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Pope Francis and the Modern World

March 31, 2014 1 comment

‘When the stock market drops 10 points in some cities, it constitutes a tragedy. Someone who dies is not news, but lowering income by 10 points is a tragedy! In this way people are thrown aside as if they were trash’.

The above quote comes not from a left-wing social commentator, academic or activist but from the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis is a game-changing Pope. Where Benedict was framed as an austere and conservative man, Francis is seen as a return to the roots of the Church and a Pontiff able to take on the challenges of communicating the gospel in the 21st Century. He is feted by the liberal media in the US and seen as a shot in the arm for more traditional Catholics too by making the Vatican more relevant to the Catholic and secular World. His words are marked more closely by the international Press than most politicians. He holds a unique position of being a spiritual leader in a digital age; his authority comes from the College of Cardinals and from God. Even if you believe neither are valid authorities, you have to recognise that he speaks for millions of Catholics all over the Globe. He is, as he would surely like his flock to see him, a modern man for a modern age. There are huge expectations that he will continue in his role as an inspirational messenger.

He is still very much a Catholic when it comes to doctrine.There has been no rowing back on the Church’s views on abortion; pro-choice advocates may find this to be a fundamental where there is little chance of change of stance from Rome. There is no great chance of the Pope approving of divorce, contraception or gay marriage either. You can probably forget about changes to clerical celibacy in the short term. And as for women priests…But it is the manner of his opposition to views that many Catholics no longer hold that endears him to many in the secular community. He does not judge; rather, he applies – and here’s the dangerous phrase, but one that Christians of all stripes will be familiar with – the maxim of disapproving of the sin and not the sinner. However, many ‘sinners’ would object to such a term as condescending, to put it at it’s mildest. Tolerance or prejudice? It all depends on where you’re coming from.

He has inherited a Church reeling from years of abuse scandals. He looks to be tackling the crisis head-on. Francis has pledged to tackle the corruption in the Vatican itself. He has been vocal in his condemnation of the Mafia, not an easy thing in Italy and not a simple matter when the Church and the corrupt P2 Masonic Lodge had very close links in the 1970s. He will be keen to take on Benedict’s plea to try and reform the Curia and drive out the corruption that the previous Pope spoke of. Institutional reform represents a major challenge for Francis; he has already shown that he is up for that challenge.

Liberation Theology, suppressed by John Paul, could be making a come back though. Francis is no Pope Benedict. While all previous pontiffs spoke out against materialism and in favour of the poor, Francis has been particularly vocal about the need for social justice. He has already defined himself as a Priest of the People, uninterested in the vast trappings of power that come with the chair in St Peter’s. He has been spotted doing walk-abouts at night, confessing to a regular cleric and has maintained a public image of the evangelical by his actions. The message is that this is becoming a Church where it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. To be a true voice for the poor would be an incredibly strong legacy for any Pontiff.

Barack Obama and Pope Francis would have had much to discuss at their recent meeting.The Vatican has been resolute in opposition to the Death Penalty in the US and Obama’s pro-choice beliefs would be at total odds with the Pope. But the need for social justice, for some form of redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation and the obligation for Statesmen to work for peace will have been areas of concern and interest to both leaders. The US President noted that he ‘was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him [Francis] about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded’. Pope Francis may not have any armies but he is still a hugely influential figure; his work as Pontiff is only starting – who knows where the journey will end?

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