In the film Philomena that I reviewed earlier, the nuns that took in the young pregnant Philomena and then sold her child into adoption against her will were portrayed as overtly mean and cruel, mostly older women with stern expressions, except for the young nun who assisted her with her delivery and gave her a surreptitiously taken photograph of her child that she treasured all her life.
When Philomena returned with the journalist fifty years later to see whether she could track down her son, the chief nun is now a young and friendly woman who seems like she wants to assist her and is truly regretful that she cannot help her in her quest. But we find out that she is as deliberately obstructive as her predecessors were and just as willing to lie but that she hides it well.
While watching the film, it struck me that this was a metaphor for the Catholic church and pope Francis, although the film was made before he became pope. He is the equivalent of the new young chief nun, seemingly open and friendly and signaling a different attitude. But as yet we have not seen any major change in policies, though hopes are continuously being raised because of rumors about possible changes in divorce and marriage for priests.
The main change has been his emphasis that bishops and clergy should shed ostentatious behavior and that has trickled down, with luxury-indulging clergy being told to knock it off. A local Catholic priest who owned two cars said that he had sold one because of the new tone.
I do not expect any changes in the church’s policy on contraception, abortion, ordination of women priests, or on married priests. The only ones that seem feasible are that he stops the crackdown on American nuns who focus more on social justice issues than sexual ones, and that he opens up the full records of the abuse scandals and cleans house of all the abusers and those who covered them up. These are not doctrinal issues and as such can be done administratively.
Francis has been in office for a little over a year and one has to grant him a honeymoon period, especially since the church is a giant bureaucratic institution. But if at the end of the his second year he has not done even the things mentioned above, then he would be like the new chief nun in Philomena, a kinder, gentler face on the same old harsh institution.