in defence of pope francis


My last blog post was an angry rant. I believe that anger is the correct response to the seriousness of the abuse crisis. Anger is the wake up call. Anger is the emotion that will fuel the desire to face the problem, search for solutions, and begin the difficult task of reforming and rebuilding.

But, we also need to put anger aside to gain clarity and perspective amid a deafening cacophony of opposing voices. In the next few posts, I hope to share some more thoughts with the hope that you will share yours. Dialogue is needed more than ever before.

In reality, the problem is greater than one grand jury report. Greater than one diocese. Greater than one cardinal or one bishop or one priest. Greater than one pope. The sheer magnitude, world-wide, of the abuse crisis defies any “one size fits all” solution.

Heavy the head that wears the crown. But, I have more faith in Pope Francis wearing that crown than any other head in our church today. Here’s why…

From day one, Francis has railed against the evil rot of clericalism. He preached about it to the cardinals as they prepared for the last papal election. After he became pope, Francis never tired of criticizing men who enter the priesthood for power and prestige. He pointed his finger at cliques within Vatican circles that spend their energy in political posturing, infighting and gossiping.  He consistently preached to bishops and cardinals, old and new, to be true servant leaders not princes.

As a bishop and cardinal, Francis lived a simple, humble life in the poor neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. When he counsels families on daily life and love, he speaks with an intimacy and knowledge that defies his celibate life. His words reflect the many hours he has spent with families, sharing their joys, their sorrows and their struggles.

Francis’s deep love for children is without question. We know he will do all within his power to protect these little ones and their families.

Francis is a Jesuit. At the core of Jesuit spirituality is the discipline of discernment. Discernment requires deep prayer and hard work. And, it takes time. This is hard to accept when we yearn for quick and easy solutions.

No words of penance or sorrow can take away the damage, both personal and institutional, that this crisis has caused. But, I do believe that when Francis speaks he speaks from his heart. His words are genuine, honest and transparent.

This crisis is greater than the wisdom of any one person, no matter how kind, wise, loving or holy they are. Francis is not perfect. He has and will continue to make mistakes. For some, his words and actions will be too much. For others, not enough.

The church is in a mess beyond the power of any one person, committee, inquiry or program. If any pope is capable of beginning the clean up, it’s Francis.


thoughts on an imploding church

Much has been written and continues to be written about the most recent sexual abuse bombshells in the Catholic Church. I keep putting off writing a blog post about it, hoping that I can calm down and write something thoughtful, not simply rant from a place of deep anger.

WARNING. I am not even attempting a balanced commentary.  Is there a dialogue to be had? Can you defend the indefensible?

The first bombshell was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s long history of sexual misconduct and abuse of diocesan seminarians. A shock to most, but apparently not to many seminarians, priests and bishops who knew McCarrick.

The second was the grand jury report from Pennyslvania, based on internal documents from six dioceses,  which concluded that over 300 predator priests had abused more than 1,000 child victims.

This past weekend, the abuse crisis took centre stage at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, as it should have. The church cannot and should not preach about the beauty and gift of family life without acknowledging the horrific violence perpetrated on her children by ministers of the church.

Without acknowledging the damage it has done to each and every life affected by clerical/church abuse.

Without acknowledging the loss of moral and spiritual credibility of its leadership. A leadership who has self-righteously instilled fear and guilt into women and men for centuries for not living up to its sexual teachings – teachings that tried to control our right to freedom over our fertility, freedom to choose whom we love, how we love them, and whom we marry.

YES, we the People of God are angry and disgusted. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH!

YES, something has to be done. NOW.

NO, that “something” isn’t for us to join priests and bishops in prayerful fasting and penance. WE ARE NOT THE PERPERTRATORS.

NO, this is not the time to finally open leadership in the church to the laity. We have been denied a voice and active role in all other decision making. Victims and their supporters have been speaking truth to power for decades about clerical sexual abuse, only to be ignored or silenced. THIS IS YOUR MESS. OWN IT. FIX IT.

NO, this is not a gay problem. It is AN ABUSE OF POWER PROBLEM.

YES, the root of all this evil is clericalism with it’s elitist, self-promoting and self-protecting culture of princely titles and princely garb; YOUR HOLINESS, YOUR EMMINENCE, YOUR EXCELLENCY, YOUR VERY REVEREND FATHER.

YES, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Pennsylvania is only one state in America. America is only one country. THIS IS A GLOBAL PROBLEM FOR THE CHURCH.

YES, sexual abuse is a crime. YES, those who help to cover up sexual abuse are guilty of aiding and abetting a crime. THE ABUSE AND THE COVER-UP ARE BOTH CRIMES.

These crimes must be punished. NOT with canonical slaps on the wrists. NOT by whisking away the perpetrators to safe houses or monasteries  to hide them from public scrutiny.    THESE CRIMES MUST BE PROSECUTED IN SECULAR COURTS OF LAW.

For those of us yearning for a new church, we have often talked about the need for the current structures to implode in order for real change to happen. The gospels are filled with images of pruning, dying and rising to new life. The coming months, years, decades will be a time of pruning and dying. We will not see new life overnight, but it will come. It must come.

For some, the current crisis will be the final straw that pushes them out of the church doors forever, if they haven’t left already. Others will stay and fight the good battle for the church they love. And, fight they must. Silence and turning a blind eye enables evil to continue.

The mighty are falling from their thrones. And, fall they must.







francis speaks out against clericalism…again!

Pope Francis continues to make daily head-lines that excite this liberal heart. Here’s one from yesterday, written by NCR’s Joshua J. McElwee,

Francis: Spirit works in laypeople, ‘is not property of the hierarchy’

On the one hand, it’s sad that this announcement makes head line news. Shouldn’t it be obvious that the Holy Spirit isn’t an exclusive gift to priests, bishops and popes? And, yet, how many times have we been led to believe that those with the sacred oils of ordination have a direct line to the Divine while we, the great unwashed in the pews, are wallowing in ignorance?

Ongoing Vatican reports on Pope Francis, like the one above, provide a path-way to a deeper understanding of Amoris Laetitia. As much as I have would have loved Francis to single-handedly sweep away all church teachings that have caused women and men to feel excluded from the Body of Christ, I also know that I would not want other popes to have this kind of power.

What Francis is doing is greater than simply changing laws. He is challenging minds and hearts to prepare the way for a more participatory, egalitarian and inclusive church.

Clericalism is the antithesis of a participatory, egalitarian and inclusive spirit. In the NCR story above, Francis called clericalism “one of the greatest deformations that Latin America must confront”. The context was a letter written to Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his role as head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The pope is obviously well acquainted with the church in Latin America, and feels strongly about the issues that he is addressing.

Francis speaks often about the evils of clericalism, and the damage it has imposed on the church. In the letter , he writes,

Clericalism, far from giving impulse to diverse contributions and proposals, turns off, little by little, the prophetic fire from which the entire Church is called to give testimony in the heart of its peoples…Clericalism forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belongs to all the people of God and not only an elect or illuminated few.

One of the most quoted lines from Amoris Laetitia is,

We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them. AL, 37.

In the letter to Cardinal Ouellet, He writes,

We trust in our people, in their memory and in their ‘sense of smell,’ we trust that the Holy Spirit works in and with them, and that this Spirit is not only the ‘property’ of the ecclesial hierarchy.

The Holy Spirit works in each of us? We might have better knowledge than a priest of what is right and wrong in our own situation? Who would have known!

Clericalism IS at the heart of much that is wrong with our church. Clericalism feeds, supports and shelters the power and control that has been associated with the hierarchy for centuries. Clericalism wraps itself in finery and surrounds itself with symbols of prestige. Clericalism demands to be served rather than to serve.

Francis is nudging the People of God to an adult faith, a faith that sheds an unhealthy and dysfunctional dependence on “Father”. Father does not always know best. Clericalism stifles the independence and freedom needed to be formed into spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually mature women and men.