Pope Francis continues to send seismic shock waves across the globe, and the rapturous reception he received from his historic six-day US visit gave us a glimpse as to why.
The pontiff, like Jesus, walked among the masses, kissing babies, visiting prisoners and the homeless, speaking out on climate change, poverty, immigrations, church sex abuse, religious liberty, the family and retweeting “Black Lives Matter,” to name just a few of his pastoral highlights.
The “Pope effect” brought throngs of Catholics and admirers out to see him wave to them from his Popemobile and to hear him celebrate Mass.
His effect not only brought Republican John Boehner of Ohio to tears, but it also brought Boehner to the realization he should step down as House Speaker.
However, for many religious conservatives the Pontiff’s remarks and actions during his visit were viewed as heretical, desecrating century-old church doctrine, and diminishing his authority as the head of the church.
But as the Pontiff aptly stated in his 2013 interview “the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards” should the Catholic Church, in this 21st Century, continue on its anti-modernity trek like his predecessor.
With that statement I thought Francis was going to reform, if not reinvent, an out-of-step institution, but at the end of his visit the Pope was selling sadly the same product—Catholic orthodoxy. “Nothing more, nothing less,” Francis warning reporters on his trip from Cuba to Washington, DC.
“I may have given the impression of being a little more to the left, but it would not be a correct interpretation.” And he’s right.
While Francis gave a well-deserved shout-out of praise to nuns—the backbone and housekeepers of the church—the ecclesiastical doors are still shut to ordaining women priest. Sadly, Francis doesn’t view the ban as a gender bias. When asked why the Pope remarked, “That can’t be done…The Church is female … it’s the spouse of Jesus Christ.”
I recall Pope Francis’s remarks when flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil in 2013 when he was queried about the much talked about “gay lobby” in the Vatican. “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them,” Francis said. This public statement is the most LGBTQ affirming remarks the world has ever heard from the Catholic Church.
But Francis’s words don’t match his actions.
The Meeting of Families in Philadelphia included only one workshop on LGBTQ issues —a panel with a celibate gay Catholic and his mother, and no workshop on LGBTQ families. But his point about LGBTQ families and marriages got across loud and clear during his talk to Congress with his subtle jab at gay marriage:
I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.
Francis’s trip to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem was important. The structural racism in the Catholic Church has made it an unwelcoming place of worship. African American Catholics are one of the smallest demographic groups in the church (Of the 3 million black Catholics only 250 are priests among 40,000 priests, and only 16 bishops among 434.)
Francis visited the Our Lady Queen of Angels School because the church by the same name was forced to close in 2007, and against the resistance, pleadings and prayers of its parishioners. Today the parishioners congregate in the park across from the church to worship.
In Francis’s effort to reach out to his Latin Americans with the canonization of Junipero Serra, he opened old wounds with Native Americans.
Serra, a Spanish missionary, left a horrific legacy trying to decimate California Native American culture. Letters to stop Serra’s canonization were written to both the Vatican and Francis but these pleas fell on deaf ears:
This letter serves to document the many reasons for our opposition to the canonization of Serra. Serra was the architect of the mission system; he developed the brutal inhumane policies that had no regard for our ancestors….We also requested a meeting with your Holiness to share our knowledge and oral history of Junipero Serra, the California mission system and the continuing impact of our historic trauma that continues within our Tribe today, Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band wrote to the Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is a complicated, if not confusing pontiff.
Francis wrapped up his U.S. tour leaving us with a trail of mixed messages to both the conservative and liberal arms of the Catholic Church. News leaked that Pope Francis met secretly with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage license to same-sex couples.
In doing damage control of the kerfuffle that ensued from the clandestine meeting, the Holy See’s press office released a statement that the pontiff endorsed Davis’s style of “conscientious objection” and the meeting was not a form of support for her position on homosexuality.
However, when 43-year-old Monsignor Krzysztof Charasma, told Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera” on the eve of the Synod he was gay and had a partner Charamsa was immediately dismissed by the Vatican. Charamsa worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal arm of the Catholic Church since 2003.
When asked why he chose to come out now, Charamsa responded that he wanted to challenge the church’s “backward” position on LGBTQ issues. Church officials found Charamsa’s action to be both “grave and irresponsible,” putting Francis under “undue media pressure.” The Synod is in session now and these “pelvic issues”- celibacy, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, contraception, to name a few- will be debated on.
If Francis’s U.S. visit is any indication, church policy and governance might see little to no change.
On the surface Francis displays a pastoral countenance to his papacy that seemingly extends to all. But rather we clearly see the geopolitics of a soft chuch burearucrat evangelizing to today’s shrinking American Catholic Church—an institution that is less churched, less married, less white, and less conservatice.
His welcoming demeanor is not enough, in my opinion, to bridge the diversity and divisions the American church faces.
Photo via flickr user Irudayam