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They’re meeting at the Vatican right now. They’re calling it the Protection of Minors Summit. And they’re addressing the elephant in the room — or, more fittingly, the sacristy — sexual abuse by priests. So far, the Catholic Church has addressed this scandal in fits and starts. There has been some transparency, as various dioceses publish lists of “credible accusations.” Nuns, too, are finally having their #MeToo moment. There have also been some bitter disappointments, like cardinals who blame homosexuality for the crisis, or the leaked regulations governing priests who break their vows and father children.

Will this summit do anything to really address the grotesqueries that have occurred in the Church? Maybe. But only if true root causes are examined. Chief among them? Clericalism. You know, the whole attitude of “only I can make bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ; only I am special; therefore, whatever I do cannot possibly be wrong.” It’s a poison that too many “men of God” have swallowed whole.

I am waiting to hear the results of the summit, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also not leaving the Church. My faith isn’t in people. It is in God. The community I choose to practice my faith with is, by and large, a good group of people. Bad priests don’t represent my faith any more than Hitler represented patriotism. But I want to see my Church do right.

Jesus set the table at the Last Supper, and I know Him to be inclusive. It’s time to add a leaf to the table. Let clerics eat humble pie, and allow new voices to be heard. Invite married folks, women, LGBTQ. Let them speak. If not, the Church is sunk. And no summit on earth will bring it back.

 

 

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Pope Francis is in America! Alleluia!

Of course, what he has to say doesn’t sit well with everyone. Someone over at Fox has already decried him as a “false prophet,” because Francis chooses to talk about stewardship of the earth and refuses to withhold forgiveness to those whom a certain segment of inflexible Pharisees think ought to be punished for life. (Hint: The “guilty” are all women. And I put that word in quotes because who am I to judge?) Others, on the most liberal end, complain that Francis doesn’t say enough — about women in the Church, about abuse of children by priests. Poor Francis. The guy can’t win.

And yet he has won, by choosing his topics and sticking to them tenaciously. He cannot be everything to everyone, and he knows this. So he looks to Christ and chooses two places where we humans consistently fall down: In care of the poor and in care of our planet. In both cases, we allow greed to supersede the greater good. And, as anyone who listened to the Pope’s speech to Congress knows, Pope Francis stands for the greater good.

He also stands for the Golden Rule. “This Rule points us in a clear direction,” said Francis in his Congressional speech. “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”

What does all this mean? It’s simple. If the United States were in terrible turmoil, was a place in which you could not make a living, a place where you were in daily danger of being killed by the government, how would you want the people of other countries to receive you?

If you were chosen as guardian of something that needed to endure for countless generations to come, how would you treat that thing? Would you exploit it for a quick buck now, or treat it with gentleness and care?

If you were a sinner — and we all are — would you want forgiveness? Is there anything that God cannot forgive?

What Francis speaks is Christ-centered, Gospel-centered common sense. Let us rejoice that we have a Pope who speaks for the poor, who challenges those in power, who will not be shut up by nay-sayers who call him a false prophet.

Because that’s just what they said about Jesus.

 

Of late, the popularity of Pope Francis has plummeted, particularly in the U.S. I guess some people (particularly Conservatives) don’t like what he has to say. Which is really funny when you think about it — because there’s nothing that Francis is saying that hasn’t been said before, by Jesus himself.

Feed the poor? Check. The rich man will not get into heaven unless he changes his ways? Check. Blessed are the suffering and outcast? Yep, that too. Honestly, you’d think the Pope was saying something radical. Anyone who’s read the Gospels knows who the real radical was and is. It’s why Jesus was put to death: Instead of leading an army against the Romans, He took the side of the marginalized. He wasn’t what the people of the time expected from a savior. Nor is Francis what you might expect from a Pope. He eschews pomp and circumstance for humility and simplicity. He doesn’t try to be popular.

Just as Jesus riled up the powers-that-be, Francis disconcerts the mighty. As well he should. Who said being a Christian was going to be easy? Anyone who thinks so is barking up the wrong tree (in the medieval sense, where “tree” meant “cross”). It is the Pope’s job to disconcert. That is how change occurs.

And, as ever, we need to change. Thousands and thousands of years post-Christ and what have we learned? We still choose war over peace, division over communion, and money over just about everything else. We still lack in love. We would still crucify Jesus for not being what we want.

If Christ came back tomorrow, I daresay he would be even less popular than Francis, especially in America, a country that many (especially those in power) call “Christian,” a country that claims to be “one nation under God.” Which begs the question: Do we really know what being Christian means?

Look to Francis for answers. And if you don’t like those answers, feel free to be disconcerted. You should be.

The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming! Already he is in the Americas, being besieged everywhere he goes by happy, hopeful people. Our Papa is a ray of sunshine after a very long stretch of darkness. I’ve lived half a century, and Francis is the first Pope that has prompted optimism in my soul. No, the Church isn’t actually changing much, but even hearing words of acceptance, possibility and radical positioning with the poor and marginalized causes me ineffable joy. As it does in many others. This is where the Church should be going.

Alas, Francis has hinted that his papacy may be short-lived. While I sympathize and understand — being Pope must be the most exhausting position possible — I hope it will not be so. The Church needs the breath of fresh air Francis brings, and I fear that if he steps down (or God forbid, dies), the Cardinals will waste no time in reacting with a swift slamming of the door, almost certainly installing a Pope more reactionary and conservative than even Francis’ predecessors. While Francis is certainly loved, he is also feared by those who would keep the Church immured in the Middle Ages.

What else is in the news? Reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage, that’s what. Already some people are nervously squawking about religious freedom being breached. Don’t worry, chickens! The Church is not changing. Yes, civic marriage is legal for homosexuals. But they cannot receive the sacrament of marriage from the Catholic Church. The Church decides who receives which sacraments (and why). They cannot be made to change by anyone outside of the Church.

Which is not to say that homosexuals cannot receive sacraments. Clearly, they already do. Still, it’s safe to say that whether you (or anyone) is “good enough” to receive one sacrament but not another is an assessment that only the Church in its infinite mystery is allowed to make. Women, for instance, cannot receive Holy Orders. In fact, only a man can hope to attain all seven sacraments. The rest of us are excluded not by unfitness so much (though many in the Church hierarchy might argue this point) as because of things we cannot control. Because we were born women. Or gay.

Is this fair? I don’t think so. But I don’t make the rules. However, I believe I can state (as our pastor did) that the Church will not be performing gay weddings anytime soon. On the other hand, our pastor also warned me not to express the opinion I just expressed at the top of this paragraph. I will continue to do so. Because what has sustained me though all of the dark nights of the Church is my right to dissent.

Sometimes prayers are answered when you least suspect them. Francis is proof of that. Let us pray for many more open doors.

No, I’m not going to go all Chris Crocker on you. It’s just that there’s been a fair amount of flak kicked up around The Pope’s recent announcement that he’s decided to retire. “Retire?” Some query, “I thought the job was for life!” I’ve even heard someone accuse Benedict XVI of betraying St. Peter. Seriously?

At 85, Pope Benedict is no spring chicken. He’s had heart surgery and walks with a cane. He no longer feels that his health is strong enough for him to effectively lead The Church. I think it’s admirable of him to call it quits. The Church needs a strong hand at the wheel, and if he no longer feels up to it, why make him wait out the clock, sick and feeble, unable to be more than a figurehead?

As to St. Peter, yes, he set the precedent of serving as Pope for life. However, our best guess is that he was about 65 when he was martyred, and that’s a long way from 85. He could not have guessed how lifespans would be stretched out in our time, or how much the role of Pope would change.

What’s more, Jesus said nothing about how long The Pope must serve. Our basis for this tradition comes from the idea of apostolic succession. A little flexibility is in order here, as traditions can and do change. When in doubt, the Bible tells us, go with what the Bible says. And since it says nothing about this particular instance, the Pope seems well within his rights.

I, of course, hope that our new pontiff will bring with him a wind of change to reinvigorate and reenergize our Church. It is unlikely. Cardinals tend to be old, conservative and resistant to change, and they vote based on these attributes. I’ve not much to say about any of the names being bandied about by the press; it is too early to judge. But I will say this about America’s “great white hope,” Cardinal Dolan. I hope he is not considered. I find him gleefully dismissive of women, the poor and gays at a time when The Church can no longer afford to alienate these groups. I’ll go further: I don’t think he is a kind person, or a humble one. And if the Catholic Church is to be a beacon of hope to the world, we need the kindest, most humble person we can find at the helm. Our credibility has slipped far enough, thank you very much.

The month to come will reveal much. I find it ironic — or perhaps providential — that this time coincides with Lent. What better time than now, this period of reflection and repentance, to consider what we need in a new head of the Catholic Church? I can only hope the College of Cardinals take their responsibility seriously.

I also hope that we can come together to thank Pope Benedict for his service and wish him well in retirement. I may disagree with some of his beliefs, but I honestly think he did the best job he could do. We cannot ask for more.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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