Friday, January 17, 2014

Pope Francis continues to make changes, challenge perceptions of Catholic Church

POPE_FRANCIS.JPGPope Francis has been the leader of the Catholic Church for 10 months, succeeding Pope Benedict on March 13, 2013.

It's been a busy 10 months.

Pope Francis seems to have a struck a chord not only with Catholics, but with millions of others outside the faith. 

He has raised eyebrows with statements on homosexuality and by questioning the effects of capitalism. 

He said it is OK for mothers to breastfeed their children in public. 

He has questioned the church's "obsession" with issues such as abortion and contraception, instead saying there should be a greater emphasis on helping the poor. 

(On Monday he did reaffirm the church's opposition to abortion.) 

The Pope's efforts toward change in the church continued Wednesday when he cleaned house at the Vatican Bank, replacing most of the institution's advisers. 

He also announced this week he is selling one of his two Harley Davidson motorcycles and will give the proceeds to charity. 

Also, he put a "cap" on the costs associated with cases for sainthood.

All of this is not going unnoticed. 

Last month, Time Magazine named the Pope its "Person of the Year" for 2013. 

And perhaps Time sums it up best:
At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge. The world is getting smaller; individual voices are getting louder; technology is turning virtue viral, so his pulpit is visible to the ends of the earth. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.
So yes, it's been a busy and sometimes surprising 10 months with Pope Francis. 

Is that a bad thing? 

Toronto Sun columnist John Robson says Francis has made it a habit of surprising people, and he sees it as just one of the Pope's many positives:
At bottom, the pope is amazing us by doing two things: Being nice, and practicing what he preaches. Apparently there's less of that going on than we flatter ourselves in these progressive, enlightened times. The usual suspects seem to think the pope is about to stand Catholic dogma on its head and finally tell them to do whatever they want. But he's not. ... But when you look at the reaction from non-Catholics, and lapsed ones, it's clear he's changing the tone of the church. And since he's not changing the content, just amazing people by going around doing stuff that would make Jesus smile, something must have been wrong with the previous tone.
Robson does touch on one issue: Although the Pope is pushing for the church to put more emphasis on the poor and less on social issues, he is not changing the church's doctrine.

Damon Linker of The Week says this doesn't seem to bother liberal Catholics whom he says put little or no importance on doctrine. And that's something that appears to bother Linker:
The question I'd want to ask these liberals is: Why do you continue to attend church and think of yourself as a Catholic? If you attend for the beauty of the liturgy, why not just become an Episcopalian? If it's the sense of community you crave, why not join the Unitarian church? Either way, you could certainly continue to be spiritually moved by the pope's public utterances, in the same way you might be stirred by an inspiring presidential speech. But what's the point of staying put when you're utterly indifferent to so much of what the Catholic Church (and on contraception at least, pretty much only the Catholic Church) proclaims to be true?
Matthew Schmitz of expounds on Linker's concerns, saying he understands why Linker might be confused by some Catholics' indifference to doctrine. 

Schmitz says the problem begins with the Catholic Church itself:
For the past fifty years, indifference to Church teaching has been actively encouraged by bishops, priests, and catechists. Official episcopal announcements, books from Catholic presses, winking homilies, and a culture of silence on moral matters not only gave room for dissent but made assent actively difficult. Catholics in the pews simply followed the cues.
It's clear Pope Francis is enjoying tremendous popularity. A poll in December showed 88 percent of American Catholics approved of how Francis was handling the job as leader of the world's 1.2 billion church members. 

And Abby Beach of says the Pope's more compassionate tone is what inspired her to give Catholicism another chance after she had grown disenchanted with the church:
It is hard to live in a society that encourages people to be accepting of homosexuals while your religion that you've grown up with is telling you to do the opposite. I was internally conflicted, to say the least. Do you trust your morals? Do you defy the practices of your religion to stand for what you believe in? Perhaps with Francis, I can do both. His fresh take on prevalent social issues are ones that allow me to not feel so guilty about supporting same-sex marriage and other "controversial" issues. ... So thank you, Pope Francis, for reinstalling in my once-skeptical religious views. Thank you for preaching the Bible's true message of love and compassion. Thank you for being the fresh perspective that the 1,500-year-old institution that is the Catholic Church has needed.

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