Where were you when Pope Francis stepped onto the papal balcony on March 13, 2013? I had a broken tooth, and hubby was busy fixing it. We stopped midway to watch the big moment on my iPad. We were transfixed. Who was this man? Where is he from?He chose the name Francis? How cool! What? Did he just ask for OUR blessing and bow before us???
Francis had me from that moment on. The following days and months were filled with memorable quotes and photogenic actions; seemingly on a daily basis. The media and the world fell in love with the new pope. While conservative pundits kept stressing a seamless transition between Francis and Benedict, it was impossible not to make comparisons. Francis’s simplicity, humility and joy contrasted sharply with the perceived doctrinal severity and papal pomp of his predecessor.
For those who were bemoaning the growing gap between Vatican II visions and an increased clericalism and centralization in the church, Francis was a breath of fresh air and hope. For those who find comfort in doctrinal purity and liturgical traditionalism, the past twelve months have been a challenge.
Francis has recently said that he is uncomfortable with an overblown “superman” image. Perhaps he can forgive us our initial enthusiasm. It was so good to have a leader who gave us new energy as Catholics. I have done my own share of adulation and enthusiastic commentary. But, he is only human and humans are bound to disappoint.
Francis’s recent comments on the child abuse scandal in the church drew much deserved criticism. He repeated the shameful mantra of defence that we have heard too often from our church leaders. In an interview for the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, Francis stated “The statistics of the phenomenon of violence against children are staggering, but show clearly that the vast majority of abuse happens in the family setting and neighbourhood.” He continued, “The Catholic church is maybe the only public institution to have moved with transparency and responsibility…No one else has done more. Yet the church is the only one to be attacked.”
The church’s record on the child abuse scandal is shameful and the truth behind the massive cover-ups is still unfolding. Francis has minced no words in his attacks on the financial corruption and clericalism in the church. He needs to show the same boldness in demanding that perpetrators of child sexual abuse and those who covered up for them are swiftly removed from ministry and suitably punished. If he is serious about cleaning out the rot in the church, then he cannot ignore the moral wounds that the sexual abuse scandals have caused.
The first year honeymoon is now over, and the real work of reform begins. Yes, we have a genuine gift of a man in this pope. But, he is only a man. We cannot sit back and wait for miracles to happen. If we are inspired by the words of Pope Francis, and his inspirations are many, then it is our responsibility to turn these words into concrete actions. If we see a gap in the good works that he is trying to do, and he cannot do it all, then it is our responsibility to try and fill that gap.
God bless you, Francis!