In a review of a book concerning the the sexual abuse crisis, canon lawyer Tom Doyle states that canon law is a legal system in service to a monarchy. He is correct; the Roman Catholic Church is a monarchy. (NCR April24 - May7, 2015) The Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium describes the Roman Catholic Church authority structure:
For in virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power freely. (L.G. #22)
But there is change in process. The monologue of the Vatican monarchy is shifting to a dialogue. Benevolent dictator Pope Francis considers evangelization as a way of making the Kingdom of God present in the world. This is quite different than using evangelization as a tool of recruitment and condemnation. What can we expect from Pope Francis? Let’s look to a book published before he was elected Pope – On Heaven and Earth, written with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and also Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium.
THE INFLUENCE OF A RABBI
The book On Heaven and Earth is a publication of some of the inter- religious discussions between two Argentineans, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and a noted Rabbi and scholar, Abraham Skorka. The book was originally published in 1995 eight years before Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope.
The dialogue in the book indicates that both Skorka and Bergoglio were especially interested in issues of social justice. Chapter 4 is on poverty. Rabbi Skorka wrote:
All religions have a complete and absolute obligation with regards to fighting poverty.
To make his point Rabbi Skorka cited the Torah as commanding help for the needy. Cardinal Bergoglio said Christianity inherited the Jewish tradition and referred to Chapter 26 of Mathew as the Christian mandate. Both see working for the poor as a matter of justice - tzedek in Hebrew. Bergoglio referred to the social doctrine of the Church and noted that it opposed economic liberalism (unrestrained capitalism). He stated,
We have to seek opportunities and rights and strive for social benefits, dignified retirement, vacation time, rest and freedom of unions.
Rabbi Skorka noted that in Argentina working for the poor was a shared work between Christians and Jews. Skorka continued:
We do not proselytize; it is a real commitment to help our fellow man.
Both agreed that political action for the poor must be free of personal or congregational political ambitions.
The religious leaders did not agree on everything, but emphasized the importance of respectful dialogue for the purpose of the Faith community working together for justice.
GAUDIUM EVANGELII (JOY OF THE GOSPEL)
Bergoglio as Pope Francis wrote an Encyclical on Evangelization entitled The Joy of the Gospel. The Encyclical emphasizes social justice and dialogue, and met with strong opposition from conservative Roman Catholics and business interests. A hierarchy of truths emerges with God’s love for all and the responsibilities of loving God and your neighbor as primary.
With this emphasis, a new but historical Kerygma (basic teaching) emerges. The twentieth century Kerygma of European scripture scholars, such as Rudolph Bultman’s Jesus is Lord, is brought back to the basic law – love God and your neighbor. (Dt. 6:4, Lev. 19:18, Lk. 10:25-28.)
This change is subtle and nuanced so it doesn’t rate a headline, but it is clear. For example, in a chapter of Evangelii Gaudium – entitled “Social Dialogue as a Contribution to Peace,” Pope Francis confronts the problem of evangelization of the Jews. Francis minimizes the 20th century European concept of Kerygma proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and emphasizes that the Catholic Church and Judaism have - “a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.” (#249) What then is evangelization? For the ‘Vicar of Christ …’ “Evangelization also involves the path of dialogue.” (#235)
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
In their book of dialogue, On Heaven and Earth, with Rabbi Skorka, Cardinal Bergoglio clearly upholds the Roman Catholic Church’s position on woman priests, gay marriage, and abortion. However this does not stop him from working for social justice with dissenters of such church doctrines. In Evangelii Guadium Pope Francis insists on dialogue with the scientific community, with other Christians, the Jewish community, Muslims and non-believers in order to promote peace and the common good. (Chapter 4)
A question arises: will Pope Francis allow dialogue within the Roman Catholic Church? Could there be a conference of theologians on women priests, et cetera? Only time will tell.