A well-written editorial, appearing in today’s edition of the National Catholic Register (NCR), traces the many ups and downs of the first five years of the papacy of Pope Francis and leaves the faithful with good advice about how to handle the many controversies that have arisen in this time.
In the early days of his pontificate, Pope Francis called on young people in Rio de Janeiro to go out and “make a mess,” advice that he seems to have taken to heart himself.
“Those words in hindsight shed a significant light on the last five years in which a consistent stream of irregular off-the-cuff statements and actions have given the faithful confusing signals from the one person who is supposed to embody Church unity,” the editorial reads.
The College of Cardinals wanted him to reform the Roman Curia and Vatican and to guide the Church in communicating the teachings of the Magisterium to a world that is drifting further and further away from God. He pledged to do so, naming a "Council of Cardinals" a month after his election to head the renewal of the Vatican. After 20 meetings, the Curia has been partially realigned.
In 2013, he issued the apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), which stressed mercy, reaching out to the peripheries and his desire for decentralization of the Church. This documents focuses on the plight of those affected by unbridled capitalism, globalization and ideological colonization.
The role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been reduced during the last five years, beginning with the unexpected dismissal of its prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, last year, and the handing off of the translation of liturgical texts to the world’s bishops’ conferences.
“How these reforms are being communicated is another often-challenging feature of the pontificate," the NCR continues. "Francis is comfortable with an extemporaneous approach to papal communications, especially in his now much-anticipated in-flight press conferences and the risks and rewards that they entail. Some in ministry have noted a renewed interest in the Church, given Pope Francis’ less formal style."
This informal style has gotten him into plenty of trouble.
“ . . . [I]nformal interviews have caused consternation over his comments about abortion, civil unions, proselytizing and the Church’s relationship with atheists, and Catholics ‘breeding like rabbits.’ And, of course, there is his famous line, ‘Who am I to judge?’ that prompted a media frenzy in 2013 and has often been used by the opponents of Church teaching in an effort to ‘modernize’ the Church.”
Comments about clergy sex abuse victims during his recent trip to Chile and Peru did not go over well and his perceived slight of these victims damaged his credibility even among his most ardent supporters.
Vatican efforts to normalize relations with China have “caused great alarm and confusion to Catholics in China and around the world who fear that Chinese Catholics will be betrayed in the interests of diplomatic agreements,” the NCR continues.
And, of course, the most controversial of all, is the 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, (The Joy of Love), which left too much to interpretation, thereby causing an ever-widening sense of confusion among Catholics as to whether or not the Church was opening the door to Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics.
While it’s true that his five-year track record can be disconcerting to the faithful, we need to be careful how we handle this confusion.
Citing Rusty Reno, editor of First Things, we're asked to remember that “Our criticisms of the Pope should always be ordered toward the good of the Church, as we best see it. Moreover, those criticisms should be made with the spirit of humility that Francis himself embraces. Finally, we should never speak about the Pope in ways that bring scandal to the Church.”
As we move forward into the next years of this papacy, let us keep our Holy Father – and our Church – in our prayers.
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