in defence of pope francis

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.

 

keys to the kingdom

Today, February 22, is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

I’ve been to Rome many times. When you enter St. Peter’s Basilica, you can’t miss the famous “Chair of St. Peter” hanging on the far wall. The relic appears miraculously suspended in mid-air, floating among Bernini’s golden clouds and cherubs. As with many relics, the authenticity of the chair may be questioned, but the belief in the central role of Peter and his papal descendants is on clear display.

chair of st peter

Today’s gospel reading tells the story of Jesus asking Peter, “Who do YOU say I am?”

Peter replies with, “You are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God.”

Jesus rewards Peter with what seems to be an over-the-top gift.

“I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (see Matthew 16)

Wow! I was lucky to get a holy card from Sister Francis for giving the right answer in catechism class. The keys to heaven is some powerful reward!

Reminders of Jesus’s gifting of the keys to Peter are all over Rome. The keys are central to the papal insignia shown below. The keys, gold and silver, represent the power to loose and bind. They are part of the Vatican flag, and are included in each pope’s individual coat of arms.papal keys

 

In all honesty, I struggle with this gospel reading and its interpretation over the years. The power of the keys gave popes and bishops the rationale to claim ever increasing power throughout church history. Imagine having an unscrupulous leader who was granted this kind of divine right. What could possibly go wrong?

The keys have been used as tools of intimidation, bludgeoning the faithful into submission while emptying their pockets to fill church coffers. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by richly dressed, powerful men who claimed to be judge and jury over all things earthly and divine, threatening you with eternal hell-fire and brimstone?

Peter, himself, was a sinner. Sure, he had one shining  moment of inspiration. One right answer. The gospels also show him as a doubter. A denier. A cowardly man who ran from the cross with the other disciples, fearing for his life. How many times have we heard that this is what made Peter so special? Jesus didn’t choose him because he was perfect. Jesus chose him despite his sins and imperfections.

But, why would Jesus give God-like power to one man? Was absolute power his intention? Was it his intention that this absolute power would be passed down an unbroken line of popes through the centuries, claiming unarguable validity from a couple of scripture lines? Surely, Jesus knew enough about human nature to realize that this was a recipe for disaster?

Miraculously, the church has survived centuries of popes, both sinners and saints…and there were some humdinger sinners! By the 1960’s, Vatican II focused on the collegial nature of papal power. The pope rules in union with his bishops, guided also by the sensus fidei, the sense of the faithful. You and me. The church is the Body of Christ, composed of all the people of God with Jesus as its head. WE are the church.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t need leaders. We do. We need popes, bishops, priests, religious and lay people who embrace servant leadership, not autocratic, absolutist power. We need this in our church. We need it in our world.

We need true servant leaders.

From the moment he was elected, Pope Francis showed the world that he was a different kind of pope, determined to reform church leadership from the Vatican to the parish level. He never tires of preaching about humility, faith of the heart, integrity and sincerity in word and deed.

On this feast day,  I pray that Pope Francis will lead us with his service and example for many years to come.

 

 

 

Pope speaks out against fake news

Pope Francis released a message for World Communications Day, titled,

“The truth will set you free” (Jn8:32)

Fake news and journalism for peace. 

Francis describes fake news as “spreading of disinformation on line or in traditional media.” Fake news is used to deceive and manipulate. It twists the truth. It identifies hatreds and biases, and feeds those hatreds and biases to promote its own agenda.

Truth is more than freedom from falsehood. Truth is also about relationships. Francis writes,

To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose. Truth, therefore, is not really grasped when it is imposed from without as something impersonal, but only when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another…

We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.

The evil of fake news lies in its insidious, snake-like nature. Francis turns to the book of Genesis, describing the methods of Satan in the Garden of Eden. Fake news looks like real news. It sounds like truth. But, it isn’t.

Francis calls for journalists to work harder in the service of truth, but the burden really lies with all of us. How educated are we in spotting fake news? Can we spot it in our own news feeds? Do we confirm the legitimacy of a news story or the reliability of an author before we share, retweet, or forward a story to others? Are we quick to be the first to share news before all the details have been reported? Do we respond to headlines without reading the full article?

It is possible to be emotional and rational in our writing. There is a way to seek truth in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. There is a way to promote dialogue rather than angry diatribes. Francis ends his message with a practical, inspirational guide, based on the prayer of St. Francis.

Make me an instrument of your peace…

where there is shouting, let us practise listening; where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony; where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity; where there is exclusion, let us off