Check out some of the most relevant articles and news stories for Millennial readers that hit the web over the past few weeks.
Kristen Day points out that although 50% of Americans identify as pro-life (with only 41% identifying as pro-choice and over 60% favoring greater restrictions on abortion), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for legislation to allow greater access to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. As Day argues, “As a high-profile Democrat, Cuomo ought to be working to reduce demand for abortions by increasing societal and economic support for pregnant women, particularly the poor and women of color. Instead, he seems bent on making abortion, which is already too common in New York, even more routine.”
In response to International Women’s Day, US Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the stories of Malala, the young girl shot for trying to obtain and advocating for an education, and Nirbhaya, who was murdered on a bus for being a woman, to explain that huge strides still need to be made towards ensuring women’s rights around the globe. Counties are better off economically, socially and politically when women enjoy full and equal participation in their societies, which makes women’s rights an issue of vital importance in foreign policy. As Kerry states, “My predecessor, Hillary Clinton, elevated the empowerment of women and girls as a foreign policy issue, and I’m determined to keep it a cornerstone of US foreign policy during my time in office. The truth is that when women thrive, we all thrive, and our global commitment to that cause will not diminish.”
While we all know the story of Malala, Seema Jilani reminds us that two other young girls were injured in the same shooting, for trying to obtain what should be a guaranteed right – an education. One of these girls, Kainat Riaz, has been largely forgotten, left under what is essentially house arrest (since her safety outside of her home cannot be guaranteed) and without access to PTSD treatment or physical therapy for her wounds. As Jilani says, “Malala has now settled in England and remains the voice of young women striving for education. Meanwhile, the world has abandoned Kainat, who is a vulnerable, unwavering young woman in a place that, at best, mutes her aspirations and at worst will kill her.”
EJ Dionne explains the divide between “Kingdom Catholics” and “Communion Catholics” (as expounded by Timothy Radcliffe in his book What is the Point of Being a Christian), showing that the divide began primarily as a result of differing viewpoints over the reforms of Vatican II: “The Kingdom side sees the Communion side abandoning the promise of Vatican II. The Communion Catholics see the Kingdom Catholics as too willing to undercut the specific markers of Catholic identity.” Dionne believes that this tension should be celebrated.
Michael Sean Winters shows that Pope Benedict XVI did not fit neatly into a conservative or progressive box, even though the media often portrayed him as a staunch conservative. His positions on labor issues, capitalism, and the environment placed him to the left of the average Democrat in the US, while his positions on traditional values, including his opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception swings him back to the other side of the political aisle. As MSW writes, “Benedict’s legacy in the political realm, then, is not as traditional as it might seem. In America, Catholics may focus on the conservative sexual ethics he defended and sought to see defended in law, but in the developing world, where the church is growing, his appeals on behalf of the poor rang both louder and truer to the Gospel.”
John Carr reflects on the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, commenting that the American media’s focus on the pope’s stance on sexual/social issues often ignored his continual push for increasing social justice. He notes, “Benedict’s greatest disconnection from U.S. elites may not be about sex, but social and economic life: His advocacy for the life and dignity of the poorest and most vulnerable, his warnings to avoid military force in international disputes, his groundbreaking call for sacrifice to care for God’s creation and his warnings about ‘a selfish and individualistic mindset which finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.’”
Rainn Wilson discusses the practice of fasting as part of his Baha’i faith, a practice that is also a part of every major religion and that many Catholics are taking part in now during Lent. He fasts for 19 days in March during daylight hours (gorging during the pre-dawn and post-sunset hours to recover and battling some serious gooey-tounged “fast mouth” during the day). And for what? As he says, “In all the worlds’ major faiths there is an essential paradox: we are spiritual beings having a human experience through our corporeal bodies. Our reality is dual in nature, and fasting, as an act of physical renunciation, reminds us of our greater reality — the reality of our spirit and our heart.”
Dan Horan contemplates the well-known story of the Prodigal Son and suggests that we shift our focus from what seems to be the main characters (the irresponsible, selfish son and the forgiving, loving father) to the older son of the story, the one who is upset at all the attention his younger, deviant brother is receiving when all along he has been there faithfully being good and responsible. He points out that many of us have the same reaction – we are troubled when the prodigal sons in our lives reap undeserved blessings and suggests, “This Lent is a time for us to recognize where we stand in the darkness of judgment and condemnation so as to move into the light with the father.”
Fr. Martin points to the instances of truly wretched popes in the history of the Church as evidence that the Holy Spirit does not hand-pick the pope. What then is the Holy Spirit’s role within the Conclave? He explains how the Holy Spirit moves in our everyday lives and how we develop our sense of discernment, of listening to what the spirit says – but at the same time we are human, with human considerations and our own free will sometimes getting in the way. As Fr. Martin concludes, “So does the Spirit choose the next pope? The best answer may be: Yes, No and It Depends. As the Benedict said, the Spirit guides us, but leaves us free. As in any part of life, we are free to listen or not, and human considerations will always get in the way.”
Blogger Morning’s Minion remembers with fondness the papacy of Benedict XVI and expresses his hopes that the next pope will bring greater accountability to the Church. As he says, “But I think that, above all, we need a pope who can address the area where Benedict was weakest – internal Church governance. It has become clear that parts of the Church have been tainted by cronyism and even corruption. I realize that this is not new, but the modern world demands greater accountability and transparency, and to be seen as credible and effective in its mission, the Vatican must deliver.”
GodGoogler Mike Hayes continues the trend of announcing hopes for the next pope, highlighting eleven qualities that the potential pope should possess—from vitality and enthusiasm to media-savvy, intelligence and a prayerful nature.
Michael Sean Winters took a break from all the speculation surrounding who the next pope would be and instead suggested some structural reforms that would make the Vatican Curia function more effectively in the modern world, from the way meetings and personnel decisions are conducted, to introducing laity and religious men and women into the Curia, to stopping the practice of promoting bishops to larger or more prestigious diocese. As MSW notes about these suggested reforms, “They have nothing to do with ordaining women or the sex abuse crisis or any of the hot button issues that tend to dominate discussions of reform, but they would make it more likely those hot button issues would be addressed more effectively. “
Dan Horan calls into question the claim that Pope Francis was opposed to liberation theology, which has many offshoots and manifestations. The life of Pope Francis, he argues, reveals “a man whose heart was imbued with the evangelical poverty that Francis of Assisi always strove to preach: in word and deed. Pope Francis’s explanation about his choice of the name ‘Francis’ to the world media…highlights this truth most succinctly and illustrates how the pope sees social justice, solidarity with the poor, and the work of liberation from injustice at the heart of his ministry and at the core of the church.”
In another article touching on the theme of Pope Francis’ response to liberation theology, Michael Sean Winters, using a more narrow definition of liberation theology says, “…liberation theologians strangely mimicked the neo-con capitalists they criticized, exercising an economic reductionism that equated the achievement of social progress with salvation.” Conversely, he argues that Pope Francis was “relentless in questioning and criticizing those who exercise power in ways that marginalize the poor,” but that he “was never seduced by the promises of the liberation theologians.”
Maureen O’Connell looks with renewed hope for the chance of leadership for women within the Church based on the Pope’s choice of the name Francis. After all, Francis of Assisi is intimately connected with St. Clare, the two having formed a revolutionary partnership of love and charity that continues to influence the world around us today. As she says, “Finally, Francis and Clare are radical; they return us to our roots by reminding us of the hallmarks of Jesus’ own ministry—simple living, a care for the poor, and a pivotal place for women at the heart of it all.”
David Brooks looks back to the 4th century’s reaction to a Church in crisis and sees two alternate approaches that can inform the way Catholics approach the crisis in the Church today – to either “close ranks and return defensively to first principles” like the Donatists, or to take a more dynamic approach, the path followed by St. Augustine. Brooks notes, “The natural instinct is to turn Donatist, to build an ark and defend what’s precious. The counterintuitive but more successful strategy is to follow Augustine, to exploit a moment of weakness by making yourself even more vulnerable, by striking outward into complexity, swallowing the pure and impure, counterattacking crisis with an evangelical assault.”
Ross Douthat believes that the Pope’s ability to restore credibility and moral authority to the Church will be what makes or breaks his papacy. After all, the culture at large cannot take the Church seriously if they cannot see that those within the Church are capable of living up to their own moral ideals. As Douthat says, “The Vatican needs purgation at the top, to enable real renewal from below. And the church as a whole needs to offer and embody proof — in Rome, the local parish and everywhere in between — that the alternative Catholicism preaches can actually be lived.”