Pope Francis has his work cut out
Posted Friday, March 15 2013 at 02:00
The Catholic Church has, through its social welfare programmes, shown its capacity for good but it has also had its dark side, more recently in its association with fascism and sexual abuse.
The Catholic Church has, in electing Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis, given itself an opportunity to bring its venerable institutions and views into the 21st Century.
Under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Church lost several opportunities to show compassion and leadership, for instance on HIV/Aids in Africa, where it remained stubbornly dogmatic for too long, at the cost of millions of lives.
In Europe, America and elsewhere, the silence and, even worse, active cover-up of sexual abuse by priests has alienated the Church, leaving its message of compassion as empty as the deserted pews in its churches.
Pope Francis I’s admirers say he has many great attributes, including his humility and simplicity. One attribute he will need is the courage to reform the Church in order for it to remain influential in an increasingly secular and liberal world.
Many of the sticking issues – contraceptive use, ordaining of female priests, allowing priests to marry, gay rights, among others – are not easy to address, as they pit thousands of years of tradition against fast-changing global views and attitudes.
Firm and transparent action on the lower-hanging fruits, such as priests accused of sexual abuse, provides Pope Francis the opportunity to repair some of the damage the Church has suffered and prepare it for genuine dialogue, particularly internally, on the bigger issues.
The election of the first Latin American pope reflects the changing demographics in the Church; most of its 1.2 billion followers are increasingly to be found in Latin America, Africa and Asia where cultural views and social needs can be different from those in the West.
Pope Francis will need to give more voice to those emerging countries if he is to keep the Catholic Church from losing more believers to the rising tide of Pentecostalism, with its funky style and prosperity gospel.
The Catholic Church has, through its social welfare programmes, shown its capacity for good but it has also had its dark side, more recently in its association with fascism and sexual abuse. In shepherding his flock to the path of righteousness, Pope Francis I will need to change course on some issues, explain the dogma on others, and all the while keep an eye on his fellow shepherds.
No one said it was easy being pope.