As red-blooded Americans do over the July 4 holiday, I was watching a baseball game recently – a 19-inning affair, in which the Cleveland Indians set a franchise record with 14 straight wins. At one point along the way I heard a play-by-play guy exclaim, “Wow, did that pitch have a lot of spin!”
I couldn’t help thinking that in my experience, there’s a fair amount of spin on the Vatican beat too. The random line triggered a thought: What if Catholicism were like baseball, and there were play-by-play commentary on papal statements?
(I suppose the question could be framed in terms of other sports too, but as I’ve long insisted, there’s a natural kinship between Catholicism and baseball. Both are designed to be pastoral, both feature obscure rules clear only to devotees — think the infield fly rule and the Pauline privilege — and in both, the ultimate aim is to get home safely.)
Once the idea presented itself, I began imagining scenarios. The following are a few snippets of play-calling that seem plausible based on recent experience.
Pope suggests apology to gays
On his June 26 return flight from Armenia to Rome, Pope Francis agreed with the idea that perhaps Christians owe gays an apology for past mistreatment. Less quoted was the fact that Francis situated the remark in the context of several other groups to whom he felt apologies are probably due, and also referred to being gay as a “condition.”
Bloggers fired off responses, mostly focusing on the idea of an apology to gays, and here’s the chatter I hear in my head.
“X steps up to plate, swinging a hot bat … he’s been knocking papal pitches recently all around the park, driving them deep. You know he’s got to be looking for something out over the plate, maybe a high hanging fastball, that he can square up on.”
“Here comes the pitch from Francis …”
“X takes a mighty cut … oh baby, he got all of that one, it’s a towering shot out to right field … but hold everything, the ball is veering foul, because he didn’t cite the full quote but only the part that ticked him off.”
Pope downplays women deacons
Also in that airborne press conference, Francis insisted that his recent decision to create a commission to study women deacons didn’t mean the Church had “opened the door,” and said that more important than the “functions” women hold is hearing their voice.
He also took a swipe at how the media reported the story, saying “the first to be surprised by this news was me.”
This time, I imagine the pope in the batter’s box.
“Francis settles into his stance … X has got a strong arm, and Francis sometimes has problems handling lefties who pitch him inside, so you have to think he’ll be looking to make solid contact … here comes the toss, and it’s a curve ball on women deacons …”
“Francis takes a rip, and oh doctor, did he ever tattoo it … it’s a screaming shot straight down the middle … wait, the ball takes a crazy carom into right, and Francis makes it to third on a stand-up triple… what a play: the pope managed to seem pro-woman, reluctant on female clergy, and critical of the media, all with one swing of the bat.”
[Insert a Vin Scully promo for Farmer John sausage at your next parish picnic here.]
Pope says living together is better than shotgun marriages
During a recent session with priests and pastoral workers from the Diocese of Rome, Francis recounted a story from Buenos Aires of prohibiting what he called matrimonios de apuro, basically the equivalent of “shotgun marriages,” just because a baby was on the way.
The line stirred controversy when some took the pontiff to be advocating cohabitation outside marriage. Here’s the call I envision, with Francis on the mound.
“X comes into the box ready to swing away … he was steamed by the pope’s two Synod of Bishops on the family, and you just know he’d like nothing better than to send this one over the fence.”
“Here comes the pitch … X swings and drives the ball into the gap, rounding first and sliding safely into second with a double, arguing that what Francis said could be seen as encouraging couples to avoid marriage and to live in sin.”
“But wait … Francis is signaling to the dugout that he wants a review.”
“The crew chief is on the headset … we’re waiting for the call … and here it is: X is being sent back to first, because after looking at it on tape, replay officials decided X may have a point but also forgot to mention that Francis probably was reflecting his Latin American experience and not necessarily making a sweeping case about the whole world.”
Pope says most marriages are null
In that same session with Roman church personnel, Francis also made headlines by claiming that the “vast majority” of sacramental marriages today are null because couples don’t understand what permanence really means.
Protest ensued, as various commentators insisted the remark was both an insult to faithfully married couples and also discouraging to people considering marriage. The next day, the Vatican corrected the transcript to read “a part” of marriages are null, reportedly with the pope’s approval.
Here’s the call, with Francis at the plate.
“Francis takes a couple of practice swings, and looks ready for the pitch … you’ve got to think he’s geared up to unload, since he’s been talking marriage and the family since he came up to the big leagues three years ago.”
“Here’s the delivery, right out over the middle of the plate …”
“Can you believe your eyes? Francis takes a huge cut and foul-tips the ball straight into the catcher’s mitt … listen to that crowd, because it sure isn’t happy … it’s an out for the hot-hitting pontiff, and let me tell you folks, I bet he’s going to want to have that one back!”