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Who Am I to Judge?


James Martin, S.J., and J. Patrick Hornbeck
Photo by Dana Maxson

Does the Italian word accogliere mean “welcoming,” or does it mean “providing for?” Does it even really matter?

In a lively discussion Monday night at the Lincoln Center campus, James Martin, S.J., and J. Patrick Hornbeck, Ph.D., agreed that the fact that question is even being asked is just as important as the answer.

Taking place a day after the conclusion of the first half of a Synod on the Family that the Pope called for at the Vatican, the discussion “Who am I to Judge? How Pope Francis is Changing the Church,” revolved a great deal on the Synod.

Although a first draft of a report on the meeting originally contained in the title an English translation: a “welcome” to Catholics who are divorced and remarried, cohabitating or LGBT, a revised title used the term “providing for,” for the original Italian word accogliere.

Father Martin, the editor at large at America Magazine, and master of ceremonies for The Cardinal and Colbert, held at Fordham in 2012, recalled following the press conference when the first report was read aloud.

“I want to say for the record, I don’t think the media made too much of this. This is in fact a change. Welcome, partners, precious love…it was astonishing. I’ve never read or heard language like that,” he said.

And even though the Cardinals dialed back the language in the second report, Martin noted that the Synod will meet again in 2015, and only then will the Pope issue an Apostolic Exhortation that will be the final teaching document.

That said, the transparency of the debate has been exhilarating, said Hornbeck, who is chair of the Fordham Theology Department.

“These are the sorts of issues the Christian church has resolved over the centuries by this sort of process. The word Synod is a Greek word that means “walking together,” Hornbeck said.

“The fact that the word “partner” is being used in that room, in the Vatican, and appeared in the first draft document, is showing a phenomenal acceptance of the terms that people use to describe each other.”

As the first Jesuit Pope, Francis brings to the Papacy a very different style and background from his predecessors, including a disregard for the traditional trappings of the position. Father Martin noted that Jesuits not only to pledge not to strive for any high office in the church; they also promise to report colleagues who they suspect of the same.

He joked that it’s the “vow to rat somebody out.”

“Saint Ignatius was so opposed to the clericism that he saw in his time that he built that into our life. So he great thing is, you have someone in the highest office who made a promise never to do that,” he said. “He’s free.”

Pope Francis’ background as a Jesuit explains his rejection of “Papolatry,” the deification of the Pope. Father Martin also noted that when you lead others in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, as the Pope has, “you start to realize, God is powerfully at work in everyone, even people you might not like or don’t agree with. The Lord is present in everyone.”

This is why he’s willing to encourage cardinals to disagree openly with him, and to use a phrase most affiliated with politics, “see the sausage being made.”

“What the Pope has to do is bring the whole Church along. He can’t leave certain groups behind, he can’t leave certain geographic areas behind. So I think the idea of progressing without splitting things up is very central for what he’s trying to do,” Father Martin said.

The talk drew nearly 250 people to Pope Auditorium.
Photo by Dana Maxson

Hornbeck also noted that throughout history, an important Ignatian pedagogical paradigm has been to ask, “Where is the student?” and proceed from there.

“The goal is not to say, ‘Oh bad student, look at this nasty place you’re in, let me try to help you out of it,’ but ‘Let me understand who you are in that place, and let me see God in you in that place,’” he said.

There’s so much engagement [at this Synod]with reality as it is that struck me as very Ignatian.”

Can Francis enact change, reform the Curia and reinvigorate the Catholic Church? The challenges are real, but Father Martin expressed confidence.

“When the Pope reached out and embraced that severely disfigured man, he did something that a Synod cannot do. When he said who am I to judge?, he did something that a teaching document cannot do,” he said.

“Whenever I hear people say the Pope cannot do this, or the church cannot do this, or this will never happen, I always say nothing is impossible with God,” Father Martin said.


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