The Pope and Abortion

For the next year, the pope will permit priests to offer forgiveness to women who have had abortions during a year of jubilee.

This is not a completely radical change. Certain confessors could already offer absolution. But this does signify a different sort of approach, one Pope Francis has been known for, prioritizing the pastoral to the doctrinal. It also lifts the other crucial part of Catholicism: the virtue of staying connected.

I’m not sure how many Catholics women will take advantage of this option: as Catholics for Choice remarked, Catholic women have been making alternative arrangements for some years now. After all, in some historically catholic countries, women do get abortions.

One may believe abortion is morally repugnant but should be safe and legal. A Catholic in a secular nation state might fall into such category (as might black Jewish, philosophers in the preceding link). I think such a view, while apparently contradictory, is practical and realistic. I am not of that school, but that is where I seek some mutual understanding with more devout Catholic or others who find the procedure itself signals something, in our culture at least, is wrong.

Unlike the liberal tradition, the Catholic one does not elevate choice as the highest moral good. Instead, in its deeply communitarian ethos, it understands persons as relational. It comes to it’s anti-abortion position not as the evangelcals do, but because the fundamental moral unit is never just a single person.

It is not a view that is particularly appealing in this age.

But it explains why the church holds both views that are anti-commerce and anti-abortion. Bodies, and their lives, should not be abandoned or sold, and abortion is one choice along many others that diminishes our shared life. They note also, that being pro-choice does not make one a feminist: patriarchy itself can elevate the abortion of fetuses, especially those of girls. That said, although these are arguments can sharpen the issues, in our broken world such decisions must remain medical decisions that women make with their doctors.

The pope’s move should be understood not as a change in the church’s view toward abortion, but a clarification of a pastor’s role. In this way it seems very Anglican. The benefit is that it seeks to diminish the shame and acknowledge the reality of women who make such choices.

This instruction should not, of course, be anything new to Anglicans. Our theology already tends to arise from the pastoral, the practical, and the liturgical. We can give thanks that the Pope has decided to take a cue from the Anglican playbook.

The Pope’s Remarks


Many people were probably politely surprised at the pope’s reticence toward judging gay people.  It did invite a stronger inquiry in the church’s formal perspective, and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.  The church has a public doctrine that it  maintains; and then there is pastoral practice, one framed by a monosexual group of privately gay – tolerant men.

The Anglican Church prioritizes pastoral practice:  we begin our understanding with prayer and relationship (or, as ++Rowan once said, doctrine must begin with joy).  Our lens is primarily liturgical rather than doctrinal, which is why some Anglican theologians have said Anglican “doctrine” is in the rubrics:  in how we pray together.  This makes creates an enormous leap to even start talking about sexuality:  how do we pray that, anyway?

Some are a bit upset that Francis remains intractable about women’s ordination.  I think he was simply stating his current vantage point, while also inviting an opening for deeper thinking.  Those outside the church continue to be irritated, but I’m not always sure why people think being a priest is a good thing.  Priests remain ignored by their congregations on most important matters.  Garry Wills even argues it’s a failed vocation.

Nuns, by and large, do a lot of the heavy lifting in the church, and although they have little ecclesial power, their institutions matter equally, if not more so.  Sometimes being seemingly marginalized gives one greater power.

Francis could still appoint a female cardinal.

Goodbye, Benedict

I’m not a hater, although I wasn’t a fan.

I think it was wise and generous for him to resign.   We need not always stay in roles that we have taekn on.  Sometimes if we stay to long the office becomes the person and vice versa.  There is wisdom in avoiding that, if only to let our organizations reorganize and find ways to change.

I do believe Benedict was misinterpreted.  Sometimes his arguments, I suspect, were much more nuanced than could be articulated in the media.  Still, I share the sentiments of plenty of Episcopalians, Anglicans and Catholics that the institutional response of the church toward clerical abuse was inadequate, and it points to a larger tone-deafness of a hierarchy that seems far too distant from the concerns of the people.

I remain fascinated.  In my mind, the Roman Catholic church remains the only institution with the capabilities to challenge the onslaught of market forces internationally.  It is the main international organization that engages regularly with the most wretched of the earth.  By and large, it is controlled locally, rather than by the many aid organizations populated with prosperous Americans from Ivy League Schools participating in charity tourism.

Although many people have noted that John Paul II and Benedict have appointed all the current cardinals, I think it is too strong to assume that the individual bishops do not think independently.  Oscar Romero was a bishop who was considered conservative and meek – and he became one of the greatest proponents of liberation theology.  We do not know where the spirit will take the church.  We can still hope for openness.

Granted, in my darker moments I share the view of the reformers that the Roman church is a nest of vipers and finally beholden to the anti-Christ.  But then I remember that it is also a human body; and however imperfect it has many parts and many roles.  It has hospitals and schools all over the globe; and although it is run by men, it has schools for girls and women in places where there had been none.  It does its own work, without armies, across nations.  And I believe it has also formed plenty of faithful Episcopalians.

I still consider myself a catholic, in its reformed and humanist tradition, and wish the best for the Roman tree, and for Benedict.  I had hoped for more, but bless him in his quiet days.