ANALYSIS: Pope Francis stuns the church. But will it have a lasting effect?

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Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 11, 2013. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 11, 2013. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

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(RNS) More than detailing a list of reforms or policy change he hopes to make, Pope Francis is sketching out a pastoral vision for the church. He'll need bishops, priests and seminarians who share his views, and the type of change he envisions will take a generation or more.

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  • AMcD

    David, I totally agree with the slow shifting of plates historically required to shift ecclesial directions, however, the fact he is a Jesuit matters, in terms of institutional outreach beyond the normal structures. There are two generations waiting over 50 years to see Vatican II in praxis. Social media also transcends the parish — i.e. Sacred Space and other media tools. I believe he could move in ways we have never seen before.

  • AZatheist

    Old wine poured into new skins is still old wine. There’s NOTHING here to get excited about.

  • Mike

    No one can deny that “historically” ecclesial directives moved slow. Everything has changed because of social media. Inter-culturation is moving at warp speed, totalitarian governments are being challenged and have fallen in weeks. The hierarchy has admitted to gross failures, negligence, cover ups, sexual abuses, misappropriation of monies, they know there must be change. Like it or not, worship in the Philippines (2nd largest Catholic population) is becoming more like worship and praise. Buying the Pope an iPad isn’t going to cut it. He’s looking at bishops who are spending vast sums of money on themselves while closing schools and parishes. Some could be recalled.

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  • Mindy

    Jesus came because there was too much religion…
    I love and admire our POPE…and I don’t believe he will be deterred, rather that the flock will grow as the result of his humble love for GOD and for all of us…
    I am not concerned that he may or may not change the church quickly…big ships turn slowly

  • Leo

    Christians are being persecuted, especially in the Middle East, and I will let the by whom to your investigation. He has not spoken out about this fact. He takes great pride in his humility, as if all of his predecessors was wrong. Many of his notions are creating confusion. Popes were always careful about what they said because their words would affect their successors, and he seems to speak off the cuff. Yes, he is charming, but I have some reservations. If he thinks that his style is going to bring people back to church, he is wrong. Europe is already post-Christian and is about to be taken over.

  • jojoxray

    I am in a bit of quandry. The Pope says we should forget about abortion. But the 50,000 babies a week being murdered have a slightly different message. God creates the babies, we murder them, and Francis tells us to stop talking about it.

    Can you imagine? We can’t interfere in the spiritual life of gays, but he has no problem interfering in the spiritual life of pro lifers.

    This is a very small minded Pope with his street talk, and boasting about not being a “right winger.” I am hoping he isn’t just another left wing hypocrite.

  • Frank

    Thankfully he made the latest statements:

    The Pope told a gathering of Catholic gynaecologists: “In all its phases and at every age, human life is always sacred and always of quality. And not as a matter of faith, but of reason and science.”

    Pope Francis characterised abortion as a product of a “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture’, which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.”

    That mentality, he said, “calls for the elimination of human beings, above all if they are physically or socially weaker. Our response to that mentality is a decisive and unhesitating ‘yes’ to life.”

    The Pope grouped together unborn children, the aged and the poor as among the most vulnerable people whom Christians are called especially to love.

    “In the fragile human being each one of us is invited to recognise the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced the indifference and solitude to which we often condemn the poorest, whether in developing countries or in wealthy societies,” he said.

    “Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world,” he said. “And every old person, even if infirm and at the end of his days, carries with him the face of Christ. They must not be thrown away!”

    Quoting Caritas in Veritate, the social encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis connected the protection of unborn life with the promotion of social justice.

    “Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” he said. “If personal and social sensitivity in welcoming a new life is lost, other forms of welcome useful to social life will dry up. Welcoming life tempers moral energies and makes people capable of helping each other.”

    Pope Francis told the doctors that they faced a “paradoxical situation” in their professional lives, because even as medical science discovers new cures for disease, the “health care professions are sometimes induced not to respect life itself”.

    The Pope characterised this paradox as part of a more widespread “cultural disorientation” in which rising individualism parallels a growing disrespect for life.

    “Even as persons are accorded new rights, at times only presumed rights, life as the primary value and primordial right of every man is not always protected,” he said.

    The Pope told the gynaecologists that they had a responsibility to make known the “transcendent dimension, the imprint of God’s creative work, in human life from the first instant of conception. And this is a commitment of new evangelisation that often requires going against the tide, paying a personal price. The Lord counts on you, too, to spread the Gospel of life.”

  • Doc Anthony

    I’m sorry to say that I disagree with you. It’s becoming clear that Pope Francis, is no John Paul II. The pastoral compassion is there, but the doctrinal clarity is gone.

    If you are a gay activist, or a secular humanist or a liberal Christian, there likely will be PLENTY to get excited about by the time Pope Francis is done. Anyone not fitting those three categories, however, is in for some major disappointment — and soon. Tough times will soon get tougher.

  • Dcn B

    Thanks Frank –

    I was going to post the same information regarding the Pope’s talk to the gynecologists. What jojexray is saying is completely false. The Pope did not say we should forget about abortion. Abortion is the holocaust of our time, and the Holy Father knows that for sure. The teachings of the Church will not change today – or ever. They can certainly be presented in better, or should I say “in more innovative” ways. Maybe with more “love.”

    The Pope’s talk to the gynecologists is here below. I think everyone will get a better understanding of the Holy Father’s mind by reading it.

  • Mary

    Doc Anthony: Very well said. Thank you. I agree with you.

  • Mary

    Jojoxray: Excellent analysis! Bravo! You hit the nail on the head. Thank you. I agree with you.

  • Hellagift2u

    In what light is using any type of force is of Jesus’s nature? He was told to leave it to his father for there own judgement. The world is not right, no matter how much we try to make it so. The only way to do things right is to not try and elimate the choices but wait patiencly with answers, givin when needed.

  • Lynn

    Pray, pray, pray for discernment! The Church is being led slowly away from the True God, by not raising much awareness of sins, but promoting humanistic idealism.
    God is never changing and so His Law; but we, human, change God’s law to fit our own selfish reasons and desires.

    I see so much the Pope bends the doctrines to satisfy human eager and desires than to stand firm on the ground for God’s Law and teachings. He says the things that people now a day likes to hear and avoid the things that people wants to avoid.

    Read the Bible and stay close to the Lord and He will lead us through this darkest time.

  • AZatheist

    So much wailing and gnashing of teeth! Not one jot or tittle of dogma or doctrine has been changed. The tone is better — call it “Catholicism With a Human Face” or “Compassionate Catholicism” — but the message is the same. Have no fear, the Church will continue to stigmitize gay people, subordinate women, and demonize birth control, in saecula saeculorum.

  • Frank

    Jesus came because it was Gods plan from the beginning and to fulfill Gods purposes. It had nothing to do with “religion.”

    No pope has the authority to redefine what is sinful or not. More mercy? Yes. More compassion? Yes. Same things that were always sinful are still sinful? Yes.

  • Mike

    Great comment and summary. I have a question and a comment.
    The cardinals elected this man. Does this suggest that his approach represents the values of a majority.

    Second, you used the word “orthodoxy” to describe JPII and Pope Benedict’s emphasis. I would like to suggest that Pope Francis’ approach is really more clearly orthodox —if we take the work away from its usual conservative context. This Pope’s focus on essentials, his commitment to collegiality —these are visibly true to the vision of Christ (AKA orthodox).


  • Gabriel

    This article is spreading a very false impression and shows a lack of journalistic responsibility. It’s not very hard to discover that “conservative” Pope Benedict XVI, in his meeting with the bishops of Switzerland in 2006, expressed the same thing Pope Francis mentioned in his interview—Interestingly, when Benedict expressed it there were no sensational headlines.

    What’s more, not long before he was elected pope, Francis was in a very public dispute on the issue of same sex marriage, describing it as the work of the devil and a destructive attack on God’s plan. He has also made it very clear that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children. Pope Francis has also denounced abortion as symptom of today’s “throw-away culture”.

    So there is nothing changing in Church teaching. He’s just reminding the universal Church that even though these issues are all evil, we cannot merely focus on them all the time. As Pope Benedict put it in 2006 regarding contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems:

    “If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us. In this perspective I would now like to continue by completing last Tuesday’s reflections and to stress once again: what matters above all is to tend one’s personal relationship with God, with that God who revealed himself to us in Christ.”

  • Michael

    Francis stunned the church and then a day later (probably after some urging from fellow Cardinals) denounced abortion after realizing his statements the day before were likely taken in the wrong way by the mainstream media. In his following statement Francis stated unequivocally that he continues to oppose gay marriage and abortion, thus reassuring the faithful that he still holds dear the teachings of the Catholic church.

    The mainstream media here in the U.S. and in other countries around the world are mostly secularist entities and they reported the words of Francis from a secularist standpoint needless to say. Which is to say, they reported that Francis seems to be a liberal who also seems to accept the gay lifestyle and that abortion should be placed on the back burner when it comes to Catholic doctrine. Both of those perceptions by the mainstream media were obviously wrong but the damage had been done and that is why Francis reiterated a day later that he denounces both abortion and gay marriage.

    Francis wants to implement reforms within the Catholic church but he must also reaffirm the tenants held by the Catholic church to the world and those within the church. In a separate controversy, while talking to the media, Francis seemed to convey that if atheists do good works and/or obey their conscience they would go to heaven. But the Vatican itself came out shortly thereafter and chose to officially retract the recent statement on eternal damnation given by pope Francis. Which makes you wonder if Francis actually studies the Bible in his free time. The Bible states that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6 Simply doing good works and/or obeying one’s conscience won’t get you into heaven because one of the requirements to enter heaven is having faith in God. Atheists don’t believe in God and therefore they cannot please God, regardless of whether they do good works and/or obey their consciences. If atheists can go to heaven then Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was all for naught. Jesus died for sinners and the only path to heaven is through acknowledgment and repentance of sin (acknowledge your sin and then repent of your sin) and to receive Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

    Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6

    “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” I Timothy 3:16

    Jesus was God in the flesh. You must accept Christ as your personal Savior (be born again) and believe (adhere to, trust in, rely on) Jesus Christ as Lord in order to go to heaven. This is a prerequisite. Therefore atheists must turn to God and receive Christ in order to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. The Bible is very plain about that. Those who reject Christ will not enter the kingdom of heaven. John 3:36 (paraphrased)

    “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

    When Francis speaks to the press and to the media he is speaking as a representative of Jesus Christ, and therefore, he has an obligation to speak the truth. Compromise has crept into the Christian church teaching things that are contrary to scripture. If Catholics can’t trust the overseer of the Catholic church i.e. pope Francis, then it is quite possible the Catholic church itself could become irrelevant and part of the problem instead of part of the solution. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” 2 Timothy 3:16 Above all Francis must speak the truth in love. Errors in doctrine are not the truth and therefore they must be discouraged and furthermore they also must not be taught.

  • Ned

    I am frankly stunned that someone could read the pope’s interview and accuse him of being small-minded. Francis’ main theme is magnanimity (literally, “a big heart open to God”). Please go back and re-read his words and then pray that we can all be more magnanimous.

  • jojoxray

    The thing missing from all the analysis, is that Pope Francis couldn’t change the fundamental teachings of the Church, without causing a huge schism. Abortion, prohibiting gay marriage, and prohibiting female ordination is part of the defined doctrine of the Church.

    If the Pope ever did change them the changes would be recognized for what they are, the personal whim of a sitting Pope, that could just as easily be changed again by a future Pope. In no way would they be accepted as defined doctrine.

    Those changes would effectively see the Church’s teaching magisterium replaced by Gallup polls, where catholic doctrine would be adjusted year to year according to available polling data.

  • Frank M.

    I agree, you are stating the obvious. A sin is a sin, No? But, really is any Pope going to say ” this” or “that” are no longer sins. I think given the process of electing a Pope we have, Prima Facie, picked the right leader to lead more than ever.

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  • hectcap

    I agree that sin is always sin. However the mission of the Church is not preach obsessively of sin but to preach the Good News, that God is our father and he loves us and treats us with mercy, that his love is unconditional, and even though we are sinners he still loves us. And his loves might saves us from sin and death which is consequence of sin.

    I think that Pope Prancisc wants to invite us to go in this direction.

  • The Pope has not said we should forget about abortion. He said this issue, like ALL others should be approached in context and not made the obsessive focus of our ministry and proclamation. In the US the LCWR was castigated for not speaking out enough on abortion and gay marriage or against women’s ordination. In point of fact these things are not the LCWR’s purpose or purview. Neither is it a catechetical organization meant to teach the faith to Sisters.

    No one in he LCWR supports abortion and most congregations have Sisters who work against it in some way but the obsessive treatment of abortion as a litmus test of orthodoxy blinded the CDF to the fact that the LCWR is NOT about this or the other things mentioned. It is a leadership conference assisting the leadership of congregations to lead their communities in complex times. The same is true of elections, social programs, a concern for social justice, etc. Because of their complexity these things do not allow abortion to be the single make or break issue. Pope Francis clearly sees this. It does NOT mean he suggests we forget the problem of abortion but rather contextualize it appropriately.

  • julie wege

    “…and even though we’re sinners, God loves us. ” That part is true but what people often forget is the part where the gospel talks about the narrow gate. There are conditions attached to the deal. We have to do our part as well. We can’t just say, “Sorry that I’m a sinner but because Jesus died for me on the cross my sins are forgiven and I’m going to heaven”. This is what many churches are preaching to keep their (paying) members. Time will tell whether this pope is staying with the teaching of the gospel or with the doctrine of the multi-billion $ business organization the Catholic church is. Let’s see what the bishops and cardinals do in reaction to the pope’s most recent statements. So far I like what I hear.

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    Pope Francis says ..”dont judge”, but he seems to be doing a lot of calling down.