Friday, September 20, 2013

Pope Francis is definitely no Pope Benedict, but can he heal the wounds inflicted by his predecessor?

I have been reading excerpts from the transcript of the latest New York Times interview with Pope Francis. I have also spent a lot of time reading and listening to reactions from people I deeply respect. But I am still not sure how I feel and way too skittish about allowing myself to get too hopeful or excited.

But this NYT's interview is giving a whole lot of people a reason to get their hopes up. Maybe too much so. Let's be realistic here. There is only so much this new Pope can do, and none of it will involve changing church doctrine. But that said, there are things Pope Francis said in this interview that is truly music to the ears of those who have only felt the pain of rejection and stinging condemnation from the previous pope(s):

Q: What should the church say to divorced and remarried people, and homosexuals?

A: In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are “socially wounded” because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this ... if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.

Q: What kind of church do you dream of?

A: We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods ... but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently …

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.

These are just a few excerpts, but I can see why those who have been so desperately hungry to be loved and accepted by the Church for so long would be so hopeful. But I would caution against getting too exuberant yet.

Am I hopeful? Yes, but extremely cautious. This is a church that has done tremendous damage and the wounds are deep and still quite fresh. The stains of Pope Benedict's cruelty are almost impossible to forget and even harder to erase.

Will I personally go back to the Catholic Church? Hell will probably freeze over before that happens, but I've learned never to say never.

Do I like what I am hearing from this Pope? Yes, but they are words, kind and soothing as they are, they are still just words. There is still a rigid church doctrine (when it comes to gays and women's issues) that will never change in my lifetime, and way too many priests, bishops, and cardinals who wholeheartedly subscribe to the Pope Benedict/John Paul II homophobia, sexism, and obsessions with contraception/abortion. And they are still in the ranks, spewing their uncompromising authoritarian stands and threatening the denial of communion to those who dare to disagree. And I really can't see any of that going away anytime soon, nor can I see the appearance of the Catholic Church being an arm of one of our two political parties (guess which one) going away any time soon either.

But still, I don't want to come off too pessimistic. Pope Francis is a welcome breath of fresh air after the horrors of Pope Benedict. But it will take far more than softer, gentler words to disinfect and heal the wounds inflicted by previous popes. Just take a look at Pope Benedict's Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.

His words are cruel and unforgiving. The intention is obvious: wound, demonize, stigmatize, and condemn. Phrases like "intrinsic moral evil" and "objective disorder" are used to describe anyone with tendencies towards same-sex attraction, not people who act on those tendencies, but anyone with those tendencies. Cold, hard, unforgiving condemnation for simply being. No room for salvation. No room for compassion. No room for redemption. And all this harsh judgment coming from a man who oversaw and directed the largest cover-up of decades-worth of child rape and molestation within his Church. He was so blinded by his desire to protect a church that had gone astray and by hatred for my son and anyone like him who had "tendencies", he could not even see the "intrinsic moral evil" of his own horrific actions. And yet he expected a submissive flock to just accept that he had the moral high-ground to make these unforgiving judgments.   

My wounds are deep, my anger intense. And the desire to put it behind me is not there. It has fueled me for 10 years and forced me to soul search. It has pushed me to reach out to those who've been thrown to the gutter by the church and by the families who chose to follow it blindly. To put that anger away now would be my intrinsic moral evil.

But I will continue to watch Pope Francis and hope. Maybe he can create a kinder, gentler environment within the church for future generations, but I don't hold out much hope for the walking wounded of this and past generations.

Maybe I am wrong. I hope I am wrong. But I don't think I am.


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