Veiled and dressed in white crinoline, my hands folded devoutly in front of me, I did the rituals of First Holy Communion and Confirmation just like every other good Roman Catholic girl.
But, the Church never resonated for me. I never felt a deep connection with any of it. At first, I thought it was because I didn’t go to Catholic School and the extent of my religious instruction was “release time” we were given from secular school to attend religious instruction every Monday at 3pm. That’s what I thought, anyway.
I am an ethnic Catholic. A cultural one.
I love beautiful churches and basilicas built for the glory of God and thrill to the two-thousand year old ritual of Mass, especially in Italy. But as far as the institution of the Catholic Church? It was never relevant to me and has gotten increasingly irrelevant over the decades of my life.
The Catholic Church’s musty outmoded attitudes have turned millions off for years…. especially its obsession with abortion and homosexuality –even as it used a huge broom to attempt to sweep under the rug the many sexual abusers and pedophiles in the priesthood.
When Pope Francis arrived on the scene i have to admit I thought he was a little over the top–in an under-the-top sort of way. His humility was jarring in a Papal world of red designer shoes, banking scandals and pedophiles. I thought he was crazy to slip out on security–with so many nut-jobs around, he was just asking to be shot.
I thought maybe this guy was a little “off.”
I was taken aback when Pope Francis said–out loud and to be quoted, for heaven’s sake–that it was not his place to judge gay people. From the NY Times:
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he said.
“I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
Whatt??? I was almost knocked out by the breath of fresh air that comment provoked. Hell had truly frozen over.
And then, the Pope seemed to admonish the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose hysteria over contraception, abortion and homosexuality is completely out of step with the times. He was distressed at what he termed the church’s “obsession” with these “divisive political issues.” Here’s what the NY Times reported:
“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” he said in an interview with the Vatican-endorsed newspaper La Civiltà Cattolica.
He added: “We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
Popes in my lifetime have been largely uninterested in the “freshness” of the Gospel. In fact, most of them have tried desperately to hang on to the musty, old ways long past their “use by” dates. This Pope is looking revolutionary. How the heck did he get elected? The only Pope to have ever worked among the people, with the poor, he brings a vision and sensibility to the Papacy that’s been lacking since John XXIII.
“The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives,” the pope said, adding that the church “is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”
Whoa! Now that’s a church I can sign on to. “Not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”
And there’s recognition of the irrelevance of current Church thinking:
”We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity,” he said.
My husband and I were fans of the TV show, The Borgias, and marveled over the corruption in the Church’s history. Mayhem and especially murder were tools of the Church’s trade. In a way, they still are. The anti-choice nuts who arm themselves and kill abortion clinic doctors are still out there. I can’t imagine the Vatican powers-that-be are happy with this new Pope’s views and comments.
I fear for him and wonder if his life mission is to be the martyr that shakes the Church up so much it has no choice but to modernize.
Turns out, I like Pope Francis. I have hope that he can steer the Church in a more relevant direction. But, like a huge ship, the direction of the Church as an institution is going to be difficult to change. It remains to be seen if he can actually effect change.
But it’s the most hopeful I’ve ever been about the future of the Catholic Church.