Most will agree the Jesuit Roman Catholic Order has been at odds with the Vatican for decades. Never has there been a Jesuit Pope. Now there is and his name is Pope Francis, 79 years old and a former South American Cardinal in one of the most difficult Diocese in South America. In this reflection and comment in opinion on the New Pope that is cast as an American view with its perspective by two Yale Divinity School Professors, this piece is their American statement.
The first viewpoint noted is by Lamin Sanneh, the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and Professor of History at Yale. Born in Gambia and descended from an ancient African royal family and a naturalized U.S. citizen, he is described in the Yale Divinity School publication as a convert to Christianity. The biography was written by Ray Waddle, who is Editor of the school’s, Reflections magazine.
Sanneh was raised in a scholarly, aristocratic Islamic family in Gambia. He knew of Jesus from the Qur’an, but he had no intention of taking interest in Christianity, much less of embracing it. The community expectation was for him to become a Muslim leader and mentor. But as a teenager, his encounters with the story of Jesus took an unexpected turn. He became captivated with Jesus’ plight as described in the Qur’an, then anguished about this godly prophet’s earthly ordeal. It turned into an intellectual and moral struggle for him.
“Jesus was obviously so good, and that made me wonder why he was so hated and rejected. Why should these terrible things happen to him? That bothered me. I decided it could only make sense if God had not abandoned him. The question tormented me: I could not abandon Jesus, or, at the time, Islam either. Jesus’ enemies had enmity toward God. Maybe I too shared such enmity toward God, in which case I needed God’s forgiveness as much as Jesus’ enemies did. All of these things transfixed me on the figure of Jesus,” said Sanneh, who converted to Christianity while still a teenager.
Professor Sanneh points out in the article titled, “Lamin Sanneh: immersed in the drama of world Christianity,” that today only 35 percent of the world’s Christian are in the United States and Europe. His specialty, world Christianity. An Interview with Professor Sanneh in Christianity Today is found here .
This Religion Writer found this statement for an unpublished writing sent by Professor Sanneh worthwhile because it gives his world viewpoint in a nutshell, so to speak. He reflects on the New Pope Francis in this statement, and gives an American viewpoint that emphasizes that it is not America whom either the Vatican turns to, but the world. Americans believe they are the focus of the Pope and the world, frequently with their many concerns and opinions. This is not so. This is the case despite the fact the United States is the world power, number one. Roman Catholicism is aware of this, of course, but its real business is global.
Professor Sanneh calls the concern of Pope Francis to abandon the image of the Church as what he calls, “musty anachronism.” This quote from an unpublished paper sent to this Religion Writer by the Professor.
As a hint of his desire to abandon the image of the Church as a musty anachronism, Pope Francis has spoken before of the need to avoid “the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church.” He has criticized the over-clerical character of the Church, saying “the priests clericalize the laity and the laity beg us to be clericalized.” He calls that “sinful abetment,” saying baptism should suffice for the life of discipleship. If he adheres to that strip-down, unpretentious view of the Church, he would likely advance the promise of lay enablement Vatican II encouraged but left unfulfilled. That impulse has been lodged like a dormant supplement in the body of the Church, waiting for the day when it can be released for the good of all believers.
For more from his draft paper, unpublished, Professor Lamin Sanneh, which he titles, Pope Francis and Pope Francis and the Church of St. Francis see the Addendum.
This long quote from his book:’
One influential book, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, argues that Christianity’s success and proliferation, ancient or modern, have hinged on the faith’s ability to translate the gospel from culture to culture, adopting and adapting in local languages and idioms, refusing to enshrine any particular civilization as the exclusive or normative expression of the faith.
Sanneh has been critical of Western Christian leaders who discount the rampaging growth of the faith beyond the West. The widely noted shift of Christianity’s center of gravity to the global south has unfolded during his own adulthood. In 1960, most of the world’s Christians were in the U.S. and Europe. Today, only 35 percent are.
He counsels against Western complacency —the secularizing trend of the West’s disengagement from its own religious heritage, an impulse, he said, to gloss “freedom of religion” to mean “freedom from religion,” as if religion is incompatible with freedom, and vice versa. Western self-preoccupation is blinding leaders, including Christian leaders, to dynamic forces of change under way in the world. A post-Western Christianity is proving that the faith as a world force is as vigorous and as potent as ever.
“I believe too many people in the West are too sanguine about their religious heritage—they seem to think they can hold a cultural consensus together based only on a cultural memory of the faith,” he said. “But you cannot continue to draw on the heritage if you do not replenish it. In time, people will forget what that heritage is. Young people won’t learn it. They need inspiration. For the sake of coming generations, churches must exercise their responsibility and retrieve the positive aspects of the Christian heritage. We need to give ourselves to something greater that also has a future.”
Lamin Sanneh: immersed in the drama of world Christianity
In a phone conversation with Sister Janet Ruffing, Professor at Yale University along with an exchange of emails, she commented on the New Pope Francis for me. As a Roman Catholic Nun, she says, “The Sisters, our whole lives, were affected by Vatican II and we are very hopeful. … Someone who will focus on the Gospel.”
Sister Janet, or Professor Janet Ruffing, is a member of Sisters of Mercy. Sisters of Mercy say of themselves:
The Sisters of Mercy actually do not consider themselves monastic. If you look at the FAQ portion of our website, it captures the Mercy lifestyle. I’ve included it in quotes below.
“All congregations of religious women share certain characteristics: they strive to live simply; they are celibate (do not marry); they give up the right to make decisions independently of their community; they make prayer and contemplation a significant part of every day; they engage in work (they call it ministry) that addresses the needs of other people.
Sisters of Mercy respond to a call to serve persons in need and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in his compassion for suffering people. In addition to the three vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) all Catholic sisters take, the Sisters of Mercy also take a fourth vow of service to persons who are poor, sick and uneducated. We are an active community in contrast to some communities that are contemplative or monastic.”
Here is what is said of Janet Ruffing as excerpted from Yale Divinity School website:
Originally from California, Professor Ruffing, a Sister of Mercy, is Professor Emerita of Spirituality and Spiritual Direction at Fordham University where she directed the spiritual direction program from 1986 until her arrival at Yale Divinity School in the spring of 2010. She has published five books and numerous articles on spiritual direction and supervision, mercy spirituality, female religious life and leadership, kataphatic mysticism, prayer, and other technical topics in spirituality.
This is a quote from one of her books:
The Sacred Tale told in spiritual direction is never complete, always unfolding, and always susceptible to new interpretations and fresh revelations. …More than ever most of us can benefit from the opportunity to tell our sacred tale in spiritual direction. Others write their sacred tales for the public on blogs and in autobiographies and memoirs. In our anti-modern, modern, or postmodern context, we need to read, see and hear such stories of belief and religious experience…to nourish our sense of the Holy being deeply involved with us. We need models for our own faith journeys, and yet we realize that each of us makes this journey both deeply alone and together with others in the communion of saints who have gone before us and who live among us in our faith communities.( 165-167)
To Tell the Sacred Tale: Spiritual Direction and Narrative (Paulist Press, 2011)
Yale also writes of Professor Janet Ruffing:
Beginning with her dissertation on Spiritual Direction and Narrative (1986), Professor Ruffing has remained keenly interested in spiritual direction and narrative process. She has recently completed To Tell the Sacred Tale: Spiritual Direction and Narrative to be published soon by Paulist Press. This book draws on case material from her experience with directees and students for many years as well as postmodern understandings of the narrative creating self. She has recently published a historical essay in Studies in Spirituality, (2009) “The Epistolary Soul-Friendship of Elisabeth Leseur and Soeur Marie Goby.” Since 2006, she has been giving workshops on Love Mysticism and Spiritual Direction and plans to develop that material into a book. Recently, she gave the Kay Butler Gill Lecture in Christian Spirituality at General Seminary in New York: “Love Mysticism: Relic or Contemporary Experience?”
In her initial response to an inquiry regarding her own feelings and relationship with the new Pope, Sister Janet Ruffing offers: I was moved to tears when he appeared on the balcony and asked people to pray for him. In that simple gesture he had expressed Vatican Two. Everything he has done since that….his statements in his homily are all … hopefulness.
Three questions were asked her and she replied in a candid manner in writing. The questions:
1) What sense have you of the New Pope regarding the controversy of Sisters of Mercy and other American Nuns failing in their obligation under vows due to their outspoken statements and actions on social issues?
2) It is so surprising to find a South American named Pope, at least to this Religion Writer. Also to find a Jesuit becoming so? What does this bode for the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican, and even the Papacy?
3) Will you make a statement or comment of your own liking on this new man, Pope Francis?
In her response to the first question she notes that the LCWR is a leadership group for American Nuns. They are the focus of the controversy with the Vatican. Here is how they describe themselves according to their website. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The conference has nearly 1500 members, who represent more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States. Founded in 1956, the conference assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.
CDF is defined this way by the Roman Catholic Church, a quote from the Vatican website: Founded in 1542 by Pope Paul III with the Constitution “Licet ab initio,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was originally called the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition as its duty was to defend the Church from heresy. It is the oldest of the Curia’s nine congregations.
Pope St. Pius X in 1908 changed the name to the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. It received its current name in 1965 with Pope Paul VI. Today, according to Article 48 of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, “Pastor Bonus“, promulgated by the Holy Father John Paul II on June 28, 1988, «the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence.
Comment by the Sister:
… Sisters make vows to God, the leadership of their congregations. The Vatican is not accusing us of lack of fidelity to our vows. It is hard to sort it out, what the Vatican is saying is that the present controversy with the LCWR has supposedly had nothing to do with all the Sisters of all the congregations. This group is a group of leaders; it is exclusively a leadership group. The accusations … are about the speeches that were given at their meetings, and that the leaders as a whole have not been outspoken enough of abortion, etc. It’s a little confusing because our leaders are us…but supposedly, this is not critical of the 50,000 Sisters in the U.S.
Sisters in this country are generally hopeful about Pope Francis. He has just appointed to the congregation of religious life and apostolic societies a Franciscan who is well respected a leader around religious life, and everyone is…thinking they have a “positive” relations.
Regarding caring about the Pope, Sister Janet responds: “I was moved to tears when he appeared on the balcony and asked people to pray for him. In that simple gesture he had expressed Vatican Two. Everything he has done since that….his statements in his homily are all … hopefulness.”
She also responds:
The Sisters, our whole lives, were effected by Vatican II and we are very hopeful. … Someone who will focus on the Gospel.
Francis is an almost perfect choice for a Pope from a third-world country. Because he is the child of Italian immigrant parents, he understands Italians. They see him as a paisano, one of them although he is from Argentina. Argentina is the most Europeanized country in South America.
He is deeply aware of the Pastoral needs of Latin America and Africa. The problems in both places are insufficient clergy to provide sacraments. There are communities that never see a Priest and celebrate Eucharist once or twice a year. This is important because we must remain a Sacramental Church.
Part of the problem in Latin America is we are bleeding congregants to Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian Groups. The problem is we are lacking Priest. They do not have enough Churches.
Part of our difficulties in thinking about the Pope is that we are only 10 or 15% of the Church. The papacy is a Worldwide leader, and one of the reasons why an American could not be elected Pope, for an American would be conceived as an American first. The Church would never be free of the American government. We always have to think of the Church as a Holy and Apostolic Church…Under Vatican II the Church was becoming a world church rather than a European Church under Vatican II.. Francis has appointed 8 men to help him reform the curia, each of them from a different continent.
So in terms of this new Pope we have dealing with this and he should be able to understand us. It was he was formed by the Jesuits and they believe in faith, and justice.
Social justice is aligned with our Bishops.
[This is a paraphrase.] Francis has been involved with how Francis has been engaged in this and social justice as have the sisters. The previous Two Papacies were not enthusiastic with Vatican II, and the Sisters have been living out of Vatican II for 50 years. What the Sisters have to do is continue the dialogue and have been doing this in a deeply contemplative place. The discussion was not a frank discussion before. It is unlikely the Pope would reverse the present process.
Somewhat annoyed at not getting the kind of understanding in follow-up questions to her answers, Sister Janet Ruffing replied in this lengthy manner by email to me:
You still are confused about the CDF /LCWR situation. CDF has made this a doctrinal issue…and it should not be. They took statements out of context and misconstrued the statements in addresses that had been given over a long period of time at the annual meetings of LCWR which only leaders attend.
Because these leaders have listened to an address does not mean they necessarily agree with the comments the speakers actually made.
CDF accuses the group and their speakers of “radical feminism,” specifically because sisters have not remained silent about the question of women’s ordination and the role in leadership women ought to have in the church. One might ask how could women religious remain silent about their second class status in the church? Many women religious who are theologians have constructed feminist theologies and remain within the Church and desire its reform, considering these questions open rather than closed. Women leaders in religious life have developed a largely collegial and participative form of governance within their religious communities which men in the church functioning in a hierarchical mode do not understand.
This is a style of governance that Vatican II taught under the terms of collegiality and subsidiarity. Yet all of our Constitutions have been approved by Rome over the last several years. The leadership remains committed to remaining in dialog with CDF and the Bishops appointed to supervise the process as long as necessary to reach common understandings and until or unless they reach a point where the women feel they would violate their own consciences. Should they reach that point, and the women withdraw, that would bring about the end of this particular leadership organization. These leaders still hope that will not be the outcome. It is important to note that women religious agree with the Bishops and official teachings on most points.
And the church itself teaches that following one’s own conscience in disputed matters is an inviolable right and responsibility. At the present moment, leadership is engaged in this dialog. Many hope that Pope Francis, because he is a Jesuit, has a better understanding of religious life than many other churchmen and will want to resolve this misunderstanding. And that will take more time to play out.
As I stated early on in our conversation, women religious make vows to God within the context of their religious communities. Unlike the Jesuits, sisters to do not make a special vow of obedience to the Pope in relationship to mission.
I hope this is clarifying for you.
From Lamin Sanneh’s , Pope Francis and Pope Francis and the Church of St. Francis
Still, the figure of St. Francis has staged a comeback now in the official nomenclature of the new pope. St. Francis was a picturesque character who combined earthiness with towering supernatural faith, and who made the passion of Christ so plausible and so palpable an outflow of faith and obedience that all whom he touched felt a gut affinity with him. His rule of gathering around low and mean tables so that a beggar would feel at home in that company raised the bar of Christian charity and hospitality to the level of common, unadorned humanity. He tamed the propensity for position, power, and privilege into one of deference and courtesy for the poor and the sick. In the presence of St. Francis we could claim our humanity only by acknowledging that of the poor. When we are in the sight of God, to recall St. Francis, we are only so much and no more. For him the love of God was the supreme passion and rule of his life, and in consequence moral and ethical matters came before matters of doctrine and theology. As the “minstrel of the Lord,” he took the presence of God into the converging worlds of the personal, social, spiritual, natural, and the sacramental. In following in the saint’s footsteps, Pope Francis intends to bring his Jesuit credentials into the crucible of serving the poor, making peace, and defending the dignity of the downtrodden and the forgotten. Pope Francis seems resolved to launch the Church into a new age of evangelism guided by the spirit of St. Francis. In an ironic way, nothing could be more appropriate for the mood of the contemporary world as was so well expressed in The Singer, Calvin Miller’s poetic allegory of the life of Christ inspired by Catholic mystics:
A healthy child is
somehow very much like God.
A hurting child, His son.