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Monday, October 24, 2016

Somewhere in the midst of an avalanche of sickening revelations about child sex abuse by Catholic clergy it occurred to me that if the Vatican sought an appropriate penance for its sins, it would go mute on issues of sexual morality for about 100 years.

Needless to say, that’s not about to happen.

Instead, habemus papam. Catholics have witnessed the unprecedented resignation of Pope Benedict, widely seen to have failed utterly to cope with the Church’s grave crisis — perhaps even in his own estimation — and the remarkable accession of Pope Francis.

During the months since his selection, the 76-year-old Argentine has stirred an outsize response throughout the world — galvanizing not only the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, but members of other faiths and even the irreligious with a shrewd blend of public theater and spiritual humility.

Writing in the New Yorker, James Carroll reports that “even ‘kick the Pope’ Orangemen in Northern Ireland love Pope Francis. The press is obsessed with him. Time recently named him Person of the Year.”

Who else, indeed?

Renouncing many of the papacy’s monarchial trappings, Francis has made a shift to return even the most formalized ritual to its roots in the gospel. Rather than re-enacting Jesus’ washing of his apostles’ feet on Holy Thursday with carefully groomed young priests—as was long the custom—the new Pope appeared at an Italian prison.

There, Carroll writes, “he washed, dried, and kissed the feet of twelve young inmates, some of them bearing tattoos. Two were Muslim. More pointedly, in violation of Church tradition, two of the apostolic stand-ins were women. When one of the inmates asked the Pope why he had come to them, he said, ‘Things from the heart don’t have an explanation.’”

Elsewhere, the new Pope has stressed a less legalistic, rule-bound encounter with the faith, seeking always to forgive rather than to judge. In a remarkable interview with the Jesuit magazine America he stressed that “we must always consider the person.”

“This is…the great benefit of confession as a sacrament, evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace,” Francis elaborated. “The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?”

It’s a rhetorical question with no one-size-fits-all answer. But the torture chamber metaphor has particular resonance coming from an Argentine, who presided as Bishop of Buenos Aires during that country’s “Dirty War,” when dissidents against the military government were kidnapped, tortured and flung out of airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean.

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  • Dominick Vila

    Religious dogma notwithstanding, I would say that Paul Francis is by far one of the most impressive religious leaders of our time. Instead of seeking personal attention and reverence, he is determined to remind everyone of the power of faith and the example set by Jesus Christ, at a time when materialism and greed seem to dominate our actions. The Vatican could not have chosen a better leader at such a difficult time in history.

    • browninghipower

      And for this reason alone, I worry for his future. Remember also that the Church is a ruthless political entity as well as a spiritual one.

  • Theodora30

    True the Church never claimed to be God, only to speak for him.

    • Sand_Cat

      And how does that differ, really? Let’s not play semantics here.

  • Buford2k11

    It is a case of “hide and watch”…We have been fooled before by other Popes and what they say…Is Pope Frank for real? or is he just “new”?…

  • latebloomingrandma

    I think he’s really shaking up the Catholic fundamentalists, who seem to have everything figured out. Follow the rules, period. The gospel message gets lost in that, but it sure makes it “easier” to think you’re going to heaven. Faith isn’t a set of laws, but more like a journey. We’ll never have it all figured out. The fundies don’t like this—things are black and white, you know. Otherwise, they don’t know what to do–maybe they have to think, show compassion, be less judgmental—-oh, my.

  • Sand_Cat

    Not to knock Pope Francis, the church very much has claimed to be god in all but name for most of its history, and many of the doctrines it still clings to were conceived during, and are very much a part of, that bit of hubris. According to the doctrine as expounded, the church is not at all a “human institution” with admitted faults as the author suggests. Its reaction to the sexual abuse scandal, and its much-overrated acknowledgement of the Holocaust (was it called “The Shoah: We Remember”? Its memory was highly selective) both make it abundantly clear that the hierarchy is or has been incapable of admitting wrongdoing by “The Church,” which traditionally seems to refer to the pope and bishops, priests, and perhaps monastics, rather than the Vatican II “People of God.”

    • Michael Kollmorgen

      I doubt very much that one Pope is going to change or alter centuries old church dogma, no matter what his intent might be.

      IF he really wanted to do something remarkable, he’d open up all of the Hidden Vatican Archives for the public to see for themselves what the “church” has done these past 2000 years.

      He’d also publicly announce that all Catholic Churches immediately stop all political activity and all Catholic Priests who are in political positions resign their political posts..

      Other than that, it will be business as usual. Only with this Pope though, it will probably seeing it through Rose Colored Glasses.

  • howa4x

    Religions have always been against abortion, and birth control because it limits the number of new arrivals into the faithful. That limiting means a lessening of future dollars given to maintain the opulence of all the religious houses of worship plus salaries and benefits of the priests, ministers, rabbi’s Mullah’s etc. Nobody really cares about the fetus, but rather their potential earning/donation power. If human life was so sacrosanct then the likes of Cardinal Spellman wouldn’t have been urging the troops in Viet Nam to Kill the godless commies. One of the Popes even made a deal with the fascists to make the Vatican a country instead of a place, and for that the Pope didn’t protest the rise of the Nazi’s. Protestant ministers talk about killing the godless commies or Islamic extremists, or who ever we hate. Rabbi’s an Mullahs exhort their soldiers to protect the faith.
    I fail to see what religion is about. To me it’s a place where organized hatred can flourish. A traditional we vs they mentality. This Pope may be ok but it’s like shooting a bullet in sand to have his words be turned into deeds all over the world

  • Defend Liberty

    The herky-jerky processes of technological advance are destroyed when those who preach from collectivism’s altar attempt to direct that everything be made equally available to everyone.

  • RobertCHastings

    I disagree, Mr. Lyons. The Catholic Church has, on many occasions, assumed the position that it is, indeed, God. Have you forgotten the Inquisition? Millions of individuals over the past two milennia have perished under the Godhead of mother church as accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, omitting the compassionate stage of defender.