I have a confession to make. I’m a Catholic, confirmed and all. You’d have to be raised in the church to appreciate the commitment implied there. It’s supposed to strengthen your bonds with the Church and mark your willingness to overcome your skepticism in order to embrace a pretty unbelievable concept.
In essence, Christians believe there’s an invisible force called God that runs the show. God is almost always described as male, and it’s believed he fathered a son, Jesus, to be his physical incarnation on this earth. Jesus taught us that we should love each other and our neighbors as we should love ourselves. God then allowed his son to be crucified as an example of his love for us.
Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention in Sunday school, but the crucifixion thing was always baffling to me. God loves you and is all powerful, which is why he didn’t intervene to save his son. But you should always look out for other people out of an abundance of love.
Most of you already knew that and will have a radically different interpretation of it all. That’s just the version of it I remember from countless hours in Sunday school. When I got older, as my father’s health failed and I grew more cynical, I drifted from my Catholic faith. It was an easy decision when I learned that the Catholic church had spent decades protecting and hiding priests who had abused children. It also didn’t help that the church leaders sounded willing to hitch themselves to the Christian Right movement, a hypocritical group of folks who seemed more interested in excluding people than including them.
Pope John Paul II is revered among Catholics who are willing to ignore that much of the deterioration of the church happened under his watch. It’s debatable whether John Paul was actually gripping the reins toward the end of his life. He was frail even when I was a teenager and he seemed more of a figurehead at best. I thought he was a good man but incapable of moving the church forward.
His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, was a disappointing step backward in terms of social politics. I suspect his early resignation was an acknowledgement that he, like his predecessor, was becoming too old to manage the increasingly embattled Catholic church.
By the time his reign began I was long since divorced from the church or anything to do with organized religion. I followed his pronouncements and activities but felt he was more of a caretaker. Pope Benedict’s decision to retire early is perhaps the most meaningful thing he did because it cleared the way for an intriguing new leader.
Pope Francis continues to surprise me with his willingness to engage with younger Catholics (Exhibit A: the Pope’s Twitter account) and break with conventions. According to this New York Times article, he’s willing to take on the church’s socially conservative wing. He said the church is too “obsessed” with social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Um, Amen, Father.
Best quote of the story:
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
The Pope also admitted that as a younger man his way of doing business wasn’t always the most effective, saying, “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
So what to make of this complicated, unabashedly progressive Pope?
I’d like to believe this is a fundamental change in direction for the church, one that will promote transparency and honesty that has been lacking. I’d like the church to allow priests to marry and for women to become priests, if they like. I don’t know what makes a man more capable of the job than a woman. The church of today is still a very old institution, one that seems incapable of keeping up with the modern of the world.
If it could change that radically within my lifetime, it really would be a miracle.
Could Pope Francis be the start? Maybe. He’s interesting to watch, at least. Keep telling truths, Pope Francis. You have this Catholic’s attention.