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So Much Ado About “Fiducia Supplicans,” Part 1

Much of the ado or the fuzz on “Fiducia Supplicans” is magnified by Catholic media (and picked up by mainstream) who are not supportive of Pope Francis. There are legitimate confusions out there and there is also disinformation, misinformation being sowed to muddy the issue. Pope Francis recently defended a landmark decision approving blessings for same-sex couples, suggesting that those in the Catholic Church who have resisted it have jumped to “ugly conclusions” because they do not understand it.

Well, “understanding” is certainly one reason for Catholics who are willing to understand, to take the time to explore the matter further. Dogma is another reason why some Catholics will refuse to understand, regardless. Faith and reason, the main pillars of Catholicism are already baked in dogmatic people. So, for those who are willing to understand but are currently confused, there is really nothing to fret about. One way to help understand what’s behind “Fiducia,” is to understand where the pope is coming from.

This is the 21st century where modernity is a way of life. Billions of Catholics cannot continue to rely on centuries old understanding and traditions. That is why there is a pope who is the leader of the organization. Remember that the pope was selected by cardinals seated in a conclave. The whole idea behind the conclave is that their choice for the papacy is inspired by the Holy Spirit. In the case of Pope Francis, perhaps part of the resistance is the fact that he is the first Jesuit pope that became part of St. Peter’s line of succession.

Another factor to consider is the fact that change is a process that takes time. And certainly, for the Catholic Church, change can be measured in decades, if not centuries. Look, liberalization of the Church began in 1965 when the Vatican II Council was convened by Pope John XXIII “to bring the Church into the modern world.” Nearly 60 years later, Pope Francis is picking off where the last pope stopped. But as the case before, the conservatives continue to resist change and would rather stick with ancient traditions.

The process of change (for those willing to change) involves stages, if you will, that eventually leads to enlightenment and understanding, or failure. Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist introduced us to the theory of “Self-efficacy,” a framework of change that involves three distinct parameters: initiating a coping behavior, effort expended, and overcoming obstacles.

First, individuals accept that a change is inevitable being a faithful Catholic and initiate a coping behavior like knowing more what the pope is talking about, with an open mind. Individuals then seek out more information about the changes. In the process, opposing views from Conservative sources can become obstacles to fully understand what the implications are for the change or changes.

In the 70’s, James Prochaska, an American researcher introduced the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) also known as the Stages of Change Model to further define the process of change. The model involves five stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Perhaps we can complement Bandura’s “self-efficacy” theory with Prochaska’s 5-stage model to better understand the evolving change.

Pre-contemplation is marked by lack of awareness of the issue. This is the stage that individuals fail to see the need to change just because somebody (the pope) introduced a far-reaching change. Like, they don’t care. The clergy, individuals’ loved ones and others who may already be encouraging these individuals to see and understand things differently but won’t budge. Often, they’ll say, “it’s not my understanding and belief that needs to change, it’s the Church who keeps moving the goal post.”

Eventually (less than a year) that these individuals upon receiving more clarifications, explanations, or an epiphany that they begin to consider the change that has taken place but is ambivalent about the pros and cons and still not committed to making the change. This is the contemplation stage. Individuals would often say, “I know that this change is probably good for me and for my faith but until I’m fully convinced, I’m still weighing what others are saying who oppose such change.”

When people accept change as good (preparation stage), and that is the assumption we will be making as to Pope Francis’ motivation for the changes he introduced, it follows what Heraclitus meant when he said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Jose Mari Chan sang that “Life is a constant change,” with constant struggle to swim across the river of life that Heraclitus alluded to. This is an important concept because there is a psychological aspect to change that can help lead to moral development from “Fiducia.”

First, let’s entertain the “willing” who are now in the preparation stage. Behavior modification is not a prerequisite to begin the change process. The mere publication of “Fiducia” and subsequent declarations or clarifications from different sources in the Vatican will not result in instantaneous change or understanding. The fact that the Vatican is providing clarifications indicates that they understand that some people will not “get it.” Personally, the 40 pages “Fiducia” is not an easy read although the envisioned act is only a “simple” pastoral blessing.

To understand the joy of pastoral or theological importance of “Fiducia,” individuals who have moved to the next stage – maintenance – where individuals have already jumped in the water and don’t want to swim back. It is at this point that individuals need to go back to the time when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires assumed the papacy in 2013. It also helps to understand that during his earlier assignments including being a theology teacher and rector of Colegio Maximo, that he has solidly attained his credentials to talk theology.

Also, before he joined the clergy, he earned a master’s degree in chemistry and would later earn a liberal arts degree in philosophy. He would also later teach literature and psychology in secondary schools in Argentina according to his biodata. Clearly, the pope established himself a liberal when it comes to human condition, injustice, and inequity.

Unlike others though, Bishop Bergoglio lived his beliefs and advocacies much like Saint Francis of Assisi who lived in the 12th century and worked among the poor and lived a life of simplicity. He took public transportation rather than being chauffeured in an expensive car as had been the tradition for bishops who previously held that office. Riding the bus and subway with the poor in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio walked the talk.

In Buenos Aires, Bergoglio already made his positions known on social issues, consistently reiterating the Church teaching in the Catechism that people (including homosexuals) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. At the same, he also publicly opposed government efforts to promote free contraception and artificial insemination. His stance against abortion, euthanasia, and attempts to redefine traditional marriage were well known in Argentina and in South America. (To be Continued.)


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