Looking Beyond the Francis Frenzy
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Sep 22, 2015 at 11:08:47 PM EST
Much has been and will be written about the Pope regarding his historic visit to the U.S.  But it will be important to try to filter the hype from the historic as a man who is cast as a humble priest and a breath of fresh air, is simultaneously cast as a great leader striding across a global stage and treated as a celebrity.

My friend Frank Cocozzelli has been writing about how Pope Francis has been driving Catholic neoconservatives and the wider Religious Right and a large swath of the Republican Party quite crazy since his tenure began.  These are among the many indications that Francis may be able to right a badly listing institution.  But it is also worth considering that from the earliest days, the much ballyhooed "Francis effect" has been mostly ephemera --and that a number of writers caution that as much as Francis may challenge the culture warriors of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it is wrong to expect that Francis will be a liberal reformer.  

In fact, that is exactly what Catholic journalist Peter Stanford wrote recently in The Guardian:

I should enter a note of caution, lest we all get too carried away with Francis-mania. The 78-year-old pope is many attractive things, but he is not a liberal reformer set to bring Catholicism into line with the modern world. On a recent trip to Argentina, his old friends and colleagues repeatedly told me that, at heart, he is conservative. What that means in practice can be seen in the forthcoming "Year of Mercy" that Francis has announced throughout the Catholic church. While showing mercy towards women who have had abortions, divorced couples or gay Catholics is a huge improvement on condemning them as sinners, it still implies that they have been or are doing something wrong.

What's more, even where he is leading conservative reform efforts, part of the lesson is that reform is hard to do.  A year long investigation by the Global Post, found that the Church has allowed priests accused of sexually abusing children in the United States and Europe to relocate to poor parishes in South America.

Reporters confronted five accused priests in as many countries: Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Peru. One priest who relocated to a poor parish in Peru admitted on camera to molesting a 13-year-old boy while working in the Jackson, Mississippi diocese. Another is currently under investigation in Brazil after allegations arose that he abused disadvantaged children living in an orphanage he founded there.

All five were able to continue working as priests, despite criminal investigations or cash payouts to alleged victims. All enjoyed the privilege, respect and unfettered access to young people that comes with being clergy members.

Last year, the pope sent a letter to every bishop in the world, ordering them to follow a global "zero tolerance policy" on child abuse. This year he created a commission tasked specifically with protecting children from church sex abuse.

Following repeated phone calls and emails, both the Vatican's press office and the head of the commission, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley [of Boston] declined to provide comment for this story.

Progressive writer William Rivers Pitt, a former Catholic who greatly respects many principled Catholics, is skeptical of the intentions of this Pope. He declared in a recent essay at Truthout:

Bear all this in mind when Pope Francis comes to town and is heralded as some kind of liberal hero. He says all the right things about climate change, social justice and economic injustice, but then again, so does the President and the front-runner for his chair. The trick is the follow-through.

This Pope believes in, and actively enforces, the old brutal doctrines that shun women and LGBTQ people while helping to cover up one of the greatest crimes against children in history. Anyone can talk a good game. Actions are what matter.

Francis is the Pope, leading representative of that institution and "infallible" avatar of its intentions. He has spent a lifetime espousing a catechism that spurns a great many people I greatly respect. If you believe in women's rights, gay rights, children's rights and the basic concept of proper justice, this fellow - for all his flowery pronouncements - is not on your side.

Whatever one believes about what this Pope intends or may be able to accomplish, Francis faces the same kind of challenge as the leader of any great institution: change is hard.

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