Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pope Francis, Five Years On

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Today marks the fifth anniversary of the election of  the archbishop of Buenos Aries, Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic communion. He became the first pope to assume the name Francis, even though he is a Jesuit rather than a Franciscan.

I'm not a big fan of the papacy for a number of reasons. I don't believe that any human being can make infallible statements by virtue of his office, the notion of a divinely ordained succession is suspect, at best, and I can't support any institution which is exclusively male and hierarchical in its leadership. I'm confident that God has more imagination than to limit Godself to a long succession of white, mostly European males to shepherd a global church.

Just the same, virtually every institution appoints or elects leaders, including our United Church of Canada. Pope Francis has been an intriguing pontiff during these five years. He hasn't been afraid to engage journalists with comments which seem "off the cuff," much to the dismay of some in the conservative church hierarchy. He understands the importance of symbolic gestures which are rooted in a deep personal faith and commitment to those on the margins of society. Maundy Thursday is only a couple of weeks away and Francis may well choose to wash the feet of prison inmates or refugees, including those of other faiths, as he has done in past years. He's had showers installed for the homeless near the Vatican, and he has chosen an austere personal lifestyle in the midst of what some perceive as the opulence of the papal surroundings.
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Pope Francis is not popular with some RC clergy because he's taken tentative steps toward inclusion of women, and those who are divorced where they had no place before. The veiled criticism has become more pronounced, not only from cardinals and bishops but rank and file priests.

My biggest criticism of Francis is his slow movement on the horror of clergy sexual abuse. His tone-deaf response to those who were abused in Chile during his recent trip there was cause for dismay, although he has since sent an envoy to explore this further.
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I admire him for Laudato Si -- "Praise be to You" -- his wise and thoughtful and deeply Christian call to address the environmental crisis in which we live. I read this lengthy document sitting on the porch of an old saltbox house on Change Islands, Newfoundland, during the summer (allegedly) of 2015. Francis invites us to "Care for our Common Home" (the subtitle) in ways that are nuanced and theological. His blind spot is insisting that reducing population is not one of the solutions to our woes and the renewed health of Creation. I enjoyed leading a study group on this document in the congregation I served before retirement.

Will Francis go down in history as the pope who initiated a paradigm shift for the Roman Catholic church in several key areas? Only time will tell.

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