03/20/2013, 00.00
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A pope for the media and one for the faith, urgent need for Church reform in Lebanon

by Fady Noun
The "distortion" of the Second Vatican Council that Benedict XVI had observed also applies to Pope Francis, who will have to face this problem. Economic, moral and ethical questions as well as role models of faith will be the main challenges. A "radical change" is needed for the Lebanese clergy.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - In the days preceding his renunciation of the pontificate, Benedict XVI talked about the Second Vatican Council, saying that two councils had taken place. One was at the level of the media, the other, at the level of the faith. For the bishop emeritus of Rome, the world saw Vatican II "through the media".

Although the "the Council of the Fathers was conducted within the faith," that of the journalists took place "within today's media categories," within a political "hermeneutics" that saw "a power struggle between different trends in the Church".

The "media Council" imposed itself in society, creating many problems for the practical application of the "real Council". The virtual Council," the pope lamented, "was stronger than the real Council."

However, "the real force of the Council" has slowly become the "true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church." Fifty "years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken," and that "there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force."

Benedict XVI's observations are true not only for Vatican II but also for the life of the Church in general. We perceive events through different categories of reference. Francis's pontificate will not escape from this. There will be the media's pope and that of faith.

One category media organisations always use is that of "openness to the world". It is bound to distort the relationship that will emerge between the new pontiff and public opinion.

What does "openness to the world" mean? Respect and understanding of diversity, compassion for the poorest, the weakest, the most marginalised? From that point of view, the new pope is beyond reproach.

Does openness to the world mean making compromises with the truth? Does this so-called openness to the world apply also to behaviour in matters of morality? On many moral and ethical issues, like birth control, marriage, the family, sexual mores, assisted reproductive technology, euthanasia, genetic engineering, eugenics, the Church and the world have very different visions, in some cases totally opposite, adversarial visions not only on the means but also on the ends.

Openness to the world cannot be understood as openness of life to death. On this, Benedict XVI had said that it could happen again, when he spoke about the ways the media perceive events as "a power struggle between different trends in the Church" or a power struggle between the Church and the "world", i.e. between different value systems.

The matter is bound to touch upon issues that primarily internal to the Church on which the media insist obsessively: female priesthood, priestly celibacy, sexual deviancy, immoral behaviour, lack of transparency. It will also include the reorganisation of the Institute for Religious Work (IOR), i.e. the Vatican bank, whose standards fall short of what it ought to be, but which is undergoing major reforms thanks to Benedict XVI.

Radically different, if not opposite, approaches between the Church and the "world" have emerged over many economic, environmental and demographic issues. They include family planning and birth control at the continental and world levels, gender theory, economic liberalism social justice and uneven relations among nations. On this last point, it is probable that with the new pope, the Catholic Church and neoliberal economies will come into conflict.

Lastly, ecumenism and interfaith dialogue will be two major factors on which the "world" and the Church might have different opinions. With its media, social networks, shows, "real time", stock exchanges and dysfunctions, the "world" appears more like a pack than the human race.

Pope Francis was elected for certain humble and fundamental reasons: his lifestyle, humility, and closeness to the poor. But he is not a weak man. On the contrary, this sweet pastor hides in reality a giant whose voice rings out as a "battle cry" to defend his flock against the many circling wolves. What is more, as the Vatileaks scandal clearly evinced, wolves are already inside the fold.

For Lebanon

What does Pope Francis's election entail for Lebanon? At the level of regional diplomacy, there will be continuity in matters of policy. The Holy See knows that the future of world peace will be played out here. Equally, the Church has to address the danger of "desertification" of the Christian East.

For the Church, the pope's love for poverty and his modesty will certainly be an obstacle because they will entail a radical change with respect to the virtues of obedience, poverty and chastity for some of those who are considered to be role models for the flock.

A recently published book shows in measured tones the challenges the Lebanese Church faces in terms of clergy reform. In convents, discipline is so lax that no one dare ask monks, who come home at any time of the day and night, where they were or why they did not take part in morning prayers. Similar situations exist everywhere.

In fact, I am reminded of one of those cases involving the "little people" the Lord likes to defend. It involves a man who waited three times before he could meet the financial officer of a religious school to ask him for the payment of outstanding bills and a school document for his daughter.

"I do not know why, but the monk I met was constantly yawning," he said. This is an example of the ways "little" people are humiliated.

In the "world" as in the Church, the humble Francis will be the perfect image of the teacher, a man of peace and a man of struggle who will undercut the established system.

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