New tone from Vatican is good for Catholic Church
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 20:10
Pope Francis has drawn much positive attention during his nearly seven-month tenure as pontiff. First, it was his remarkable unpretentiousness and his insistence on continuing to live modestly and humbly, despite the grandeur of Vatican City; more recently, it has been attempting to soften the perceived rigidity many have of the Catholic Church.
A sharp contrast from his highly conservative doctrinaire predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Francis wants the Church to put less emphasis on currently divisive political subjects like gay marriage and abortion. In July for instance, he asked rhetorically “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” And just two weeks ago, he expanded on this stance in an interview with a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Antonio Sparado. When asked what type of Church he dreams of, he replied that no longer can the Church “insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive[s]” because “the dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent.”
And this week, the Pope has opened a landmark meeting with the intention of reforming the Catholic Church and reworking its constitution. Echoing a familiar tone of his, he desires for the Church to be more traditionally missionary in nature, one that gives hope to the elderly, the ill and the underprivileged. The centricity of the Vatican and the long-held papal infatuation with its “courtesans” was denounced by Francis, and he reiterated his aspiration for a Church that bears a more humble tone.
The Roman Catholic Church is an ancient institution, and one that bases its belief off Scripture. I say that because I do not want it to be expected that any fundamental doctrinal changes will occur in the near future. It is completely unrealistic for the Church to suddenly alter its position on homosexuality or abortion, nor would I not condone any such changes.
However, it is perfectly reasonable that Church leaders go about messaging in a slightly different manner. Such heightened emphasis on those issues in particular has led to an overall weakening on broad Catholic teaching. Consequently, religiosity in the developed, Western world has been declining: In the United States, nearly one-third of those who were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic. Overall, American Catholic churches have lost 5 percent of their membership in the last decade alone. And Mexico today is 84 percent Catholic, down from more than 98 percent Catholic in 1950. I think this has been driven in part by the Church’s emphasis on divisive social issues in a world that is, unfortunately, becoming more secular and more liberal. The Church, however, is growing in the developing world, enough to more than offset its decline in the North. In Africa and Asia, where the population is considerably more conservative on issues like abortion and gay rights, the Church’s outreach efforts have proven effective.
In my view, the Church must speak more broadly about Catholicism and its doctrinal beliefs. It must spend less time talking about a dozen or fewer lines in the Bible that refer to the aforementioned issues, and instead preach more exclusively about Jesus’ core messages of love and compassion. Church leaders and priests can still address issues they deem as societal ailments, but should do so more comprehensively by elevating issues like greed, the consumer culture or even the degradation of the family. They need not completely ignore the current political issues in contention, and they would be remiss if their opinions were not injected into the public arena. But, the perception that there is this obsession, as Pope Francis identified it, must be corrected.
The College of Cardinals’ decision to elect Francis, an Argentinian by birth, may just have been the perfect decision to make. Since March, there is little doubt that he succeeded in at least establishing the foundations for a more positively viewed Church. He took the important step of making child abuse a crime in Vatican City law, and soon carried out the law, removing the Vatican envoy to the Dominican Republic in light of a child prostitution scandal. Furthermore, he has sought to make the Vatican more transparent, less fiscally corrupt and more focused on achieving his goal of an expanded “missionary Church.”
In short, Pope Francis’ efforts to change the messaging tone of the Catholic Church, particularly on divisive issues like gay marriage and abortion, is positive for the Church’s overall future.