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Analysis

Pope Francis’ revolution is underway and not everyone is pleased

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

VATICAN CITY — The Francis Revolution is underway. Not everyone is pleased.

Four months into his papacy, Francis has called on young Catholics in the trenches to take up spiritual arms to shake up a dusty, doctrinaire church that is losing faithful and relevance. He has said women must have a greater role – not as priests, but a place in the church that recognizes that Mary is more important than any of the apostles.

Luca Zennaro, AP (Pool)
Pope Francis

And he has turned the Vatican upside down, quite possibly knocking the wind out of a poisonously homophobic culture by merely uttering the word “gay” and saying: so what?

In between, he has charmed millions of faithful and the mainstream news media, drawing the second-largest crowd ever to a papal Mass. That should provide some insurance as he goes about doing what he was elected to do: reform not just the dysfunctional Vatican bureaucracy but the church itself, using his own persona and personal history as a model.

“He is restoring credibility to Catholicism,” said church historian Alberto Melloni.

Such enthusiasm isn’t shared across the board.

Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, had coddled traditionalist Catholics attached to the old Latin Mass and opposed to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. That group greeted Francis’ election with concern – and now is watching its worst fears come true. Francis has spoken out both publicly and privately against such “restoratist groups,” which he accuses of being navel-gazing retrogrades out of touch with the evangelizing mission of the church in the 21st century.

His recent decision to forbid priests of a religious order from celebrating the old Latin Mass without explicit authorization seemed to be abrogating one of the big initiatives of Benedict’s papacy, a 2007 decree allowing broader use of the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy for all who want it. The Vatican denied he was contradicting Benedict, but these traditi onal Catholics see in Francis’ words and deeds a threat. They are in something of a retreat.

“Be smart. There will be time in the future for people to sort what Vatican II means and what it doesn’t mean,” the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf warned his traditionalist readers in a recent blog post. “But mark my words: If you gripe about Vatican II right now, in this present environment, you could lose what you have attained.”

Even more mainstream conservative Catholics aren’t thrilled with Francis.

In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said right-wing Catholics “generally have not been really happy” with Francis.

To be sure, Francis has not changed anything about church teaching. Nothing he has said or done is contrary to doctrine; everything he has said and done champions the Christian concepts of loving the sinner but not the sin and having a church that is compassionate, welcoming and merciful.

But tone and priorities can themselves constitute change, especially when considering issues that aren’t being emphasized, such as church doctrine on abortion, gay marriage and other issues frequently referenced by Benedict and Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, used the word “gay” for perhaps the first time in its 150-year history on Wednesday, in an article marveling at the change Francis has brought.

“In just a few words, the novelty has been expressed clearly and without threatening the church’s tradition,” the newspaper said about Francis’ comments on gays and women. “You can change everything without changing the basic rules, those on which Catholic tradition are based.”

The biggest headline came in Francis’ inflight news conference on the way home from Brazil this week, when he was asked about a trusted monsignor who reportedly once had a gay lover.

“Who am I to judge?” he asked, when it comes to the sexual orientation of priests, as long as they are searching for God and have good will.

Under normal circumstances, given the sexual morality at play in the Catholic Church, outing someone as actively gay is a death knell for career advancement. Vatican officials considering high-profile appointments often weigh whether someone is “ricattabile” – blackmailable.

But Francis said he investigated the allegations himself and found nothing to back them up. And that regardless, if someone is gay and repents, God not only forgives but forgets. Francis said everyone else should too. By calling out the blackmail for what it is, Francis may well have clipped the wings of an ugly but common practice at the Vatican.

Francis also made headlines with his call for the church to develop a new theology of women’s role, saying it’s not enough to have altar girls or a woman heading a Vatican department given the critical role that women have in helping the church grow.

While those comm ents topped the news from the 82-minute news conference, he revealed plenty of other insights that reinforce the idea that a very different papacy is underway.

  • Annulments: He said the church’s judicial system of annulling marriages must be “looked at again” because church tribunals simply aren’t up to the task. That could be welcome news to many Catholics who often have to wait years for an annulment, the process by which the church determines that a marriage effectively never took place.
  • Divorce and remarriage: He suggested an opening in church teaching which forbids a divorced and remarried Catholic from taking communion unless they get an annulment, saying: “This is a time for mercy.”
  • Church governance: He said his decision to appoint eight cardinals to advise him was based on explicit requests from cardinals at the conclave that elected him who wanted “outsiders” – not Vatican officials – governing the church. Francis obliged, essentially creating a parallel government for the church alongside the Vatican bureaucracy: a pope and a cabinet of cardinals representing the church in each of the continents.

And then there was Rio.

From the moment he touched down, it was clear change was afoot. No armored popemobile, just a simple Fiat sedan – one that got swarmed by adoring fans when it got lost and stuck in traffic. Rather than recoil in fear, Francis rolled down his window. Given that popes until recently were carried around on a chair to keep them above the fray, that gesture alone was revolutionary.

He told 35,000 pilgrims from his native Argentina to make a “mess” in their dioceses, shake things up and go out into the streets to spread their faith, even at the expense of confrontation with their bishops. He led by example, diving into the crowds in one of Rio’s most violent slums.

“Either you do the trip as it needs to be done, or you don’t do it at all,” he told Brazil’s TV Globo. He said he simp ly couldn’t have visited Rio “closed up in a glass box.”

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31 more reader comments:

  1. It won´t last long. Popes are not supposed to shake up the establishment. He is apparently longing to be with Jesus ´early´. I bet he will be there soon. With some help.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:32pm
  2. Women should have the freedom to be priests after all they got their rights so it wouldn´t fucking matter.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:34pm
  3. This is the same pope that recently made reporting sex abuse a crime in the Vatican? Terribly revolutionary.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:35pm
  4. Who cares what the king of pedophiles thinks or says?!?!

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:35pm
  5. I have no interest in the Catholic Church other than sanctioning them for spending money on anti gay political legislation…other than that they can continue to head where they are headed….to Hell

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:37pm
  6. People should care because others follow the church literally. Like the church or not he does set an example for millions of people, and it may go a long way to cutting down on homophobia

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:37pm
  7. He´s obviously been with Jesus for awhile…he´s following the True Nature of God´s Children, teaching that Love not Money & Hate is what Christianity is all about.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:37pm
  8. he wants young people to question everything…well, questioning everything will lead you to atheism as religion is a hurtful scam that tries to drag humanity into the Dark Ages

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:39pm
  9. Such good news for a more loving church

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:40pm
  10. I wouldn´t trust this paedophile arsehole at all. Fuck him and fuck the Catholic church.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:45pm
  11. The old guy has a plan of some sort–as long as it´s not to bring back the Inquisition, let´s see what happens.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:45pm
  12. they´re all creepy as fuck.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:50pm
  13. Shared

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:56pm
  14. I am not Catholic, not even Christian, but I have to honor this new Pope for what he is attempting to do. And that seems to be taking down the veils that have so long separated the people from access to their God! And redefining what a life of faith may consist of!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:59pm
  15. Revolution(ary)?….hardly.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:06pm
  16. This is the same guy that supported a fascist dictatorship and condones teaching children an imaginary man in the sky will punish them eternally if they don´t love him. Fuck him!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:08pm
  17. I´m agnostic/pantheist. But, I commend this Pope´s genius. I mean, think about it. The faith-base of the previous pope and the older Catholic church are DYING. Literally. The conservative, “traditionalist”, homophobic part of the church have their days numbered. The new generation is arising and they are not buying into the gays-are-evil deal; their minds will not be changed.

    Therefore, this Pope is looking towards the future. If he can change the Church´s policies and outlook and solidify these points of view, the Catholic church may be able to sustain it´s base, and, possibly, even grow. It´s brilliant, what he´s doing, not just because it´s “right”, but because it´s an incredibly good strategy.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:11pm
  18. I like this man but he´d better watch his back. Change brings resentment, and the Vatican deals with this by killing and saying it was natural causes!
    He may just be the change this dying faith needs!.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:17pm
  19. Change is good for the spirit & soul.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:31pm
  20. I think it´s beautiful. I´m not Catholic, Christian, or any mainstream religion, but I can see how it can help, and make things move in the right direction. This brought tears to my eyes.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:36pm
  21. Wait and see… !!!!!! this is the catholic church !!!!!! they are up to something!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:51pm
  22. the only good catholic church is a closed catholic church

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 8:12pm
  23. Reading through these comments makes me sick. How dare all of you who are bashing the Pope and the Catholic church. You think making fun of them will make them think any more of gays and gay rights? You´re all sadly mistaken. This is why mutual respect will never exist. Heaven forbid a Pope tries to make things better for you without any kind of hidden agenda. Congratulations, you´re all seriously full of yourselves.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 8:13pm
  24. When he issues a Papal Encyclical signifying a change in church teaching then I will say wow!

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 8:13pm
  25. @Zdenka Gombíková: I have to say that questioning everything does not lead to atheism. I am proof of this. It is thanks to questioning everything that I came out not an atheist.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 8:28pm
  26. You can´t please everyone!

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 9:15pm
  27. the pope helped murder people in Argentina during the last dictatorship

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 9:20pm
  28. Religion is pseudo spirituality.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 9:44pm
  29. I don´t like this man, neither the “house” where and to who he “works”.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 10:22pm
  30. If you think homosexuals shouldn´t be together, then I don´t think heterosexuals should be together.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 11:00pm
  31. He said nothing new, he did NOT say he´s ok with homosexuality, it´s just the old “you´re only damned if you have sex” nonsense. And to him & that church, women are still not worthy.

    Posted on Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 12:03am