Pope Francis now needs to actually do something

By every tangible measure, Pope Francis is no different from his predecessors. He opposes abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, adoptions by gay couples, and has not called off the inquiry into the social activism of American nuns. And yet simply by saying a few things about gays and atheists that were not outright hateful and that many other Christians had long ago said, and by expressing some gentle criticisms of the current scandalous state of wealth inequality, he has driven the right and the Republican party in in this country into a tizzy. It just shows how much they have assumed that successive popes were Tea Party members in all but name.

But I think the pope has gone as far as he can in softening the image of the Catholic church by words and symbolic gestures alone. These are not insignificant but unless he takes some concrete steps that go beyond what his predecessors did, he risks becoming seen as merely a public relations pope.

There are things that he could do without changing church doctrine, such as cracking down on the clergy who committed sexual abuse and those in authority who covered up for them, speaking out strongly against those nations that are actively persecuting homosexuals and atheists, reining in the lavish lifestyle of some church leaders, telling the leaders of countries to leave gays and atheists alone and not persecute them, because only god can judge them.

I don’t expect his words to have much effect in the US. Religious people here have long become accustomed to doing what they want to do for other reasons and then picking and choosing from religion to justify it. But in some poorer countries where the church still is the focus of local life, his words could be a significant force in easing persecution.

If he takes such kinds of steps, then he could have a real impact on the world, especially in the developing world. Otherwise he risks sliding into irrelevancy.


  1. David Wilford says

    speaking out strongly against those nations that are actively persecuting homosexuals and atheists

    This report does seem encouraging at least:

    29 December 2013 | By Andrew Potts

    Pope Francis’ representative to Uganda has expressed his shock at lawmakers passing a bill that would see people imprisoned for life for having gay sex, reiterating the church’s opposition to the bill.

    Papal Nuncio to Uganda Archbishop Michael Blume was written to by Divine Word Missionaries Brother Brian McLauchlin on 21 December, asking him to speak to Catholic bishops in the country about the law’s potential to abuse people’s human rights.

    ‘I am writing to you about a grave matter in terms of human rights abuses towards LGBT persons in Uganda,’ McLauchlin wrote.

    ‘Uganda’s Parliament recently passed a bill calling for tougher punishments for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment for those considered “repeat offenders.” In addition, this bill also criminalizes the public promotion of homosexuality. Once the President of Uganda signs the legislation, it will become law.

    ‘I am gravely concerned that a number of human rights violations will occur if the President signs this bill. Although the Catholic Hierarchy may not approve of same-sex relationships or a homosexual lifestyle, I believe the Hierarchy would agree that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Imprisoning someone for life would clearly constitute an abuse of his/her rights.’

    McLauchlin urged that Catholics use their influence in Uganda to make sure the bill does not become law.

    – See more at: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/pope-francis%E2%80%99-representative-uganda-concerned-new-anti-gay-law291213#sthash.MyKJYt5V.dpuf

  2. says

    One thing he did that may or may not end up changing the RCC for good: the launch last november of a survey of the world’s Catholic population about their feelings on “modern family life” (including contraception, same-sex marriage, etc.) with the view to prepare a series of synods this year and the next. If a pope wanted to actually nudge the Church toward a little more liberalism, he’d need to outmanoeuver the ecclesiastical hierachy, more entrenched than ever since the last two popes only named conservative cardinals. An overwhelming support from the flock for reforms might be then the point from which to start a new “aggiornamento” of the Church… or it might peter out in good words but no action, again.

    If Francis even just managed to change the strict hierachical, autoritharian government of the RCC, and give some real power to elected representatives, it would go a long way to get the Catholic world on the road to the 21st century.

  3. says

    “He has driven the right and the Republican party in in this country into a tizzy.”

    Unfortunatley, he’s also driven a lot on the left to fawn over him. (I am somewhat hopeful, though, that some good could come out of this — hopefully the left will be more aggressive on income inequality issues thinking they are doing God’s work…or something.)

  4. fentex says

    I was discussing this with a friend who, though not religious, as a occasional professional singer performs at masses for his fathers choir.

    He told me it’s remarkable how the Catholics there feel better for having Francis as a Pope – he finds an actual tangible relief and lifting of, oh, some kind of guilt, at having a more humane Pope permeating peoples discussion.

    When I mentioned that it seemed all talk and no substance he pointed out that Francis has been suspending Cardinals for abusing their position and if one thinks about it has a mighty messy hierarchy that needs cleaning out before anyone could, whether or not they will, enact real change. And that’s not just a years work.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    fentex @ # 4: … Francis has been suspending Cardinals …

    A search for “Pope Francis suspends cardinal” at the BBC site turned up only a <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/news/?q=pope%20francis%20suspends%20cardinal"<story about the Monsignor busted for smuggling 20M Euros last year.

    The same search at DuckDuckGo produced a spate about the Bishop of Bling‘s sad downfall the very same year.

    Please name the cardinals now dangling before the Pope’s iron justice, with cites.

  6. Matt G says

    Why would conservatives appoint such an allegedly liberal pope, especially if he plans to clean house? Wouldn’t they want the status quo? My feeling is that they saw the writing on the wall (and the numbers from developed countries crashing) and knew they needed to LOOK more open, tolerant, welcoming, with the times, etc. I still think it’s mostly a public relations gambit but am prepared to be proven wrong.

  7. says

    Pierce, I’m with you. I’m getting tired of the suspension of the Blingshop brought up every time I ask if the pope has actually done something progressive.

    He suspended one bishop, who had been outright flaunting his extravagances. The whole thing feels like he got fired for being caught, not for the amount of money he wasted.

  8. fentex says

    Please name the cardinals now dangling before the Pope’s iron justice, with cites.

    He pointed out, I did not. I think he meant the German Bishop suspended for his excesses. At the time we were speaking I tihnk we both thought there was more than one.

    My personal opinion, expressed on these blogs before, is that until he hands over molesters, stops the church from actively thwarting secular authority and opens his banks books I will reserve judgement on his actually improving anything.

    He is an individual and not the institution, no matter what his personal feelings and intentions I doubt he will effect a lasting change to the good.

  9. Nick Gotts says

    He is an individual and not the institution – fentex

    But his power within the institution is vast. There is no procedure for removing him, and if he promulgates a new doctrine (say, that punishing people for homosexual acts is wrong, or that contraception and abortion are matters of private conscience, or that women can occupy any post within the church on the same basis as men) and declares that he is speaking ex cathedra on the matter, then that becomes Catholic teaching for all time. On a smaller scale, nearly half of Ugandans are Catholic: if he had threatened to excommunicate any Ugandan member of Parliament who voted for the atrocious anti-gay Bill, he’d at least have shown he was really interested in stoping it. The good he could do is enormous; he chooses not to do it.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    fentex @ # 10 – that your friend remembers the solitary case of an egregious bishop and turns it into multiple instances of those ~two ranks higher in the hierarchy provides a prime example of the unreliability of human memory.

    IF Pope Francis really wants to change his church, at the age of 77 (the full biblical allotment + 10%) he will have to move faster to make a lasting difference.

  11. fentex says

    But his power within the institution is vast.

    True and if he bent his efforts to effecting lasting change he might do so – thus I reserve judgement until it is seen if he does or not. To date his actions have been good P.R but not apparent improvements in church policy worth mentioning.

    I do think a year is too early to judge him as the institution he has to shift, if he wants to, is vast and the political game play involved complex. It would take time to position allies and remove opponents.

    If he wants to carry Catholics to a better place he has to win them over first, prevent internal disagreement that questions his lead, establish interests vested in his ambitions. He’s a Jesuit, he knows these things.

    Time will tell what he bends his efforts to – though as pointed out at 77 he hasn’t got too much to squander.

    that your friend remembers the solitary case of an egregious bishop and turns it into multiple instances of those ~two ranks higher in the hierarchy provides a prime example of the unreliability of human memory.

    I think both he and I conflated reports of other investigated bishops with the suspension of one.

  12. Nick Gotts says

    Meet the new Pope… Same as the old Pope.

    Summary: Vatican refuses to extradite an archbishop under investigation for child sex abuse. They’ve moved him to another “parish” (i.e. brought him to the Vatican from the Dominican Republic, the scene of his alleged crimes).

    This is absolutely clear evidence that Francis is pure PR manipulator, with no real intention of bringing about substantive change.

  13. David Wilford says

    This report is not encouraging with regard to covering up child abuse:

    In questions posed by the U.N. committee before the hearing, the Vatican was asked to provide details of cases of sexual abuse committed by clergy that were brought to its attention, to detail measures for ensuring clergy accused of sexual abuse did not remain in contact with children, and to explain what explicit instructions it had given to ensure compulsory reporting of sexual abuse to the competent national authorities together with the cases where instructions had been given not to report abuse.

    Written answers from the Vatican emphasized the distinction between the Holy See and the Catholic Church and said that although it encouraged adherence to the principles of the convention globally, it was responsible only for implementing the convention in the territory of the Vatican City State.

    “It was quite shocking. It was a pretty direct, pretty blunt effort to sidestep the questions,” Pam Spees, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which is seeking to hold Vatican officials responsible for sexual abuse crimes, said in an interview.


  14. Nick Gotts says

    David Wilford@15,

    Yes, high time for you to take your head out of your fundament and come to terms with the fact that Bergoglio was elected to improve the RCC’s image without making any significant change to the reality, and that’s exactly what he intends to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *