By now you’ve likely heard about the interview given by Pope Francis to America, a magazine published by the Jesuits in the US.  In this history-making interview, Francis begins to re-orient the church from the corrupt political organization it has become in recent decades to its original purpose, providing the literal body of Christ on earth for its believers.  I am a non-practicing Catholic myself, having felt alienated from the church years ago, and have come to believe that the church has no real relevance in modern society short of accumulating wealth for itself and oppressing the very people that it should be serving.  The organization’s terrible mismanagement of the pedophilia scandals of recent years was but one symptom of the corruption within the leadership of the church that pointed directly at the Papacy.  John Paul II, though very popular, especially in his early years, led the church backwards from the reforms of John XXIII, retreating back into mindless dogma from the forward thinking of John and the Second Vatican Council over which he presided in 1965.

Many Catholics and clergy resisted the reforms that modernized the church, and some believe, including me, that the reforms didn’t go far enough.  The corruption of the leadership of the church continued during the papacy of Paul VI, John Paul II, and especially under Benedict XVI, who had previously served, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, essentially the church’s enforcer of religious dogma.  No outsider knows why Ratzinger retired from the Papacy this year.  Controversy swirled around his Papacy, much of it about how he handled (or, rather, didn’t handle) the many cases of corruption and pedophilia within the priesthood.

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, was elected Pope, I was very surprised.  I’ve always loved Jesuits, because, to me, they were the “thinking” order.  They focus very much on education, critical thinking, and are the intellectuals of the church.  They also focus on social justice and ecumanism.  In my undergraduate days, I was close to a young Jesuit who was doing post graduate work.  I’ve always admired him, and still correspond with him on occasion.

When Bergoglio took the name of Francis, I believe that was a signal of change that was about to come.  Francis has rejected the trappings of the Papacy, even refusing to live in the palatial Papal Apartments, preferring to live in Casa Santa Marta, the guest house on the grounds of the Vatican.  He refuses to ride in the bullet-proof limousine owned by the church, and has launched an investigation of the Vatican Bank.  He also appointed a youngish, at age 58, Secretary of State,  Archbishop Pietro Parolin, known as one of the best and brightest in the Vatican.

Since his election, Francis has made a number of statements about tolerance, the church’s obsession with dogma, abortion, and gays.  But by describing himself first as “a sinner”, I believe he is trying to refocus the Papacy on its original reason for its existence as Shepherd of the church.  I’m not naive enough to believe that this changes everything, but it’s a start.

Can you imagine the vibrancy of the church if it allowed married clergy?  How about women clerics? Ecumenical communion?  How about selling all of that art and artifacts and feeding the poor with the proceeds?  Now there is a church I would consider supporting.

 

 

 

 

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