What’s not to like about Pope Francis? He disappoints liberals, but he scares the socks off conservatives. Let me count the ways the pontiff is shaking up the church . . .
1. He praises other faiths.
Popes past have reached out to those with differing beliefs in God, but in the vein of “loving the sinner” despite adhering to false beliefs. Francis, on the other hand, speaks of the spiritual treasures in other faiths and how we can learn from them.
The Second Vatican Council stated that the Jewish Covenant is from God, and Francis has lived by that affirmation. More importantly, he has praised the Qur’an and prayed with Muslims in their mosques, writing “together with us they adore the One Merciful God [using a Muslim prayer formula].”
In his major document, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis wrote, “As Christians we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us both to live our own beliefs.” At a time when Catholics and Muslims each have about 1.5 billion believers, it’s words like these that will help keep the world from a ruinous Holy War. This may be the greatest contribution Francis can make to the world.
Under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the litmus test for moving up in the hierarchy from bishop to cardinal was this: a priest could have no deviation from the bans on contraception, abortion, marriage for priests, or ordination for women. Looking instead to Rome, bishops ignored those below them — theologians, priests, and laity — who ignored the bans.
More than 80 percent of Catholics in their fertile years use contraception and their confessors don’t oppose them. Yet bishops in the United States pretend they’re protecting the “religious freedom” of their people when they say medical care cannot cover contraception. They were not thinking about religious freedom, but about their own advancement in Rome.
Francis attacked such careerism when he wrote, “We see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people.”
3. He urges Catholics to be out in the world.
Pope Francis doesn’t want Catholics remaining inside the church walls, unaware and unconcerned of what’s going on in the world around them. No — instead, he warns, “Whenever we Christians are enclosed in our groups, our movements, our parishes, in our little worlds, we remain closed, and the same thing happens to us that happens to anything close: when a room is closed, it begins to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room, he or she becomes ill.”
Francis tells the shepherds to get back out among their sheep, get “the smell of them,” and learn from them. And to be assured of this: “As part of his mysterious love of humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith — sensus fidei — which helps them discern what is truly of God.”
4. He calls out our idolatry of money.
The Pope says that the great difference between the rich few and the dispossessed many is not only unjust, but it is a sin. It is the sin of idolatry. “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
Bishops who live in palaces must feel a little faint when they read those words.
5. He restores papal ties with the Jesuits.
Pope John Paul II despised liberation theology, and thought the Jesuits guilty of it, under their beloved general Pedro Arrupe and the acting general (after Arrupe’s stroke) Vincent O’Keefe. When Arrupe resigned and O’Keefe seemed on the verge of being elected as his successor, John Paul denied Jesuits the right to elect their general. He appointed his own.
Renaissance scholar John O’Malley says that some Jesuits thought the pope was trying to kill the order entirely. He favored newer orders and groups, more conservative, and producing more money and more vocations.
While Pope Francis had his own problems with the Jesuits when he was their Argentine provincial, one of the first things he did as pope was restore ties with the order, giving a three-day, six-hour interview with the leading Jesuit magazines. Though he didn’t dismiss the newer orders, he doesn’t favor them over the Jesuits.
According to the report in Commonweal, Francis critiqued some new order seminaries, saying some of the priests they produce re not qualified in ways other than doctrinal submissiveness. Some clearly produced more priests, but not better priests. Francis has done much to restore the rounded ideal of the Jesuits — shaking things up, alright.
The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Lead image courtesy of neneo / Shutterstock.com.