VATICAN: The Francis Revolution is underway, not everyone is pleased

8 08 2013
People greet the Pope as he visits the Varginha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 25, 2013. Photo by Associated Press.

People greet the Pope as he visits the Varginha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 25, 2013. Photo by Associated Press.

VATICAN CITY — The Francis Revolution is underway. Not everyone is pleased.

Four months into his papacy, Francis has called on young Catholics in the trenches to take up spiritual arms to shake up a dusty, doctrinaire church that is losing faithful and relevance. He has said women must have a greater role – not as priests, but a place in the church that recognizes that Mary is more important than any of the apostles. And he has turned the Vatican upside down, quite possibly knocking the wind out of a poisonously homophobic culture by merely uttering the word “gay” and saying: so what?

In between, he has charmed millions of faithful and the mainstream news media, drawing the second-largest crowd ever to a papal Mass. That should provide some insurance as he goes about doing what he was elected to do: reform not just the dysfunctional Vatican bureaucracy but the church itself, using his own persona and personal history as a model.

“He is restoring credibility to Catholicism,” said church historian Alberto Melloni.

Such enthusiasm isn’t shared across the board.

Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, had coddled traditionalist Catholics attached to the old Latin Mass and opposed to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. That group greeted Francis’ election with concern – and now is watching its worst fears come true. Francis has spoken out both publicly and privately against such “restoratist groups,” which he accuses of being navel-gazing retrogrades out of touch with the evangelizing mission of the church in the 21st century.

His recent decision to forbid priests of a religious order from celebrating the old Latin Mass without explicit authorization seemed to be abrogating one of the big initiatives of Benedict’s papacy, a 2007 decree allowing broader use of the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy for all who want it. The Vatican denied he was contradicting Benedict, but these traditional Catholics see in Francis’ words and deeds a threat. They are in something of a retreat.

“Be smart. There will be time in the future for people to sort what Vatican II means and what it doesn’t mean,” the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf warned his traditionalist readers in a recent blog post. “But mark my words: If you gripe about Vatican II right now, in this present environment, you could lose what you have attained.”

Even more mainstream conservative Catholics aren’t thrilled with Francis.

In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said right-wing Catholics “generally have not been really happy” with Francis.

To be sure, Francis has not changed anything about church teaching. Nothing he has said or done is contrary to doctrine; everything he has said and done champions the Christian concepts of loving the sinner but not the sin and having a church that is compassionate, welcoming and merciful.

But tone and priorities can themselves constitute change, especially when considering issues that aren’t being emphasized, such as church doctrine on abortion, gay marriage and other issues frequently referenced by Benedict and Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, used the word “gay” for perhaps the first time in its 150-year history on Wednesday, in an article marveling at the change Francis has brought.

“In just a few words, the novelty has been expressed clearly and without threatening the church’s tradition,” the newspaper said about Francis’ comments on gays and women. “You can change everything without changing the basic rules, those on which Catholic tradition are based.”

The biggest headline came in Francis’ inflight news conference on the way home from Brazil this week, when he was asked about a trusted monsignor who reportedly once had a gay lover.

“Who am I to judge?” he asked, when it comes to the sexual orientation of priests, as long as they are searching for God and have good will.

Under normal circumstances, given the sexual morality at play in the Catholic Church, outing someone as actively gay is a death knell for career advancement. Vatican officials considering high-profile appointments often weigh whether someone is “ricattabile” – blackmailable.

But Francis said he investigated the allegations himself and found nothing to back them up. And that regardless, if someone is gay and repents, God not only forgives but forgets. Francis said everyone else should too. By calling out the blackmail for what it is, Francis may well have clipped the wings of an ugly but common practice at the Vatican.

Francis also made headlines with his call for the church to develop a new theology of women’s role, saying it’s not enough to have altar girls or a woman heading a Vatican department given the critical role that women have in helping the church grow.

While those comments topped the news from the 82-minute news conference, he revealed plenty of other insights that reinforce the idea that a very different papacy is underway.

_Annulments: He said the church’s judicial system of annulling marriages must be “looked at again” because church tribunals simply aren’t up to the task. That could be welcome news to many Catholics who often have to wait years for an annulment, the process by which the church determines that a marriage effectively never took place.

_Divorce and remarriage: He suggested an opening in church teaching which forbids a divorced and remarried Catholic from taking communion unless they get an annulment, saying: “This is a time for mercy.”

_Church governance: He said his decision to appoint eight cardinals to advise him was based on explicit requests from cardinals at the conclave that elected him who wanted “outsiders” – not Vatican officials – governing the church. Francis obliged, essentially creating a parallel government for the church alongside the Vatican bureaucracy: a pope and a cabinet of cardinals representing the church in each of the continents.

And then there was Rio.

From the moment he touched down, it was clear change was afoot. No armored popemobile, just a simple Fiat sedan – one that got swarmed by adoring fans when it got lost and stuck in traffic. Rather than recoil in fear, Francis rolled down his window. Given that popes until recently were carried around on a chair to keep them above the fray, that gesture alone was revolutionary.

He told 35,000 pilgrims from his native Argentina to make a “mess” in their dioceses, shake things up and go out into the streets to spread their faith, even at the expense of confrontation with their bishops. He led by example, diving into the crowds in one of Rio’s most violent slums.

“Either you do the trip as it needs to be done, or you don’t do it at all,” he told Brazil’s TV Globo. He said he simply couldn’t have visited Rio “closed up in a glass box.”

Pope Francis blesses a child as he rides on the popemobile to celebrate mass in Rio de Janeiro Sunday July 28, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of young people slept under chilly skies in the white sand of Copacabana awaiting Pope Francis’ final Mass for World Youth Day.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Pope Francis blesses a child as he rides on the popemobile to celebrate mass in Rio de Janeiro Sunday July 28, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of young people slept under chilly skies in the white sand of Copacabana awaiting Pope Francis’ final Mass for World Youth Day.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Pope Francis (C) salutes the crowd as he arrives for his general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on May 22, 2013. AFP PHOTO by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images.

Pope Francis (C) salutes the crowd as he arrives for his general audience in St Peter’s square at the Vatican on May 22, 2013. AFP PHOTO by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images.

Pope Francis (C) waves to faithfuls gathered in St Peter's square at the Vatican upon his arrival on June 12, 2013 for his weekly general audience. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images.

Pope Francis (C) waves to faithfuls gathered in St Peter’s square at the Vatican upon his arrival on June 12, 2013 for his weekly general audience. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images.

Pope Francis welcomes a group of children who traveled on a special train from Milan and arrived at the St. Peter station at the Vatican, Sunday, June 23, 2013, to meet with the Pope. During the traditional Angelus blessing, one of the most cherished traditions of the Catholic Church, the pope spoke off the cuff, telling young people in the square to not be afraid of "going against the current." Photo by Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press.

Pope Francis welcomes a group of children who traveled on a special train from Milan and arrived at the St. Peter station at the Vatican, Sunday, June 23, 2013, to meet with the Pope. During the traditional Angelus blessing, one of the most cherished traditions of the Catholic Church, the pope spoke off the cuff, telling young people in the square to not be afraid of “going against the current.” Photo by Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press.

Pope Francis blesses a child as he leaves in his papamobile after the Holy mass with the ecclesial movements for Pentecost Sunday on May 19, 2013 at St peter's square at the Vatican. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images.

Pope Francis blesses a child as he leaves in his papamobile after the Holy mass with the ecclesial movements for Pentecost Sunday on May 19, 2013 at St peter’s square at the Vatican. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images.

In this photo made available by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis welcomes a group of children who traveled on a special train from Milan and arrived at the St. Peter station at the Vatican, Sunday, June 23, 2013, to meet with the Pope. During the traditional Angelus blessing, one of the most cherished traditions of the Catholic Church, the pope spoke off the cuff, telling young people in the square to not be afraid of

In this photo made available by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis welcomes a group of children who traveled on a special train from Milan and arrived at the St. Peter station at the Vatican, Sunday, June 23, 2013, to meet with the Pope. During the traditional Angelus blessing, one of the most cherished traditions of the Catholic Church, the pope spoke off the cuff, telling young people in the square to not be afraid of “going against the current.” Photo by Associated Press/L’Osservatore Romano.


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8 08 2013
Jura Nanuk

Interesting comments from Religious Tolerance group where I have posted this article:

Wendy de Charnacé: He’s unifying us rather than dividing us… We need to get away from who is right or wrong when it comes to faith. We need to focus on finding our common ground… that we all need love, food, shelter.. acceptance.. respect… the list goes on..we all have the same basic needs. I’m not Catholic either but he is a Humanistic Pope. God blessings to him.

Jura Nanuk Wendy: thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree, he is unifying people. I believe he is the best thing that happened to Catholic Church in a long time, but looks some Catholics don’t realize that.

Wendy de Charnacé: I know some of these Catholics.. but they are not reading the Holy Words of the Bible… I focus on Love, Laughter and Light! Of course God will cause his wrath n us but we don’t know when or why.. as He is in charge not us , not the Pope…

Joel E Matthews: I find him refreshing and actually quite inspiring. What I like the most is that he seems to have dropped a huge amount of pretense, of “I’m Pope, therefore I’m special” attitude. Personally I think many religious leaders could learn from his humility.

Jura Nanuk: I would really love to see the meeting between this pope and Dalai Lama.

Amberdawn Mattke Anderson: Looks like he’s out to slay some stereotypes and get church numbers up. Not a Christian, but rallying those that share your faith with a show of growth and tolerance is always a good thing

Jeanne Wilkins: I think he has the potential to mend a lot of bridges. I like him very much. I’m also not a Christian, but I have a ton of respect for this man, he’s got it right, imo.

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