By now a clear pattern is developing in how the liberal media cover Pope Francis. Step one: the pontiff makes frank, off-the-cuff comments in a speech or an interview which contains statements easy for the liberal media to misconstrue. Step two: the media do what they do best, misconstrue and spin the pope in order to hail him as a liberal who will reform the church in a leftward direction on the unholy trinity of concerns for the secular left: abortion, sexual ethics (particularly on homosexuality), and women in the priesthood. Step three, liberal activists within the church are given platforms in secular media outlets to caution that, no, Francis is not the liberal you hope he is, at least, not yet, but that with some gentle prodding maybe he can be won over.
The bishop of Rome's interview with La Civilta Cattolica -- accessible in English here at the Jesuit magazine America -- is the latest instance where we see this pattern playing out. Witness how Time magazine today gave a platform to liberal nun Sister Simone Campbell, who explained to readers "What Pope Francis Thinks About Women in the Church." Campbell began:
Pope Francis is stirring up a lot of enthusiasm with his recent remarks about how the Catholic church shouldn’t focus excessively on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Yesterday, I was asked if I thought he could be believed. My answer was, “Yes!” Anyone who talks of his own conversion is authentic in trying to communicate a spiritual journey. But one question remains. What about the role of women in the church? On that, my answer is less clear.
So far Pope Francis has said that women are different from men but should be included in all aspects of the church. He has idealized women by comparing them to the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is better than saying that women are “Eve in the Garden of Eden tempting men.” He has called for the creation of “deep theology of women.” I am not sure what he means when he says this, but I do know that there are already many women theologians all over the world writing about their experience and reflecting on the deep truths of our faith. It is possible that he is not aware of their work, in which case he and other leaders in Rome should be given the opportunity to read and reflect on it.
From there, however, Simon turns up the heat, going on to conclude that women priesthood can be obtained if activists "keep knocking" on the door of the Holy See (emphasis mine):
But I must confess that I am a little nervous about what will happen. Currently there are no women in significant decisionmaking positions in the Vatican. There are few in dioceses around the world. Our church has lagged in the acknowledgment of the role of women in shaping faith traditions and as leaders of prayer. In that institutional lag, many of us in religious life and our nonvowed sisters have found ways of supporting each other. The fact is that women are leading by example and witness to the Gospel in their lives and not within the formalized power structure, and that power structure has lost out from not having significant contributions of women. It is difficult for me to believe that women in significant leadership roles would have tolerated the sexual-abuse cover-up.
The question becomes, Will Pope Francis follow through by actually including women in the decisionmaking as he moves ahead with reforms? Or will the temptation to placate women by idealizing our gender remove us from consideration in wrestling with change in church politics?
If we are indeed brought into the currently male process, I worry that our own freedom of Spirit and witness to the Gospel could be undermined by our desire to “belong.” When I first started practicing law in 1977, there were not very many women in the profession. Some women thought that they had to outdo the men in being competitive and combative. Some did not bring their best selves to the practice because they were trying to imitate an old model. As we move forward, I believe that this might be a risk that women will willingly take. But I pray we can be a community of support for this new leadership and help our sisters assume their responsibilities in their own way.
I do know that one comment from the Pope that rankles and worries many women. On the plane back from World Youth Day in July, Pope Francis said that the “door is closed” on the issue of women’s ordination to the priesthood. I don’t know if he intended this image or not, but the day before the Sunday gospel was about the parable of someone who petitions for his neighbor’s help but just has to keep knocking on the door until the neighbor is annoyed enough to get up. It makes me think Jesus’ parable is correct. Women need to keep knocking on this closed door and eventually the change will come.
Campbell's passive-aggressive tone is readily discernible. The message is clear: "Look, Frank, you can do this the easy way or we can bring this about the hard way."
Of course, Campbell is entitled to her opinion and Time is entitled to publish it. That being said, in the interests of a vigorous debate, it would be great if Time would actually publish a rebuttal by a conservative woman religious or even a Catholic laywoman who thinks the Church has it about right with the role of women in the life of the Church.
But to do that, Time would have to be concerned with curating a fair and honest debate, rather than actively cheering on the left-wing of the Church.