kim davis and the pope

The news that Pope Francis had a secret meeting with Kim Davis on September 24th sent some hearts sinking, while others soared with joy. The possible political ramifications are undeniable. Kim Davis, whom David Gibson described as an “icon of the culture wars”, is the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for gay couples. A conservative Christian, she believes that the new law of the land conflicts with God’s law. Her supporters are already using the event as a papal affirmation of their cause.

My heart was one of the sinking ones when I read this news. I keep telling myself that Pope Francis is only human. It is impossible to address all the issues, and please all people all the time. I need to focus on the good news that he is spreading. But, the elephants in the room seem to be growing each day, threatening to squash the good news with that nasty stuff that make elephants a poor house pet.

There were two other groaner moments for many Catholics during the papal visit. The first was the clumsy and insensitive addresses by Francis to priests and bishops regarding the sexual abuse crisis. (Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, a psychologist who has been working with sexual abuse survivors for 30 years, wrote an insightful article for NCR on this issue.)

The second moment was on the plane trip back to Rome, when Pope Francis reiterated that women’s ordination would never take place because John Paul II said so. Many theologians have discounted the reasoning used by both John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger for declaring all discussion on the topic closed for all time.

And, now we hear of a private meeting with a woman whose very public actions have deepened the ideological divisions surrounding the legalizing of same sex marriage.

Many of us would have loved a private meeting with Pope Francis, so there is perhaps more than a little envy and anger. Why her? Why now? How about all the women and men in the USA who have tirelessly promoted social justice for decades? Wouldn’t they be more deserving of a papal audience? OK, so Jesus hung around folks that infuriated his followers too.

In his address to the American bishops, Francis stressed the need for dialogue.

Dialogue is our method…dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society.

Perhaps this meeting was simply about dialogue? Perhaps the pope was curious to find out more about this person who was making headlines in the USA as a conscientious objector?

I try to promote dialogue through this blog. And, yet, I admit that there are many people in this world that I would avoid talking to at all cost. Talking dialogue is much easier than doing dialogue.

Kim Davis and I do not share the same views on same sex marriage. I admit to having preconceived notions of her as a right-wing Christian who views the world through the black and white prism of religious fundamentalism. Would I willingly sit in a room with her to discuss the issue? Would I willingly send her an invitation, or accept an invitation if it was given to me? This is the challenge for me.

Pope Francis does not shy away from challenging dialogue. He knows that there will be many a battle in the upcoming Synod on the Family. The concept of dialogue is foreign to those bishops used to an autocratic style of leadership in their dioceses. Steering them to seek common ground and consensus will not be an easy task. And, yet, dialogue they must.

The details surrounding the meeting between the pope and Kim Davis are still vague. The Vatican has declined to comment. James Martin, SJ wrote a rational and reasonable article titled The Pope and Kim Davis: Seven Points to Keep in Mind. He reminds us that the pope visits with many people each day. Francis gives rosaries to many. He gives encouraging words and blessings to many. But, a papal blessing does not connote affirmation or validation of the work of that person. In classic Fr. Martin style, he concludes,

Meeting with the pope is a great honor, but it does not betoken a blanket blessing on “everything” one does. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis also met Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean that he liked “Ted.”

¿y tu?…what about you?

Speaking to bishops, clergy and religious at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on September 26, Pope Francis told the story of St. Katharine Drexel. When Katharine spoke to Leo XIII about the needs of the missions, Leo replied,

What about you? What are you going to do?

Pope Francis reminded us,

every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church.

In a recent blog post, I was complaining about lacklustre masses and boring homilies. Marceta Reilley wrote a challenging comment and response to my grumbling.

When I finally let go of yearning for what I could not have and instead spent my energy in focusing on what nourished me, it made a huge difference. I stopped feeling angry and victimized. I shared with others that working to BE the kind of parish (an people) we wanted to be should be our focus. Stop doing things you don’t want to do, and going to things you feel coerced into going. Instead figure out what you do want to do and how you want to show up when you are there. Then do it.

In essence, Marceta was saying “what about you?” What was I going to DO about it, besides writing a cathartic rant?

The pope is challenging us to actively respond to the needs that we see in the church and in the world. There is an irony when we complain about the centralization of power in the church, then proceed to pass the buck of responsibility to priests, bishops and pope, expecting them to solve all the problems.

If we want an empowered laity, we need to embrace the empowerment that is already ours.

The second part of the Synod on the Family begins this weekend. Despite efforts at surveys and questionnaires, laity in the church will still have a minimal voice in deliberations and no vote in final decisions. But, we have the power to affect change at the grass roots.

Instead of griping that a clerical male hierarchy is out of touch with everyday family life, I can try harder to be present, patient and supportive of my own family and friends in their struggles and challenges. How would that look for me?

While bishops continue their polarizing fight over welcoming divorced and remarried Catholics to the communion table…

  • we will continue journeying with our son and young grandchildren through the reality of a broken marriage.

While a male, celibate leadership continues to couch women’s role as mothers in effusive, flowery language…

  • we will support our daughters as they juggle the reality of babies and careers.

While the issue of welcoming gay women and men into our church continues to be debated…

  • we will not give power to words such as “disordered”. Instead, we will continue loving and supporting our gay friends and allies who are committed in their work for a more inclusive church and world.

¿y tu?…what about you?

pope francis, master of the sound bite

Pope Francis’s jam-packed visit to the USA is over. Media outlets and Catholic journalists reported on every papal utterance and each small act. Commentators parsed each speech and homily to extrapolate hidden meanings. What was not said was sometimes as headline worthy as what was said.

With the social media platforms of today, the coverage quickly became overwhelming; like the proverbial drinking from a fire hydrant.

I enjoy writing, but I would make a lousy journalist. I can’t produce time sensitive pieces minutes after an event. My mind is not quick enough. I’m a ponderer. My favourite form of prayer is lectio divina; holy reading that focuses on a few words or a line, then chewing on them to discern their meaning and relevance to this moment in time. As I read and re-read the many speeches and homilies that the Pope gave in the USA, I find myself stopping to ponder yet another line, another simple but powerful phrase.

Many journalists use the approach of publishing “sound bites” to get the attention of their readers or listeners. The danger is that words can be (and often are) taken out of context and given more meaning (or a different meaning) than they intended.

Pope Francis is the master of the sound bite. He knows the value of an economy of words. In the third year of his papacy, the world now knows what issues are close to his heart; what issues he keeps returning to again and again. He speaks simply and clearly, and his message is becoming more and more unmistakable. And, when he speaks, the world listens.

For Francis, the church needs to be more inclusive and welcoming. It needs to be a church of encounter, not afraid to “get dirty” as it reaches out into the world. It needs to be focused more on living the words of Jesus than arguing over them. It needs to model true servant leadership not an exclusive, privileged hierarchy.

In the next few blog posts, I’d like to look more closely at some of the words spoken by Pope Francis on his American visit. For me, they speak louder and more effectively than long, dense, theological treatises. They are simple words that get to the core of what it means to not only be a Catholic, but to be a more compassionate woman or man in today’s world.

My heart goes out to the man himself. Pope Francis always seems energized by the crowds of people, but his schedule would have been daunting for many of us. I do hope that he has an opportunity for some serious rest before the marathon work of the Synod on the Family, which begins this weekend.