5 Ways Pope Francis Is Shaking Up the Church

He disappoints the liberals and scares the conservatives — what’s not to like?

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.

Cover.large.Future of the Catholic Church (1)2. He condemns Catholic careerism.

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.

Garry Wills
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  • Thersander

    Francis is a curse on the church. He would rather play nice and appear nice than stand up for and defend the faith handed down once and for all to the saints. Instead, he appoints prelates who would dismantle Catholic teaching for what would be “relevant” to the world. If many “catholics” believe that contraception and gay marriage and married priests and abortion on demand and no-fault divorce should be countenanced by the Church, they should feel free to become Episcopalians. That also goes for Mr. Wills. Once the Church becomes relevant to the world and has nothing to offer it outside of the world, then the church is no longer and just becomes another secular institution. I hope Francis leaves the papacy soon following the example of a REAL pope, His Holiness, Benedict XVI.

    • BobRN

      I suspect, were Benedict XVI to read this, he would think, “With friends like this, who needs enemies!”

  • Matthew Kilburn

    This Pope is standing aside while the world – and increasingly the church – continue to boil in the toxic refuse that is secularism and declining family values. People now think the Church takes an approving view of homosexuality, isn’t really that bothered when people fail to have children, and is somehow about to throw open the doors to the divorced and remarried. Its poison in the well.

  • BobRN

    Garry Wills has no interest in the teachings of the Church. He’s not a Roman Catholic so much as a “Garry Wills Catholic”, perhaps the last remaining voice in the old guard who regarded themselves their own personal magisterium and sought the Church’s blessing for such. All the other gnostic solipsists at least had the integrity to leave. Why anyone takes what he has to say about the Church seriously is beyond me. Perhaps none do, except for Mr. Wills himself.

  • Alice Pat

    The Catholics who suggest that those of us who want to change the church (as the Pope does by being more merciful and welcoming) should “become Episcopalians” remind me of the 60’s answer to protest-“love (America) or leave it.” I loved the article and I love Pope Francis.

  • thomachuck

    I am finding an abundance of the time worn orthodoxy and intolerance in the postings here that is crippling the church in what should be its efforts to minister to the present age. We are not living in the fourteenth century.