We had a phrase in the Curia that described our approach to some questions and challenges: Cunctando regitur mundus. This is a fundamental dimension of Romanitas: the world is ruled by delaying.
You outwait your opponents, rather than outwit them. Think Cincinnatus and the Aequi.
There is an engaging piece at The Week about the Pope’s “cunning” long-game strategy. Damon Linker, the writer, may be right and he may be wrong. Either way it is a great read.
Pope Francis’ cunning long game
Pope Francis’ stealth reform of the Roman Catholic Church shows no sign of slowing down — and may even be accelerating.
Stealth is key here. If the pope had declared earlier this month that henceforth the Roman Catholic Church would authoritatively teach that homosexuals should be happy being gay, that God made them homosexual, and that God himself (along with the pope) loves them just the way they are, it would have been a massive story in the history of Catholicism — and one that quite likely would have precipitated a major schism, with conservative bishops and priests (mainly in North America and Africa) formally breaking from Rome.
But because word of the pope saying these things comes to us second hand, in a report of a private conversation between Francis and a gay man named Juan Carlos Cruz who is also a victim of the clerical sex abuse crisis in Chile, the utterance will go down as just the latest example of the pope making unorthodox statements in settings in which he has plausible deniability and in which he can claim he was speaking as a pastor rather than as an expositor of the church’s official dogmas and doctrines.
Most popes view themselves as caretakers of the church’s authoritative teachings on faith and morals. When it comes to homosexuality, they would therefore be inclined to reaffirm the position laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which clearly states that homosexual desires are “intrinsically disordered” because they are not oriented to the end of procreation. (The same is true of masturbation and other non-procreative sex acts.)
If Pope Francis were a straightforward reformer, he would seek to change church doctrine regardless of the potentially dire consequences for church unity. But Francis is well aware of the limits of his power and the danger of pushing too far too fast. So he has set out on a different, and distinctive, path.
What unites all of these examples is a distinctive approach to church dogma and doctrine. Instead of acting as an expositor of these core teachings of the church, the pope selectively diverges from them in his actions and statements without deigning to change the teachings themselves. The implicit message is the same in every case: The pope himself thinks it’s possible to be a member of the church in good standing while failing to abide by all of the institution’s rules.
[I] think the pope’s strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present.
He could be right. It could be that Francis is doing this as part of a long-term plan. Or maybe not.
I am convinced that Pope John Paul in fact did have a few long-term plans. I think he knew somehow that he would have a long pontificate. He set out to shift the world’s episcopate from being nearly-out-of-the-Church weird, to being middle-of-the-road to conservative… slowly. He started out by appointing a couple of strange guys (presented by the Congregation – which he shifted around) and a good guy. Eventually, it was a couple of good guys and a strange guy. He never moved hard enough to provoke a schism, which, it seems to me, could very well have happened in these USA after the chaos of post-conciliar era and the pontifical of Paul VI.
Sure. This is the blogosphere, after all.