What? Two Popes?



           It’s now several years since the Vatican told the world, on February 28, 2013, that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning. His reason, or maybe his rationale, was failing health due to old age – he was 86. He was succeeded by Pope Francis, and sad to say, many Christians –- Catholic or Protestant — regarded the Vatican as “notoriously corrupt.” (Benedict was the first Pope to take the step of resignation in almost 600 years.) Nonetheless, later in February, almost 35,000 crowded the grounds and the Pope was not Pope Benedict but he was Pope Francis whose stewardship has been in the frame and often cautious in one moment and provocative in another. It was somewhat an uncertainty, more or less recalled, by Albert Einstein’s casual reference long ago: “Confusion of perfection of our means seems to characterize our age…”  (It was rare if not impossible to suddenly decline one Pope and appoint another.)

           In any case, Benedict, well or not well, is regarded as having made a choice he wanted, by stepping aside and handing over the enormous task of The Vatican. Those of us who sit and write don’t realize how enormous its role is and how complex it is to deal with its officials. I’ve been there years ago and interviewed some of its Jesuit officers and while they were courteous and charitable, they were also wary and cautious with me, a Protestant minister and journalist.  I enjoyed it but I left and months later came upon a reference made by a man of wisdom, Winston Churchill. He looked at politics and said: “Success is not certain, failure is not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts…” I guess that’s the mental inclination that Pope Francis brought to his Vatican responsibility –and to me day upon day.

    As you all know, the frequency of pedophilia by priests is often close to being universal. It’s dreadful for young teenagers, and worse for a youth who is alone and vulnerable. I have known that and intruded on it in no small way, my voice being right and tough. They deserve it and I have no hesitation whatever in speaking up. I have no sympathy whatever for the dreadful portfolio of sexual ambition. I read a while ago about a freedom fling on “How the Catholic Priesthood Became an Unlikely Haven for Gay Men.”)  How’s that?  (It’s dated April 2017! Keeping pace I guess!)

      The reasonable answer is obvious: Vanity Fair has a most appealing article in the current December issue, in which it’s very open to including the vast number of sexual abusive priests. I fully understand how this reference pains many a priest. That’s understandable but, given the dreadful record of abusive clergy, the more important strategy is the fact that Catholic lay people are taking things into their hands and rejecting pedophilia in the ranks. The Vanity Fair’s excellent article, Pope Versus Pope, is clearly on the side of those clergy who are ready to stand in opposition to such gestures in the church’s parishes. As the author John Cornwell, in his excellent article, provides much room for the humiliation of such conduct, in that he writes this: “Today, the Catholic Church is riven by an internecine power contest between conservatives and liberals that rivals the battle of the angels in Milton’s epic Paradise Lost…” In the Conservative National Catholic Register, a prominent Catholic writer accused Francis of creating a Church in which “everything is unstable and changeable … The liberals have Francis, but the conservatives have his predecessor Benedict XVI. If Francis is the loving, reigning Pope, then Benedict is his shadow, the under Pope. There’s a profound contrariety and in my view, it grows deeper and dangerous.

       What to do? In 2013, the year Francis was elevated to Pope, he was regarded as a fresh and insightful master. There were elements that led Francis to seek peace-making, as was indicated by his very first sentence beneath his title: Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God.” His major point of view was the brief but relevant affirmation. His point of purpose was embedded in the scripture, particularly, the insight of Paul’s wisdom. Francis continued and this is a small portion: “In recent days a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience in the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years…….” (A long time for the now evident sexual imposition….) Francis moved to conclusion with this reference: “It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn with sorrow and shame the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics and all those entrusted with the mission of watching and caring for those most vulnerable….” Hence we now await the solution to an ever deepening decision — discussion, disengagement and maybe disgust — and although many had thought the solution would come in the presence of Pope Francis, it may take, oh 40 years or so… maybe. 


























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