Friday, February 21, 2014

Throw "Casuistry" To the Wind – For Family Talks, Francis Wants "Theology While Kneeling"

A couple weeks from now will mark a year since the walls of the Synod Hall shook – at least, figuratively – as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio unleashed his assessment of a "self-referential, sick" church, and many among a stunned pre-Conclave General Congregation punctuated the take with a sudden ovation.

If the Argentine hadn't lit the fuse – with time to spare on his allotted five minutes, to boot – chances are he wouldn't have become Pope. And now, in the same place, the narrative arc of a year that rocked the Catholic world has reached its home stretch.

Any final outcomes, however, remain a good while off.

For the first time as Rome's 266th Bishop, Francis convoked the city's historic clergy – the College of Cardinals – yesterday, opening his first addition to the body with the creation of 19 new members tomorrow morning. Now numbering 218 prelates with the new intake, while some 185 red-hats were initially expected to be on-hand, the first day's turnout was considerably lighter, with only 150 said to be in the room.

In any event, the shape of the day marked a new threshold for the prime function of the papal "Senate" – advising the Pope. As John Paul II had only consulted broadly with the college on a handful of occasions over his 27-year reign, Benedict XVI responded by introducing a "day of prayer and reflection" to preface each of his four major Consistories.

Prepared by the professor-Pope in the style of a seminar, Ratzinger's sense of programming tended to be too packed by long addresses from hand-picked prelates on topics ranging from the retirement age of bishops, clergy sex-abuse and Anglicanorum coetibus to the New Evangelization to allow for any kind of profound interaction. Now, in his turn at the format, Francis has signaled his premium on hearing the "mind of the body" instead by extending the session to two days, while culling back its agenda to just one item: the pastoral challenges facing the family – Papa Bergoglio's marquee issue-item for 2014, set to culminate at October's Extraordinary Synod on the same topic.

At the same time, what the Pope's "script" lacked in a heavy roster, it more than made up for with his choice of messenger. Yet again, no small amount of shockwaves made the rounds on the announcement that the retired Christian Unity Czar, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, would be the keynote speaker at yesterday's opening session. For all the warmth that's marked the unprecedented dynamic of "two Popes" coexisting behind the walls, the move signaled yet another theological turn from the mind of Ratzinger toward a greater openness to the thought of his rivals.

A onetime assistant to Hans Küng, Kasper memorably clashed with the future B16 over the primacy of the universal or local church and, before his 1998 arrival in Rome, over the very issue that's become the flashpoint of Francis' call to reflection on family life: the standing of civilly remarried Catholics, particularly on their reception of the sacraments.

Specifically citing the "adamant refusal" of the Eucharist posed by the latter scenario, Kasper wrote in 2001 that "no bishop should be silent or stand idly by when he finds himself [facing] such a situation."

Within days of his election, the new Pope began showcasing the German iconoclast as – to quote Mickens – "the theologian of his pontificate." At his first Angelus, Francis conspicuously plugged Kasper's recent opus on mercy, hailing him as an "on the ball" thinker. Even before the election, meanwhile, the cardinal – who, having turned 80 days after B16's resignation, was able to vote in the Conclave by the skin of his teeth – said the next Pope "need[ed] to realize the perception of the Second Vatican Council; we have not accomplished this task... to fully realize collegiality."

Kasper went on to call for "a modest Church, not self-referential, perhaps not poor, but modest and humble as well."

In other words, the whole ship he asked for suddenly docked along the banks of the Tiber.

According to the summaries provided by the VatiSpox Fr Federico Lombardi and some participants, Kasper's lengthy reflection yesterday returned to the tension between the application of mercy and the non-negotiable truths of divine revelation. While the cardinal did treat the question of the civilly remarried among other practical pastoral concerns, the keynoter said in the run-up to his turn at the podium that he wasn't looking to push a position so much as lay out the principles at hand. He did, however, probe the possibility of a return to the once-widespread concept (subsequently clamped down upon by Rome) of dealing with civil remarriage as a matter of the "internal forum" – that is, in the context of Confession as opposed to the "external forum" of a tribunal.

While the text of Kasper's talk wasn't released by the Holy See, Francis' brief introductory remarks were published shortly after delivery:

Dear brothers,

I extend a warm greeting to you all and, with you, I thank the Lord who has given us these days of meeting and working together. We welcome especially our brothers who will be created Cardinals on Saturday and we accompany them with our prayers and fraternal affection. I wish to thank also Cardinal Sodano for his words.

During these days, we will reflect in particular on the family, which is the fundamental cell of society. From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family then is an image of the Triune God in the world.

Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life. We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires. May we do so thoughtfully and without falling into "casuistry", because this would inevitably diminish the quality of our work. Today, the family is looked down upon and mistreated. We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today; and how indispensable the family is for the life of the world and for the future of humanity. We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family and to help spouses joyfully experience this plan in their lives, as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties with a pastoral care that is sound, courageous and full of love.

On behalf of everyone, I thank Cardinal Walter Kasper for his valuable contribution which he will offer us with his introduction.

Thank you all, and have a productive day!
As is his habit, Francis defined his reference to "casuistry" alongside lobbing it into the seats of the Synod Hall. At his morning Mass before today's second session, the Pope recalled the Gospel accounts of "all those who approached Jesus to present him with cases such as: is it lawful to to pay taxes to Caesar?" or the case of the widow, "poor thing, who according to the law had to marry the seven brothers of her husband in order to have a child.

As the two evince, "casuistry is precisely the place to which all those people go who believe they have faith," but instead reflexively rattle off precepts, Francis said. "When we find a Christian [who asks] if it is licit to do this and if the church could do that... [either] they do not have faith, or it is too weak."

The Pope went on to contrast these with figures from the Gospels "who do not know doctrine but have great faith."

"Theoretically, we can say the Creed, even without faith, and there are many people who do so," Francis went on, pointedly adding that "even demons" do.

"Demons know well what is said in the Creed," he added, "and know that it is the Truth."

The other danger alongside "casuistry," he warned, is "ideology": "Christians who think of faith, but as a system of ideas, ideologues: even in the time of Jesus, there were people like this. The Apostle John tells them that they are the antichrist, the ideologues of faith, whatever sign they may be.... [T]hose who fall into casuistry or those that fall into the trap of ideologies are Christians who know the doctrine, but without faith, like demons."

Despite the clarified understanding of the term, again, any firm resolutions remain a significant amount of time away. Following the close of the 14 hours of talks with the cardinals, on Monday the action shifts to the 15-member Synod Council – a global A-list of cardinals and other senior bishops – and its final preparations for the working document of the October gathering.

In keeping with his unique custom since taking office, the Pope is likely to be on hand for most, if not all, of the two-day deliberations down the street. Only once the fruit of its labors – the text of the instrumentum laboris – emerges sometime around Easter can any authoritative sense be had of what is and isn't "on the table" come October.

Along the way, earlier today Francis' choices to lead the autumn meeting emerged. Keeping with the Synod's protocols, the sessions will be conducted by a trio of Presidents-delegate: Cardinals André Vingt-Trois of Paris, the "golden child" Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, and the Brazilian Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, a former president of the CELAM and close Bergoglio ally, who's believed to have been a key mover in the last Conclave.

Though the freshly-tapped trio will handle the mechanics of the floor, last October already brought the appointments of the most significant figures in laying the groundwork for the discussions: the Hungarian primate, Cardinal Peter Erdö of Budapest, widely seen as a "conservative," as the 2014 Synod's Relator-General, and Bruno Forte – the Italian theologian-bishop hailed by progressives – as the meeting's Secretary.

All that said, the next round in the Synod Hall isn't the last stage of the effort. With this fall's two-week gathering set to be dominated in its makeup by the presidents of the episcopal conferences from around the globe, the "endgame" isn't slated until October 2015, when an Ordinary Synod (a larger meeting, including non-ordained representatives) will meet to mark the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.

Opening today's second session with his red hats, meanwhile, Francis thanked Kasper again for his keynote, terming it "profound theology, serene theology," which he said reflected the "sensus ecclesiae... that love for Mother Church, right there" contained in the teaching of no less than Bergoglio's own spiritual father: the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola.

"This is called doing theology while kneeling," the Pope said of his chosen keynoter... and so it seems, it's likewise his wish for the long, arduous discernment he's pushed into motion.