How far can Pope Francis shake up the Catholic Church?

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

By his humble demeanor and simple lifestyle and his public pronouncements since his election as Pontiff in March, Pope Francis (the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina) appears bent on shaking up the Roman Catholic Church.

He has shunned staying at the Pope’s official residence to live with other clergy, chucked the traditional brocaded cape and red shoes, and rejected the heavy security that could prevent his freely mixing with the people seeking to see and touch him.

During his seven-day visit to Brazil last week, where he addressed the World Youth Day gathering, the first Latin American pope made certain startling statements. He added more during a surprise 80-minute “nothing-off-the-record” question-and-answer meeting with journalists aboard the papal plane flying back to Rome.

In Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis first enjoined the Catholic youth to shake up the Church and make a “mess” in their dioceses by going out into the streets to spread the faith. He declared:

“What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess, I want trouble in the dioceses, I want to see the Church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism… this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools and structures.”

Then he spoke to the assembled bishops about why many were leaving the Catholic Church. He exhorted them:

“Today we need a Church capable of walking at (the) people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them, a Church which accompanies them in their journey… a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return.”

“Perhaps,” Francis added, “the Church appears too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns… perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas… perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.”

Then he invoked his favorite theme: simplicity. “At times,” he said, “we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible ‘to fish’ for God in the deep waters of his mystery.”

But it was during the flight back to Rome that Pope Francis made more startling remarks in answering reporters’ questions. Among others, he spoke out his mind on these issues:

= On an alleged “gay lobby” in the Vatican: “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency is not the problem… They’re our brothers.”

Before he became Pope, Francis had described same-sex marriage as “a destructive attack on God’s plan” in line with the Church stand that marriage is between man and woman. But in 2010, Brazil legalized same-sex marriage. Has he changed his view?

No matter. “For gay people to hear a Pope speak of us as people of faith and goodwill who should not be marginalized in society, rather than (as) threats to civilization, is a great shift,” wrote Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic organization, Dignity-USA.

– On women in the Church: “A church without women could be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important that the apostles, and the Church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a Mother.”

The Church doesn’t yet have a deep theology of women in the church, Francis said. On the ordination of women as priests, however, he emphasized that “the Church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that the door is closed.”

Francis’ depiction of the Church as feminine reflects, in a modified manner, the bold declaration of Pope John Paul I in his September 10, 1978 Angelus address. The latter stated that God had a “feminine nature” and was “more of a mother than a father.”

What happened to John Paul I? He died 18 days after making that statement, reportedly of heart attack. He was pope for only 33 days. Conspiracy theorists at the time suggested he was a victim of foul play.

Earlier, in a homily last May 22, Francis stunned Catholics and heartened atheists and humanists with this statement:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, with the blood of Christ. All of us, not just Catholics, everyone… Even the atheists. We must meet one another doing good.”

Two American groups – one atheist, one humanist – have welcomed Francis’ openness to work together “doing good,” such as in fostering and defending basic human rights. They found it heartening that the new Pope’s “view of the world’s religious and philosophical diversity is expanding.”

How much farther can Pope Francis venture outside the Church’s historically conservative parameters? Abangan!

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August 1, 2013

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