EDITORIAL - The new face of Catholicism

Published: Thursday | December 12, 2013 Comments 0

IT IS not, on reflection, surprising that only nine months into his papacy, Time Magazine chose Pope Francis as its Person of the Year.

For as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis presides over a community of 1.2 billion who, in some fashion, not only share a religious faith, but subscribe to its underlying doctrine.

In that sense, Pope Francis' actions and decrees immediately impact the lives of the faithful who number the population of China, and more than those who live in India, where Mother Teresa epitomised the mission to which the Pope is now calling his flock.

But given the power of religion to shape and effect both domestic policies and global relations, the extent of Pope Francis' influence is even greater.

The world, therefore, pays attention to, and parses, what he says or does.

And in nine months, the former Jorge Bergoglio, cardinal of Buenos Aires, has been saying a lot, which, if translated into concrete action, could change the Roman Catholic Church in profound ways, casting him among the most reformist prelates in modern times.

Perhaps the most fundamental of Pope Francis' signal to the Church is the way in which he would prefer to see it fulfil its mission: being engaged and in the trenches.

"I prefer a church," he said in a document released in September, "which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it is out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security."

Pope Francis has also proposed decentralisation of the management of the Church, devolving authority to dioceses and vicarages and lessening the power of the papacy. He has named a commission to develop these ideas.

On some of the divisive issues facing modern society, such as gay relationships, abortion and contraception, Pope Francis has softened the Catholic Church's position, or at least its rhetoric, even if not an overhaul of its doctrine.

In July, in response to the question of gay priests, he said: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, and has goodwill, who am I to judge." His predecessor had suggested that homosexuality tended towards "a moral evil".

He, however, unfortunately, remains unpersuaded by doctrinal arguments of the right of women to the priesthood, although he feels that they should play deeper leadership roles in the Church. Hopefully, his view will evolve.

Serious about change

Of course, there is a profound difference between declarations and action. So, a serious assessment of Pope Francis' papacy will rest on what he actually achieves and, in that regard, is years hence.

Yet, there are indications that he is serious about change. He has personally eschewed the flamboyance and rich lifestyles associated with the leadership in Rome, and has moved decisively to clean up the Vatican Bank, which has been dogged by accusations of corruption.

His actions, thus far, are likely to resonate with, and redound to the benefit of a country like Jamaica, where under 60,000 people profess adherence to Catholicism, making it among the island's smallest Christian denominations.

But Pope Francis' "bruised, hurting and dirty" church is in congruence with the mission of pastors like Richard Ho Lung and Gregory Ramkissoon. In it, there is evidence of the Church's 'works' that, in countries like ours, is sometimes undermined by the perception of the scarlet opulence of Rome.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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