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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — Religion makes a lot of mistakes.

Faith traditions can be so harsh that they drive away everyone but the self-righteous scolds. Or they can so indulge in therapeutic comfort and manufactured joy that they come to seem like a charlatan’s game.

They can be so otherworldly that they offer no guidance to those living in this one on matters of justice, freedom and how we should live together. Or they are so captive to the here-and-now that it becomes hard to distinguish between a congregation and a party headquarters.

And for many in the wealthy nations and among the young, religion has no relevance to their lives whatsoever. It’s seen by some as a charming throwback and by others as one more insidious force focused on power, money and self-preservation.

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope a year ago, only a few expected that he would confront all of these challenges simultaneously.

Yes, his choice of the name Francis was a promising sign that he would emulate a saint devoted to the poor and to simplicity. Yes, he was already on record with searing criticisms of the injustices of global capitalism. From the beginning, he stressed his more humble role as the “Bishop of Rome,” suggesting an anti-imperial papacy.

And then it continued. He disdained the trappings of piety and might, including the ornate regalia that appeal to so many prelates. The Roman joke was that as priests got with his program, one could find many lacy surplices on sale at steep discounts on eBay. On his first Holy Thursday, Francis washed the feet not of the usual group of priests but of a dozen young people being held at a juvenile detention center, including two women and two Muslims.

He has not altered Church doctrine, but his shift in emphasis has been breathtaking. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” he has said. “This is not possible.” He thus declared that the Church’s main mission would no longer be as a lead combatant in the culture wars. It would stand primarily with and for the neediest.

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    A far cry from the imperial trappings of Ratzinger, or the hubris of humility of Wojtyla.

    • Annemb

      Amen to that!

      IMHO, Pope Francis is a true reflection of Jesus and his commands about caring for the poor, disenfranchised and the sick.


  • John Kruger

    One wonders who else was supposed to “be attacked” for the RCC’s institutionalized pedophilia, which they knew about and actively attempted to conceal.

    The media fawning over Francis is getting very old. Meet the new Pope, same as the Old Pope, but with better PR. Let us not omit this little gem from the same interview:

    He also questioned the focus of the debate, saying: “The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighbourhood environments.”

    So child abuse elsewhere excuses the abuse the church facilitated by its secrecy? How absolutely disgusting.

    • jmprint

      I really think Pope Francis is sincere, and in saying that he is pointing out that there is a problem with adults, the devil works though technology. There is a lot of child pornography, which is more disgusting. I think he is trying to make that point and not running from it, but trying to enlighten folks, this is a family moral problem and not just the church.

      • Sand_Cat

        True, but how can he expect families to acknowledge their problems if the church won’t? And it hasn’t.

        • jmprint

          I feel he is working on that. He is trying for the church to be more transparent, it’s a start.

          • Sand_Cat

            I am something of an admirer as well, but if he won’t face the truth of this massive abuse of “moral” power and the trust of the faithful – the article criticizes him precisely for not doing so – then I’ll have to revise my opinion. And “facing” it doesn’t mean the coverup and denial surrounding the behavior of the Pope and many of the Cardinals in “The Shoah: We Remember,” another distasteful reminder that no human being or organization is infallible, the more it claims to be, the greater its sins and even crimes are likely to become, and the more difficult it will be to face and acknowledge them.

        • FredAppell

          Sand_Cat, I’m so anti-religious that if it were left up to me, there wouldn’t be any at all. I’ve always felt that the relationship people have and or desire with their god should be personal. All that being said, this Pope has caught my attention for all the right reasons, he’s not perfect by any stretch but he has tried to be more principled than most of his predecessors. Think of it this way, he has to deal with the church and it’s 2000 years of history and tradition much the same way that
          President Obama has to deal with congress. Bergoglio is the poor persons Pope and that is a step in the right direction.

          • Sand_Cat

            I agree with you for the most part, and I’m rooting for the guy, but all the changes in his attitudes and actions won’t matter if his church continues to refuse to face its crimes, assuring that it will commit more. I also don’t see how some of the dogma can survive: the church’s attitude toward sex and human love are more perverted than the sexual actions they condemn because many of their rules were established by former libertines with pathological obsessions and the desire to punish all those who didn’t share their new views.

          • FredAppell

            I know what crimes you’re eluding to and I couldn’t agree more with the rest of your comment as well. Everything you have mentioned is true but the changes will have to happen slow and steady if at all. One pope can start the process but it will take his successors to keep going. Remember, we’re talking about an age old fraternity that won’t be so keen in giving up their power.

    • lemstoll


  • Brent

    Not Catholic, but I’m liking his message; refreshing after decades of Pomp and NO Circumstance…..

    • lemstoll


  • Bryan Blake

    “He has shown that the spiritual life is also a life of social commitment.” As a non religionist I find Mr. Dionne’s statement particularly encouraging in describing the potential of Pope Francis. Of course that is in direct contradiction to most of the 1700 year history of the Catholic Church. If Christianity can begin to follow the teachings of its supposed founder then there will be a useful place for it in this world. I see our civilization perilously close to collapsing because of climate change, mass poverty and the inequality of the distribution of wealth.

    If Pope Francis can stand up for the poor then he can admonish the politicians of this world that “the political life is also a life of social commitment”.

  • lemstoll

    Have perspective…. no fawning.

  • lemstoll

    Where was Francis?