More on Evangelii Gaudium:
The theme of change permeates the document. The pope says rather than being afraid of “going astray,” what the church ought to fear instead is “remaining shut up within structures that give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh judges” and “within habits that make us feel safe.”
Though Francis released an encyclical letter titled Lumen Fidei in June, that text was based largely on a draft prepared by Benedict XVI. “The Joy of the Gospel,” designed as a reflection on the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, thus represents the new pope’s real debut as an author.
Early reaction suggests it’s a tour de force.
The text comes with Francis’ now-familiar flashes of homespun language. Describing an upbeat tone as a defining Christian quality, for instance, he writes that “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”
At another point, Francis insists that “the church is not a tollhouse.” Instead, he says, “it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.” At another point, he quips that “the confessional must not be a torture chamber,” but rather “an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us to on to do our best.”
Francis acknowledges that realizing his dream will require “a reform of the church,” stipulating that “what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences.”
Though he doesn’t lay out a comprehensive blueprint for reform, he goes beyond mere hints to fairly blunt indications of direction:
He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”
On two specific matters, however, Francis rules out change: the ordination of women to the priesthood, though he calls for “a more incisive female presence” in decision-making roles, and abortion.
Low papalists/liberals want to see discontinuity, while high papalists/conservatives want to see continuity — from Benedict XVI to Francis or Trent to Vatican II. But the conservatives are the same folks who see discontinuity everywhere in American politics — from Bush II to Obama, or Reagan to Bush I. Seems to me both sides have vested interests in interpretations which are above their pay grade.