The Norman Transcript


June 9, 2014

The pope, politics and downgrading of dogma

NORMAN — Practitioners of purity push young people who embrace diversity and freedom to opt out of political structures.

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.” — Pope Francis

I entered the Catholic seminary at 13. I have worked for Cesar Chavez’s farm worker movement and labor unions since I was 19. And I have run political campaigns for Democratic politicians and causes for 40 years.

Watching these institutions, my personal “trinity,” struggle to remain relevant has been hard. I love working in the labor movement. I continue making a living in politics. I had given up on the church.

Jesuits didn’t train me. But when I read Pope Francis’ description of Jesuitical thinking — “The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking” — I saw at once the root of the disheartening condition of the institutions that have been so central to my life.

A failure to recognize the virtue of keeping “thought incomplete” explains more to me about the shortcomings of those institutions. “(T)hose who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists — they have a static and inward-directed view of things.”

Pope Francis has thoughtfully taken a different strategic approach. Without changing dogma, he simply downgraded it, putting it in its place.

“The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

With breathtaking speed, he is doing what other social institutions haven’t. He is making the Catholic Church relevant in a society where political parties and other intermediary institutions drift further into irrelevancy.

It is sad and a bit comedic to watch politicians spar over which party can find affirmation in popular Pope Francis’ words. Their talking points target their bases and yet miss the much bigger point: The pope’s appeal is the baselessness of his message.

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