So the pope's quiet little tour of the deep blue zip codes in North America's media corridor is done and now, largely behind closed doors, the 2015 Synod of Bishops in Rome is up and running.
If you read the headlines, this gathering is essentially about the moral status of homosexual relationships, attempts to modernize church teachings on divorce and, oh yeah, there is that whole family crisis thing that Pope Francis has been talking about so much (cue: yawns in offices of elite editors).
There are huge, complex topics on the docket at the Vatican right now and reporters, sitting outside the closed doors, are doing what they can to follow the action.
Naturally, one of them is Vatican veteran John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux. We give him a lot of ink around here because, frankly, he produces a lot of ink and many of this analysis pieces contain more on-the-record information than other scribes' hard-news features. And every now and then he writes something really unusual, showing readers what is going on in his mind as he looks at the bigger picture.
Consider the Crux essay that just ran under this headline: "Pope Francis is playing with house money in betting on the 2015 Synod."
The basic thesis, as I read it, is that Pope Francis is letting lots of loud, even tense, debates play out -- because he knows that in the end he has the only vote that matters. Does that sound like the "people's pope"? Meanwhile, it seems that the "teflon pope" strategy is evidence that Francis believes he can live in his own papal narrative, in part because -- at this point -- the mainstream press remains convinced that he is steering his church toward compassionate, pastoral "reform" -- which means changing many of those bad doctrines.
This led to a series of very blunt tweets from Ross Douthat of The New York Times, who is both an active Catholic and a doctrinal conservative:
What did Allen say to inspire all of that?
Well, for one thing he has drawn yet another comparison between the work of Pope Francis and (hisses in the press gallery) Pope Benedict XVI. Yet this time there is a different pope wearing the humble shoes. This is long, but important. Read it all.
At different moments in their respective papacies, each has faced criticism for a move with regard to a previously little-known bishop. The controversies involved two chronic sources of anguish for the Catholic Church -- its record on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in the case of Benedict, and its reaction to the clergy sexual abuse scandals for Francis.
In 2009, Benedict lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one, Richard Williamson, with a history as a Holocaust denier. That decision sparked global outrage and became a front-page story for weeks, deepening impressions of Benedict as out of touch and insensitive to public opinion.
The outcry became so intense that two months later, Benedict released an unprecedented letter to the bishops of the world, apologizing for mishandling the affair and revealing how isolated he was from information anyone could find easily on the Internet.
Whoa. And what about Pope Francis?
Flash forward to 2015, when Pope Francis named a new bishop for the diocese of Osorno in Chile who critics believe covered up crimes by his country’s most notorious abuser priest. The appointment triggered protests in Chile and objections from some of the pontiff’s own advisors on anti-abuse efforts, but has had little echo anywhere else.
Francis hasn’t responded with a heartfelt mea culpa like Benedict, but with defiance.
In a five-month-old video, Francis is heard telling an employee of the Chilean bishops’ conference that people criticizing his move are being “led around by the nose by leftists,” and that the country has “lost its head.”
While the substance of the two situations may be very different, the potential for backlash is eerily similar. Just imagine what the reaction would have been had Benedict blamed his own woes on “leftists,” and you’ll understand the difference between the narratives the two pontiffs carry around.
All of this raises an interesting question, for those of us who are currently not encamped in Rome (where we can assume that the rates for short-term housing are even higher than normal). When it comes to the 2015 synod, what news and commentary sites are you following?
I can think of a few right off the top of my head. Obviously there's Allen and his team at Crux. I cannot find an all-inclusive synod URL, but it isn't hard to follow the synod stuff based on the headlines. There's a synod blog at the Catholic News Service. When it comes to official documents, there's the Vatican press office and, with some commentary, the work of Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia.
On the doctrinal left, any list of heavy hitters would include The National Catholic Reporter synod blog and the Religion News Service links for the work of columnist and blogger David Gibson. The Dispatches blog at America is carrying lots of synod material.
On the doctrinal right, its easy to follow the Letters from the Synod postings at First Things. There is a mixture of news and commentary at the Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register (with a dozen blogs) and, in England, the blog of Xavier Rynne II at The Catholic Herald.
There are many, many, many others. So who are you reading? Please leave us some URLs in the comments pages.