism is a Very Complex Reality"
Crisis? What Crisis?
Mary Hunt on Our Catholic "Stonewall Moment"

Related Off-site Links:
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes - Mary E. Hunt (Feminist Studies in Religion, February 14, 2013).
Theology Has Consequences: What Policies Will Pope Francis Champion? – Mary E. Hunt (Religion & Politics, March 18, 2013).
Francis at Inaugural Mass: Pope Must Be Servant, 'Inspired by Lowly' – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, March 19, 2013).
Pope Sets Tone for Humbler Papacy, Calls for Defense of the Weak – Philip Pullella and Catherine Hornby (Reuters via Yahoo! News, March 19, 2013).
Response of a Gay Catholic to Pope Francis' Installation Homily: Does "Everyone" Include LGBT Human Beings? – William D. Lindsey (Bilgimage, March 19, 2013).
Could Pope Francis Fit a Popular Progressive Poem? – Sharon Abercrombie (National Catholic Reporter, March 19, 2013).
Note to New Pope: Half of the World's Poor Are Women – Marian Ronan (Religion Dispatches, March 13, 2013).

* Notes Mary Hunt, “ ‘Kyriarchy’ is a term coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. It means, literally, structures of lordship. It denotes the interstructured forms of oppression – gender, race, class, nationality, sexuality and the like – that result in power differences and injustice. Kyriarchy is used to distinguish the hierarchical, clerical model of church from the larger Catholic community. Fiorenza includes a useful discussion of kyriocentrism in her Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001].”


Anonymous said...

Please if you cannot accept Roman Catholic teaching and want to live a homosexual lifestyle,why dont you all leave and start up a church of your own. I can assure you that all of you will not be missed.Its clear that you want to change basic Catholic teaching so if a new Church is started up all of you have a good start .After all you want to create homosexual teaching I.E.that its all right ITS NOT ALL RIGHT PLEASE GO AWAY.

CK said...

wow....she sure has a high regard for herself...

"I am what a Catholic can and should look like in the 21st century. This is the change we need."

Rick Notch said...

"A democratic, participatory model of church" already exists in almost all protestant churches. It really is tiresome to read Catholic writers, progressive Catholic writers, who seem to have no knowledge of the many progressive and democratic Christian communities that surround them. Is there no reality outside of Rome?

Mary E. Hunt said...

There is plenty of reality outside of Rome. There is simply no reason for Rome to act as it does when it is perfectly fine to be a democratic, participatory community that is Catholic. We have learned from Protestants and are indebted to them. It is time for the Catholic community to follow suit.

William D. Lindsey said...

Rick, I agree with you that many Catholics stand to be far better informed about the polity and beliefs of their sisters churches of the Reformation. For that matter, many Catholics are ill-informed about Vatican II's teaching that the Spirit resides in and guides our sister churches every bit as much as we think the Spirit resides in and guides the Catholic church.

My own thinking is that it would be helpful if those working within the Catholic church for a more egalitarian and participatory model of doing church were both supportive of and supported by their brothers and sisters in other churches. If you read the first comment in this thread by Anonymous, you can see why such support is needed.

It's not an easy place to be in, is it, blamed and condemned by fellow Catholics wanting to drive progressive ones out of their church, and blamed and condemned by Christians in other churches who should, one would hope, support progressive Catholics as they call for reformation of their Catholic church?