Will the Catholic Church Lighten Up Under Pope Francis?

by Bill Brenner on March 14, 2013

After the world got its first gander at Pope Francis yesterday, the inevitable “Lighten up, Francis” jokes started flying.

But there’s more than a cheap joke in all this. The question of whether the Church will lighten up under Pope Francis is a legitimate one.

Mood music:

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I’m a devout Catholic, which is to say I follow Jesus and believe he’s my savior. But I’ve often turned my nose up at the Vatican bureaucracy and have spoken up frequently about my belief that major reforms are needed to revitalize the Church. We need to put it all on the table: The role of women must be expanded. We must stop treating gays like lepers. We need to revisit the priest celibacy issue. Above all, we have to stop being self-righteous jerks. In other words, yes, the Catholic Church does need to lighten up.

Also see “My Name Is Bill, and I’m with the Religious Left.”

Is Pope Francis the man to get us there? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be a bad pope.

Based on published reports, including this one from CNN, the man is no friend of the so-called liberal wing of the church. Says CNN:

Francis opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, which isn’t surprising as leader of the socially conservative Catholic church.

But as a cardinal, Francis clashed with the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.

But that and other reports also describe him as a simple man. He chose the name Francis — the first Pope to do so — because he wanted to honor St. Francis of Assisi, a servant to the poor and destitute. St. Francis of Assisi was born into a world of wealth but chose to live in rags among beggars at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

More from CNN:

Those close to Pope Francis see similarities between the two men.

“Francis of Assisi is … someone who turned his back on the wealth of his family and the lifestyle he had, and bonded with lepers and the poor,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, Vatican’s deputy spokesman. “Here’s this pope known for his care for AIDS patients and people who are very sick. Who is known for his concern with single mothers whose babies were refused to be baptized by priests in his diocese.

“He scolded those priests last year and said, ‘How can you turn these people away when they belong to us?'”

If Pope Francis sticks close to that passion and leads by example, the Church is going to take big strides in the right direction.

Change is often a painfully slow-moving beast. I don’t know if the reforms I’d like to see will happen in my lifetime. But if we at least move in a more humble, more tolerant and kinder direction, that’ll be huge.

My prayers and best wishes to Pope Francis. May he do us Catholics proud.

Pope Francis

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