Post-Script on Making Perfect the Enemy of the Good

A few days ago, I said that I think people should cut Pope Francis some slack for trying to talk about gender discrimination in a positive way.  Well, Frank Bruni is not willing to cut anyone any slack.

Let me say, first off, that Bruni is completely right on his substantive criticisms.  You cannot talk about pay imbalance as a "scandal" and also prevent women from even having leadership positions in the first place in the context of the Church.  The supporting infrastructure for the idea that "Jesus wanted only men as priests" is somewhere between flimsy and non-existent.  The current ban on women's ordination is an injustice, full stop.

It is also correct of Bruni to point out the ways in which opposition to artificial contraception limits opportunities for women in a concrete way, and how the Catholic vision of sexuality reflects a masculine perspective.  And he is right that the investigation of the Sisters in the U.S. was an embarrassing, misogynist farce.

Still, I stand by my original point--as limited and insufficient is the current statements and positions of Pope Francis are, they are worlds better than what has come before.
They are a start (maybe, hopefully) in the direction of fixing the problems Bruni identifies.

Sarah Bessey ran a pair of blog posts a while back, contrasting "Those Who Stay" and "Those Who Leave."  In her case, she is talking about evangelicalism, but the same fundamental dynamic exists in Catholicism if you are of a progressive bent.  Either you decide that the Catholic Church, as it currently stands, is unacceptable because of its stances on women (or LGBT people, or whatever), and you leave.  Or, you see the possibility of change, and want to be part of making that change, and you stay.  The calculus involved in that choice is complicated and deeply individualistic.  It's also a dynamic decision, in the sense that every decision is necessarily tentative, and moves by institutions in one direction or another can have an enormous impact.

Bessey, very helpfully I think, tries to get people on both sides of that choice to respect the decisions of the other side, without resorting to recriminations and accusations of bad faith.

You aren’t better than the ones who go, but you aren’t foolish or blind or unconcerned or uneducated or unthinking. I know this. You have weighed your choices, more than anyone will know. You chose this, you choose this, and you will keep choosing this.

I know some of us are meant to go, some are meant to stay, and most of us do a bit of both in our lifetimes.

I think she's right.  I think both of those choices are reasonable reflections on the circumstances, and I will never criticize anyone for making either choice.  Heck, I came really close to falling on the other side of line.  My reasons for staying are complex and individualized.  They are also not set in stone.  Pope Francis could die tomorrow, and be replaced with Cardinal Burke.  You better believe that this scenario (God forbid) would change the way I think about whether I can remain a Catholic.

But, for right now, I am very encouraged, for the reasons I discussed last week.  I am part of Those Who Stay, while Bruni is speaking (in large part) for Those Who Leave.  Perhaps this is self-justification, but ultimately I think that I am right and Frank Bruni is right about how to look at Pope Francis's comments.  The comments are both very encouraging and not nearly good enough.  Where that leaves any particular person is up to them.


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