Thanksgiving, Catholic Hope and Pope Francis

Christian Catholicism

Jerry Slevin

As millions of US Catholics celebrate their second Thanksgiving holiday of Pope Francis’ papacy, the almost blind hope that permeated the first holiday a year ago in now tempered with watchful caution. After 20 months with this cryptic pope, many Catholics are becoming less optimistic he will make a real difference in updating the Catholic Church and cleaning up the “holy mess”, especially the child abuse scandal.

Many Catholics realize Pope Francis’ papacy faces a unique situation — both an unprecedented crisis and an unexpected opportunity. This crisis (A) erodes Catholic trust in light of the longstanding gap between the Vatican’s words and deeds, (B) invites outside governmental intervention at a time when the Vatican lacks powerful international protectors like it had for centuries, and (C) underscores the urgent need for key changes in the Church’s unworkable top down structure and misinformed moral teachings. The crisis has also contributed, as indicated below, to one pope’s unanticipated resignation and to the replacement pope’s unpredictable revolution.

Significantly, the Catholic majority appears intuitively to understand that these risks generated by the present crisis, especially from building governmental pressures on the Vatican, have paradoxically also generated an unprecedented opportunity to restore the Church to an earlier condition — to a Church that Jesus’ first disciples would have recognized as completely consistent with Jesus’ Gospel message of love of God and of neighbors, even of enemies. This is an opportunity for a welcoming Church again that satisfies the needs of both conservative and progressive Catholics.

Before his 80th birthday in barely two years, Pope Francis can successfully seize the opportunity, follow his conscience and apply his unique status, forceful temperament and popular appeal. Most importantly, he can declare “infallibly” key changes. By then, he will have received new input from his two advisory Synods of Bishops. He has already been enlightened by his valuable almost two years of experience as pope. He now also is unhampered by his prior pastoral positions and unfettered by his earlier ideological constraints as an obedient cardinal, bishop and Jesuit.

If Pope Francis fails to act effectively soon, the consequences will likely be quite negative for the leadership of the Catholic Church. Some senior Church officials are increasingly facing risks of governmental, even criminal, investigations that the Vatican currently lacks the political power to prevent.

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