Pope Francis: Game Changer?

Papal audience, St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Rome, Italy - 06 Nov 2013You may or may not know that for many years, I have struggled with the concept of being a Catholic. When I was much younger, I was actually somewhat strict in my Catholic beliefs, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve become much more of a “Cafeteria Catholic,” if you will; I pick and choose what tenets of the Church I choose to follow and blatantly ignore those I find to be beyond the realm of pure reason. I make no apologies for my religious liberalism; I’ve had discussions with Catholic priests, even, and make them well aware of my disdain for the Church’s teachings on how to treat homosexuals, or the lack of female priests (priestesses?), and even proudly tout my utmost love and appreciation for birth control pills.

I should be in birth control pill commercials, actually.

However, nothing rocked me more than the child sexual abuse scandal. I have never been more horrified and disgusted at anything in my life as when those revelations came about. I’m not even saying that to be melodramatic. I was crushed. Devastated. I actually left the Church for a short time after that. I couldn’t bring myself to support an organization that in any way, shape or form supported such vile deeds. And let’s be honest, the Church DID support child molestation by priests; evil persists when good men do nothing, and the so-called good guys did nothing. These bishops, cardinals, and popes stood by, nay—they actively shuffled priests around from parish to parish! Why? Did they hope there were fewer—or no—children at the new parishes? That perhaps these children had parents who kept a closer watch on them, and wouldn’t allow them to be with anyone—even a priest!–without having a watchful eye on them?

My area’s own cardinals and bishops played a huge role in this scandal (namely, Bernard Cardinal Law and Bishop John McCormack). I was on my home church’s pastoral council when this began to unfold. One of these bishops came by to give us a pep talk of sorts, on how to be a “good pastoral council.” As he sat down to give his spiel, I immediately stood up and told him matter-of-factly that nothing he had to say would have any bearing on how I lived my life or the role I played on the council or within my parish, given his active role in shuffling around priests accused of child rape and molestation. I proceeded to tell him that he was hardly any sort of reputable leader, and that there was a special place in Hell reserved for him. I then walked out. The pastor at the time had a horrified look on his face, but I never received any repercussions for my “calm” outburst; as a matter of fact, a couple of other parish council members joined me on my way out.

But since then, I’ve only stayed a Catholic because of my parish. I’ve been there for a long, long time and many of the parishioners are like family to me. How do you just leave your family? They didn’t molest anyone. My priests were never accused to harming any children. They didn’t do anything “wrong.”

So, I stayed.

And here I am, 22 years later, at the same parish. With the same nice people. I know I am well-liked and even loved by many people there. I have played a big role in that community over the years as a parish council member, music minister, Eucharistic minister, and liturgical organizer.

Yet, I still struggle being there. And by “there,” I mean the “Big Church.”

My views don’t quite align with the Catholic Church 100%. They never have. Hell, they don’t even align 50%. There’s the birth control issue. I lived with my husband before we were married. I haven’t been to confession in nearly two decades because I think it’s a load of shit. I eat meat whenever I want to now, even during Lent (oh, the horror!). The whole women-not-allowed-to-be-priests thing is crap; I’d actually consider being a priest, if it weren’t for my damn vagina and the whole celibacy thing. Oh, and I LOVE the gays—they should have all the same rights and benefits that I have. If the “Big Church” knew all this, they’d excommunicate me in a heartbeat, and rightfully so. But I make no apologies. One thing I actually like about myself is the fact that I’m never afraid to speak my mind.

Not to mention I’m crude as can be—hardly a model for living a “holy” existence. I talk about tits openly on Facebook, I drink too much, I swear like a drunken sailor, and I like cats more than most people.

Mother Theresa, I am not.

But…I stay. Because it’s “family.” It’s familiar.

And now I have a new reason: this awesome Pope Francis guy.

I mean, has he really DONE anything yet? Well, not really. Not in terms of changing a lot of doctrine that needs updating, anyway. I’m hoping he gets around to working on that, because let’s get real: he’s not getting any younger.

But whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, or whatever else you call yourself, you gotta admit: this guy walks his talk.

I know staunch anti-Catholics, and some even more staunch atheists, who just think this guy is great. He just seems…I dunno…nice. Christ-like. The way a pope should be. After the cold-as-ice Benedict (maybe he was an okay guy, but he didn’t exactly radiate sweetness), Francis is a breath of fresh air.

I just like him. I don’t like many people, but I like him. Have I met him? No. But Francis did this: http://nypost.com/2013/11/07/pope-francis-kisses-blesses-severely-disfigured-man/.  Any guy who blesses and then kisses the face of another covered in tumors and lesions isn’t normally an asshole.

He has an incredible and long history of serving others when he was a priest and bishop back in Argentina. He visited slums on a regular basis, distributed food to the poor, refused private transportation and opted for the bus instead. He refused to live in the luxury papal apartment, opting for a considerably-more humble abode instead. He cooks his own food. He regularly departs from the protection of the Vatican Guard to go talk to people. He washes the feet of men, women and non-Catholics (even Muslims! In prison, no less!). He is not perfect—he supposedly opposes same-sex marriage, women priests, and a host of other non-traditional viewpoints—but then again, no man is perfect.

Women, maybe. Just kidding.

He is a step in the right direction. He is opening doors and beginning discussions. People are excited about him. I am excited about him.

Yes, actions are more important than words. And so many actions need to occur in the Roman Catholic Church…actions to break away from ridiculous, outdated doctrines, and embrace the 21st Century.

But just the sheer initiation of such pertinent discussions, in addition to the warmth, humility, and acceptance Francis projects…well, all this can do wonders for a desperately broken organization. One man can move mountains. One man can change hearts.

I hope these actions are soon to come, before it is too late. In fact, it is already too late for millions of former Catholics.

But it’s not too late for me.

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