Pope Francis; Will He Change the Church?

COMMENTARY | Wednesday, the Roman Catholic Church made history electing Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina as the 266th pope. He is the first pope from South America, is a Jesuit, and, according to ABC News’ live broadcast, interestingly has a background in chemistry.

For the last several days, I’ve watched the pomp and circumstance surrounding the selection of Pope Francis. I’m a total outsider to Catholicism; I’ve admired many gorgeous churches, I’ve attended a mass or two out of curiosity or as part of a wedding — I’m Jewish — but the ritual surrounding the papal conclave is completely foreign to me.

Even with minimal context, there is beauty and a sense of the ancient in the whole process. In our age of instant media, we’ve gotten glimpses inside the remarkable Sistine Chapel and the sacraments that occur inside, all in the pursuit of selecting the new head of the Catholic Church. It’s no small task; it’s a church with more than a billion members worldwide.

So the black smoke changed to white smoke and the massive crowd outside St. Peter’s Basilica cheered as it awaited the first appearance of Pope Francis, flying the flags of their nation, as reported by ABC News’ live broadcast. It is obviously, clearly a time of joy, of excitement.

A time of new beginnings

And that is, particularly for an outsider, the big question mark hovering above these grand proceedings. Will the Catholic church, under the leadership of this new pope, take a different tack than it has with the controversial reaction to the global sex-abuse scandal? Will it be more inclusive with women? What about the issue of same-sex marriage?

Is this change merely a ceremonial one, or will it mark the movement of the church toward something that meshes a little more easily with the modern world in which it finds itself?

Immorality under the guise of religion is no less immoral, whether that immorality involves the mistreatment of women, scorn of the poor, the sexual abuse of children, or bullying in the name of “beliefs.” Will the increasingly strident attitude we’ve seen, especially here in the U.S., be softened by a new perspective from the head of the church?

These are issues that aren’t solely facing the Catholic church, but are part of a broader discussion of the role of religion and public life. As we become ever more entwined in this modern world, the end of one person’s beliefs and the beginning of another’s rights is a thorny, complicated issue.

Perhaps these questions are questions for later. For now, we know that Pope Francis has taken his new name and new responsibilities, emerging from behind red velvet curtains to greet both the faithful and the curious. As the rest of us watch, Catholics around the world are enjoying the excitement, the history of this moment that will shape the direction of the church for decades to come.


Today, with the selection of the former Cardinal Bergoglio as pope, there is joy and hope for Catholics, and, maybe, for everyone. And for all of you Catholics, I say, as we do, mazel tov.

The Catholic Reformation

The Catholic Counter-Reformation was a modestly successful movement to reform the church and end the division of Christianity. While they failed to reunite all of Christianity, they were mildly successful in reforming the church and bringing some people back to Catholicism.

The Problem

The Catholic Pope controlled all of Catholicism, and in turn all or Europe until a man named Martin Luther came along. Martin Luther was unhappy with the abuses of the Catholic Church and decided to break away from the church. From the moment Luther broke away from the Catholic Church, religion was never the same. His break created a new sect of Christianity called Lutheranism and brought to light the abuses of the Catholic Church. Soon the Catholic Church began to loose members and they realized they had to do something. Fast.

The Solution

In hopes of ending the schism that Luther had created, the Catholic Church decided to make some serious changes. These changes were labeled the Catholic Counter-Reformation, or simply the Catholic Reformation. During this reformation the acknowledged that many people turned away from the church because of the levels of corruption within it. They acknowledged that many clergy were taking advantage of their positions and others were so poorly educated they did not even understand their own sermons. They realized they had to address these issues and they created the Council of Trent to deal with them.

To deal with the issue of under education of clergy

The Council of Trent did a pretty original thing, they ordered that every diocese have a seminary to educate and train its clergy. The men who truly had a calling were chosen to become the priests. This made sure the priests were not only educated, but also that they truly wanted to serve God. To deal with the issue of pluralism (where men would serve as bishops in multiple diocese): the Council of Trent decreed that bishops must live in their own dioceses and visit every religious house within that diocese at least once every two years. To deal with the issues of priests having mistresses: the Council of Trent reaffirmed that having a mistress was against church doctrine.

In this matter the Catholic Church hoped that the Priests would realize their actions were not supported by the Catholic Church, and they would stop. To bring people back to the Catholic Church orders of deeply religious people, such as Jesuits, were created. These orders were made up of people willing to go to any length to re-convert people to Catholicism. While the above reforms were fairly successful, the Catholic Church refused to give in on matters of tradition and sacraments. This stubbornness cost them the reunification of the Catholic Church and Europe.

The Catholic Church and the Failure to Lead

The most recent revelations of the protection of pedophiles in the Catholic church here and in Europe make one point abundantly clear: It’s time to start arresting the leadership for conspiracy. No one in the world would receive the kind of immunity that is occurring right now except the Church, and their failure to properly police themselves has become obvious.

The latest slap in the face came when the Vatican called the recent calls for leaders to step down prompted the response that this is an anti-Catholic hate campaign based on people’s views on abortion and gay marriage. Really? That’s the reason? How can people tasked to teach about confession and atonement be trusted when they can’t even live up to these values in their own institution?

The worst case yet involved a priest in Arizona, the Rev. Michael Meta, who molested two boys (aged 7 amp; 9) in the confessional as they prepared for their First Holy Communion. He was abusing children as far back as the 1970’s, and a church tribunal said his relationships with young men and children had an almost “Satanic quality” to them. Yet the Vatican would not defrock this man until 2004. The local church leaders had to plead for years to finally get this done. This is just one case, and the reality is even worse. Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, played a major role in shielding these priests from the punishment they deserved. And many of these cases happened under the watch of the highly revered Pope John Paul II.

I’m really sick of people defending this kind of behavior. My feeling is that Jesus would want us to defend the faith, not people who prey on the most vulnerable parishioners in their charge. This is why the church has paid $3 billion in lawsuits and schools and churches are closing all over the country. What will it take for people to awaken from their slumber of denial? I have no compassion for these ‘leaders’. Why? Because they have ruined a relationship with God for so many. The very task they were given over 2000 years ago. They have failed utterly. Many of these victims will never be able to rebuild their trust in God or Jesus. My compassion is with these people, not the ‘aid and abet’ Catholic leadership.

One of the saddest parts is that there are so many Catholic priests (probably 95%) who would never do such a thing. The collar has become a mark of shame and suspicion for these priests, and the Vatican bears responsibility for this. If they ever want to make a comeback, it’s time to take ownership of these atrocities. Maybe once they lose all their property and money, they can go back to the message.

In this country, we’ve gotten too comfortable with letting the CEO off the hook for the failures below him. I hope Britain charges the Pope with conspiracy, as they are suggesting they might. At least it’d be a start. Maybe then we can really turn a corner. Don’t take my word for it, just read Luke 17:2.


Can the Church Redeem Itself?

We’ve all heard about this string of church-related sex abuse allegations that are currently dominating the headlines. With new reports and accusations coming in every day, Pope Benedict XVI is being forced into a media frenzy whether he wants it or not, and his validity as a religious leader is coming into question.
In the past, critics within the church could be brushed off with two words: “papal infallibility.” But for many, this argument no longer holds any water. More and more Catholics are beginning to question the way the Vatican handles these matters, and an ever-growing gap is forming within the Catholic community between those who want answers and those who don’t.

Unfortunately, sex abuse scandals within the Catholic church are nothing new, and in the past these sorts of cases were usually swept under the rug, blamed on “a few bad apples” in an otherwise holy organization. But the sheer number of incidents in various places around the world in this latest wave of allegations simply cannot be ignored.

Is the church in danger of collapsing under the weight of this issue? Some argue that Catholicism is simply too old and outdated for our modern world. Others insist that such old-world systems are necessary to keep humanity’s moral fiber intact. In either case, the Pope needs to address several issues if the church wants to regain favor with the majority of the public. Here are a few ideas:

  • 1) A thorough investigation of the sex-abuse allegations needs to be carried out, not by the Vatican, but by Interpol or the United Nations. This will help to prevent any suspicions that the Vatican is covering something up, and will also allow the church to distance itself from the accused. By showing their support for bringing these criminals to justice, the Vatican cannot be criticized for “protecting pedophiles,” as they have been in the past.
  • 2) A serious look into allowing women to be priests. Many critics call the policy of allowing only men to serve as priests sexist and outdated, and it’s exactly the sort of thing preventing the church from successfully integrating itself into the new millennium. By establishing equilibrium between the sexes within the structure of the church, a sense of family values can be reinforced.
  • 3) If the perpetrators of these crimes are convicted, the Pope should publicly and loudly denounce their actions and excommunicate them from the Catholic church, as punishment in addition to whatever legal consequences they will face after being tried.
  • 4) The Catholic church needs to show greater support for the victims in these cases by donating and raising more funds to organizations that help children overcome abuse and find the courage to speak out.
  • 5) Finally, the church should reevaluate its position on requiring members of the clergy to remain celibate. Allowing priests to marry and have relationships would certainly attract more young people to the calling, and would make the Church more appealing to those who now criticize it as being too old-fashioned and strict.

Faith Strong Enough to Move a Church – 900 Miles

Faith can move mountains, so the parishioners of Mary Our Queen Catholic Church are using their faith – and fund-raising efforts – to accomplish something that even Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman and the nuns of The Bells of St. Mary would have termed “a miracle.”

Mary Our Queen began as a mission of All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, GA in 1994, serving 70 area families in an office building in nearby Norcross, GA. Within four years the church was in a new, albeit, temporary 15,000-square foot structure on 15-acres of church owned land in the North Atlanta suburb of Norcross. The church had even purchased an adjacent 6,000-square foot building which was refurbished and named Trinity Building.


As the catholic population has grown to become the third-largest religious entity in Georgia, Mary Our Queen has also steadily grown, now serving the spiritual needs of 750 local families. But the church is still in a temporary space.

So, the parishioners have decided to “move” a new church to Mary Our Queen. That’s right, rather than move the parishioners to a new church; the new church will be moved to the parishioners – stone by stone.

Actually, the “new” church is the 100-year old St. Gerard’s Church in Buffalo, New York. It was closed in 2008 as the congregation of the neighborhood that St. Gerard’s served in Buffalo declined to such a level that church could no longer be sustained. But the parishioners of Mary Our Queen saw an excellent opportunity and thought the century-old architectural treasure would be the answer to a prayer for the permanent new home of Mary Our Queen Catholic Church.

“It’s very hard to find a church – that you can move the whole thing,” says Father David Dye, Administrator of Mary Our Queen. “Structurally, sometimes, it (the church building) is about to fall apart and if you start monkeying around with it, then it does fall apart.”

The 900-mile move of the structure, built in 1911, will be a pioneering effort; preserving one of America’s truly magnificent works of classical architecture in the Roman and Greek style that will continue to serve the faithful in our community for many years to come – as well as enhance the natural beauty of the area.

“We’re thinking the entire project will take a year-and-a-half to two-years from start to finish, once we have the funding in place,” predicts Father Dye.

The parishioners of Mary Our Queen have gone to the Internet to help raise money for what they call the “Moved by Grace” campaign. The move will cost Mary Our Queen about $16-million – approximately double that of the cost of a “new” church building. So far, the church has raised about one-quarter of the money they’ll need to move St. Gerard’s from its Buffalo neighborhood to its new site just north of Holcomb Bridge Road and Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross. But supporters say it’s not just about money. It’s about preserving history and giving new life to a work of art.