Pope Francis

October 1958…I was 6 years old. I recall my mother telling me that the new Pope was called John….John XXIII. He died in 1963 and Pope PaulVI was elected.

Essentially the reign of Pope John was my primary school years. Pope Paul VI would be the Beatles years, the grammar school years….the liberal Catholic years and young adulthood. There was a feeling that Pope Paul was rolling back the Vatican Council reforms and the big issue in the 1970s was Contraception. Crucially Abortion was not on the radar at all. And my father …himself a devout and liberal-minded layman believed as I do…that the Catholic Church, while always on the wrong side of History (Reformation, French Revolution, Democracy, Feminism) catches up….eventually.

The brief papacy of Pope John Paul gave further hope to liberals. He was not “crowned”. But all the indications were that liberals had won out over conservatives in 1978. This notion was further under-scored when a Polish pope, John Paul II. To some extent we were loured into believing this by the simple fact that he was not Italian. Of course, John Paul IIs papacy was a deep disappointment to liberals.

For some peculiar reason, the Church identifies secularism as an enemy and has been deeply suspicious of modernity.

And the Contraception Debate has been lost. The Church has basically given up oit talking about it to the Faithful. But there are other Debates.

For example…Married Priests. There are already Married Priests. Ex-Anglican ministers who left the Church of England over the issue of Women Priests. The Catholic Church has made itself the last refuge of the Anglican scoundrel. Inevitably these people are conservative in social and political terms. Liberal Catholics cannot feel happy that their Church is being so used. Yet traditional Catholics feel they are re-enforcing traditional values. Frankly it’s a contradiction which CAN be dealt with And should be. Not least because of the pressing need for new priests. For exmore, in Ireland, there are more priests in their 90s than there are in their 30s. Thats not sustainable. My observation from Texas last month is that the American church utilises it’s deacons much more and indeed women more. This …initially at least …will n happen in a more widespread.

Women Priests? The optics will change. Women will be more visible. and dare I say there will be some jockeying for position as career opportunities open up.

Homosexuality. Increasingly nobody has any real problem and gay people have a as much right to be Catholics and indeed priests as anyone else. Seemingly the only people who have any problem are priests and bishops who protest too much…such as Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Yet there is …for want of a better word…an issue of “morality”. For those of us who learned that Chastity was compulsory…then the Church DOES have a dilemma. Equal Rights must surely mean that heterosexuals and homosexuals both commit sin if they have sex outside marriage.

Equal Marriage does seem a step too far …at least for generations…But I think a Church….whether on issues of equal marriage, chastity, abortion, kosher food, divorce has at least got a right to make its own rules.

Nobody is compelled to be a member of a Church and nobody it seems…like the Chinese Government or leader writers in The Guardian get to set the rules. Just get over it. Of course what does need to change is a culture of hypocrisy and condemnation.

But what does the Church need to do. Clearly yet here are at least two impressing issues….the trust issue in regard to clerical abuse….and transparency in the Curia.

There can be little doubt that Pope Francis is a man of some personal integrity…indeed decent. The greatest charge levelled against him….by the English press …is that he is an “Argie”. Yes of course he believes that the Argentinian soldiers who died on the Malvinas were fighting for their nation. Thats the nature of a universal church. Cardinal Tomas O’Fiach and Cardinal Hume took different views on the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Frankly I still think that the name “Francis” owes as much to St Francis Xavier, the Jesuit as it does to St Francis of Assisi.

But his predecessors have set a tone. No Pope will again be crowned. Pope Benedict XVIs hand made red shoes made him risible and pointedly Pope Francis I wants to set a good example, in simple things like carrying his own suitcase and travelling with the guys in the minibus. Of course he will be sucked into protocol…but he has at least set a tone.

And that means the next series of Popes will have to match and better the good impression.

But he is 76 years old. A stop-gap? Is he a Benedict meant to hold the line for a few years until the various firestorms around the Vatican die down.? Or is he a John meant to open the windows to let the fresh air in?

His choice of staff, Curia…and his appointment of new cardinals will be interesting. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster whose red hat is automatic as Primate of England & Wales was clearly behaving like a loyal courtier and he clearly knows which way the wind is blowing. Likewise Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin seemed emboldened and even outspoken. His red hat is not automatic of course…although Cardinal Brady retires in two years….and he is the most trusted Catholic churchman in Ireland.

Personally I see Pope Francis as the first in a series of reformers who will all take the Catholic Church in the direction it is supposed to go. Incrementally….and enough to offer liberals the vision that things will get better.

Moving at the speed of the slowest horse in the regiment. I think the troop captains have just got the message that they need to break into a trot.

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1 Response to Pope Francis

  1. He is going to be a disaster if he keeps going the way he is going. I could explain why but I am so disheartened I won’t bother. Maybe add to this when I get a bit less down. I know, unChristian but stuff it.

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