The Pope appears to be well aware of the power of the internet and hopes to encourage followers to leverage the web, especially younger believers saying: “To proclaim Christ in the digital era is a special field for the work of the young.” (Huffington Post)
He’s Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013.
His efforts include:
- Improving the Vatican’s financial activities, but more importantly, its transparency
- Publicly declaring his non-judgment of priests for their sexual orientation
- “Cold calling” people to offer comfort and support
- Envisioning a more inclusive church and calling out the church for “obsession” over gay marriage, abortion, and contraception (later reiterating his view on abortion as “horrific“)
- Rebuking the church for being “overly clerical and insular, interested in temporal power and often led by ‘narcissists'” (Time)
- Establishing a commission of advisors to help him learn the best way to protect children from clerical sexual abuse
I have become increasingly convinced that this Pope might just make a difference, that he might have more substance than the past talking heads of the Vatican. I’ve followed the news stories with a big shit-eating grin on my face thinking, well, it’s about time a Pope started shaking things up in the religious institution.
Yet for all this upheaval, I remain skeptical about his role because, “The Vatican is currently facing criticism for rejecting an extradition request from Poland regarding the ex-papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski. Wesolowski, the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse to date, is currently thought to be living in the Vatican.” (Huffington Post).
Look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth … Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them. — Pope Francis
If the Pope really wants reform, he needs to be willing to lose everything. After all, what is more important, Vatican financial transparency or Vatican moral transparency? Gossip and rumors of sexual misconduct may require some descretion, however, formal charges and legal controversies of sexual abuse and cover-ups should be taken very seriously and exposed to the light of scrutiny.
Mary Dispenza, a former nun, a plaintiff in a successful class action suit against the Los Angeles Archdiocese over child molestation claims, an area representative for SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, in Bellevue, Washington, and the author of “Split: A Child, a Priest and the Catholic Church” writes,
Pope Francis must take action and mandate every bishop to immediately defrock any priest who has sexually abused children in the past or in the present and let the civil authorities investigate any priest or bishop alleged to have sexually abused a child. It’s common sense. Nothing else will show the world that the Catholic Church is serious about its promise to address this issue.
Pope Francis will need to begin at home and release whatever records the Vatican possesses on priests and bishops accused of these crimes, wherever they are in the world. Anything short of this speaks of lip service and platitudes.
Let’s stop and think about what this would look like. According to Wikipedia,
If the church had to fork over two to three BILLION dollars when it addressed sexual abuse merely on a local level, imagine what it would cost the institution to systematically address sexual abuse on a global level, including not only sexual offenders but all those who covered up and perpetuated the abuse by paying legal fees and allowing these priests to continue practicing. It could easily bankrupt the institution and send it into a downward spiral from which it might never recover.
Would the Catholic Church cease to exist if the religious institution fell?
No. It wouldn’t.
It would remain alive and well within the heart of each individual Catholic believer. This personal expression of faith is exactly the kind of church the Pope envisions in his Evanglii Gaudium (November, 2013):
Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.
God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.
The Pope describes his vision for an evangelizing (evangelizing = spreading the Good News) church as a global community of believers who:
- take the first step
- are involved and supportive
- bear fruit and rejoice
- become involved (Jesus washed the feet of his disciples) by word and deed in people’s daily lives
- bridge distances
- embrace human life
- are supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be
- are ready to put their whole lives on the line
- have a goal, not to make enemies, but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed
- are filled with joy and know how to rejoice always
Can God accomplish this, even if the institution is crippled by lawsuits and bad publicity?
Does the Kingdom of God stand or fall on the Catholic (or any other) institution?
If I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one. — Pope Francis
I would take this a step further. If I had to choose between a dead church (institution), a wounded church (institution) that goes out on the streets, or a sick, withdrawn church (institution), I would definitely choose the dead one. The dead church (institution) is a church has been crucified with Christ and can be resurrected to new life (aionios zoe).
P.S. *If you or your loved one has been sexually abused by a priest, DON’T CALL THE CHURCH, CALL THE POLICE!