Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I am closer to believing...

What is it about the change in popes that keeps excavating tunes from my rock audio archives? 

When I read that Pope Francis wanted a “poor church”, I thought, “…so said the man who will soon live in opulence and privilege.”  Secretly I held no hope for Francis leading needed institutional reform unless he lived outside the Vatican.  But lo, today I read that he has opted to live in a 2-room suite in the Vatican guesthouse rather than live in the Apostolic Palace’s 10-room papal apartment.  Though he will still reside inside Vatican City, he will do so in one unit of a 131-unit communal residence on the outskirts of the city-state.  Suddenly in my head I heard Greg Lake singing, “I am closer to believing than I ever was before…”

I am encouraged that Pope Frank is comfortable enough in his own skin to break long-held church traditions.  However, so far, he’s mostly dispensed with symbolic traditions.  Does he have the conviction and leadership skills to undertake substantive changes?  That is the difference between being an admirable human and an effective leader.  So far he has proven to be an admirable human.  I await evidence of him being an effective leader.

He recently spoke about the importance of avoiding moral relativism.  I have observed some of the worst moral relativism coming from hierarchical leaders who wantonly violate truth to protect their institution, reputation or power.  I find myself wondering if Francis will address this form of moral relativism. 

Married clergy existed in the church for more years than there has been mandatory celibacy.  Women were ordained, especially as deacons, but also as priests and bishops in the early church.  What will Francis do about the moral relativism re-writing historical facts about married and female clergy?  Will he get his papal pen out and open all seven sacraments to women by permitting the ordination of female deacons and priests tomorrow?  Will he use that same pen to reinstate married clergy?  There is nothing stopping him from doing this immediately – other than clinging to the moral relativism that protects status quo.

Will Francis address the moral relativism that rejects modern understandings about human biology, psychology, and sexuality?  Will he address the moral relativism of active homosexual hierarchy members denouncing homosexuality and advocating discriminatory legislation?  Will he address the moral relativism of sexually active clergy feigning sexual continence while berating the sexual practices of the laity?

Will Frank address the moral relativism of bishops cozying up to the wealthy and politicians who exploit or ignore the impoverished and marginalized? 

There is also the question of his willingness to reform practices and Canon Laws that enabled rapists to continue raping children.  And there are questions about his willingness to help the abuse survivors heal, work to restore rightfully lost trust, and put a moratorium on bishops feigning sympathetic care to lure victims into trust only to violate that trust protecting church financial assets instead.  Will there be new canons requiring transparency or the same old story of people having to battle for every word of information while bishops maintain a public mantra of empty words about how much they want to help victims heal?  What will he do about bishops declaring bankruptcy rather than paying restitution to pedophile victims?

Then there is the question of his willingness to deal with bishops who violate norms for protecting children.  Will there be new canons holding accountable those bishops who enable sexually abusive priests?  Why is convicted criminal, Opus Dei Bishop Finn of Kansas City, MO, still an active bishop, though in 2011 he failed to report a priest to authorities for taking pornographic pictures of little girls’ genitals?  Why are bishops and cardinals who paid and moved clergy still active bishops?  Why is Cardinal Rigali who lied about and permitted abusive priests to continue in ministry still on the Congregation for Bishops (that chooses new bishops), on the Board of Trustees of The Catholic University of America, the Chair of the University Seminary Committee, and on the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Bioethics Center?   What is Francis going to do about serial pedophile enabler Cardinal Law?

There is also the question of what Francis will do about the closing of parishes and selling of church properties.  What will he do about the violations of Canon law here? 

What will Francis do to reinstate the thousands of theologians and lay ministers censured or excommunicated?  What will he do about Canon Law that permits institutional bullying?  What will he do to reform church governance to move away from a feudal system that doesn’t serve the people of God, i.e., the church?

There is the question of how he will handle the most recent Vatican Bank scandals.  As some history, that bank has endured scandals almost since Pope Pius XII first established it in 1942.  One example of scandal in its history occurred in 1982.  The Vatican Bank was a major shareholder in Banco Ambrosiano which went bankrupt that year causing the Vatican Bank to lose hundreds of millions of dollars.  Soon afterwards its chairman, Roberto Calvi, died hanging from a London bridge in what has been ruled an unsolved homicide.  

More recently an Italian priest and a lawyer were charged with defrauding insurance companies and using the Vatican Bank to launder the money.  Earlier this year, European Union (EU) banks weren’t allowed to conduct transactions with the Vatican due to lack of financial transparency – again concerns about money laundering.   Until the Vatican found a non-EU Swiss bank to use, it couldn’t do things like process credit card transactions at the Vatican Museum.  Prosecutors investigating financial crimes repeatedly experience the bank’s “haughty resistance to European Union laws” with communications being ignored or rejected. 

Benedict did try to address the bank’s scandals by issuing a papal letter in 2010 forbidding money laundering and established an oversight watchdog organization.   But the bank fired its chief, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi in 2012 because he was being investigated for – money laundering.  I guess the Vatican is not as persnickety about adhering to papal edicts associated with financial corruption as they are to ones about keeping women out of ordained ministry.  Or maybe we could call that moral relativism?

How will he handle Vatileaks and restitution to the whistleblower who was imprisoned for calling attention to the rampant corruption in Vatican Curia?  Will he reform the Curia as the Cardinals have desired since before the 1964 Second Vatican Council?  Will he publish the Vatileaks report and show transparency?  His brother cardinals requested copies of the Vatileaks report before holding the conclave that elected him.  Now that he’s pope, is he going to treat them as equals and share the information or continue the Vatican perennial sport of secrecy? 

I realize this is a rather long list of needed reforms and it’s not even complete.  I don’t expect Francis to address them all immediately.  But if he wants me to get any “closer to believing” he needs to make some profound progress on at least one of these.  If given the choice, I prefer he retain the traditional custom-made red shoes but make progress on any one of these substantive matters. 


  1. I think maybe our new pope's untraditional foot washing (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/03/28/pope-frances-washes-feet/2028595/) is a good sign that he doesn't intend to blindly follow the actions of his predecessors. How can we follow Christ's example of washing others' feet?

  2. While I agree that it is positive that Francis included women in the symbolic foot washing ceremony, the question continues to be one of substantive changes versus symbolic ones. Also, there is the question of leadership versus personal behaviors.

    Francis washed women's feet when he was an archbishop in Argentina but unfortunately he also vigorously fought against women's rights in society. I'd give up the symbolic feet washing to get him truly supporting women in society. And yes, I also agree that it is good to serve, washing others' feet. Thanks for your thoughts.