Religion has been a prime factor in the actions of civilization since the Ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia. Out of the thousands upon thousands of beliefs that people have accepted over time, very few have had the global power, impact, and influence of Christianity. For many centuries since the birth and death of Jesus Christ, Christianity has been arguably one of the most powerful institutions in the world. Even in the modern world, with the growing trend towards atheism and secularism, nearly thirty-two percent of the Earth’s population believes in Christianity (about 2.1 billion people). With a country that claims Christianity as the national religion in every continent. Out of all Christians, about nineteen percent or 1.1 billion are Roman Catholic, arguably the most influential/widespread Christian denomination in the world.
The main difference between Catholicism and the numerous branches of Protestant Christianity is that Catholics believe their Church is headed by the Pope in the Vatican, located within Rome. The Pope is considered as the most holy man on Earth by Catholics, and the successor of Saint Peter, the first Pope. Thus, the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church’s influence and power, making him one of the most important and influential individuals on the planet. The Papacy (or office of the Pope) has utilized this influence since the beginning of the Vatican for a multitude of reasons, however very few have used this influence in the radical ways Pope Francis has.
Pope Francis, born Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first Pope from “The New World” and has introduced a series of radical changes to the Catholic Church since his ordination on March, 2013. Many regard him as one of the most radically liberal Popes in Church history, and in many instances they’re not far off. What makes Francis so different from his predecessors, aside from the fact that he is from the Americas, is that he has been challenging the traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church. Conflict arises from the fact that the Catholic Church is an institution in which much of its belief system based on tradition. However, it is very important to understand the difference between what the Pope has actually said, and what people have interpreted from his statements. The inconsistency between statement and interpretation has caused much confusion regarding the papacy’s stance, particularly on homosexual relationships and the role of women in the Church.
Many believe that Francis is in full support of homosexuality, and that women should be ordained priests within the Catholic Church. These claims are untrue, and although Francis is very liberal compared to his predecessors, we should not confuse the pope’s message. The confusion arises from speeches made by the Pope’s that seemingly scold other Church officials for their obsession over disputing homosexuality and abortion. Francis contends that there are more important issues at hand, and even states in a speech of his:
“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
What Francis implies is that there are several writings and numerous opinions on these issues, so an attempt to understand them all and reach a final judgment is nearly impossible and a waste of time that could be spent solving actual issues.
One would be hard pressed to find someone that disagrees with this belief, however many people confuse this to mean that the Pope is pro-homosexuality, pro-choice, or pro-contraception. He is not, and has specifically written,
“Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; (Gay Marriage) is a destructive pretension against the plan of God”.
Francis has very strong pro-life views and is adamantly against pre-marital sex. So does this mean that he is a hypocrite who will say whatever to win over public opinion? Simply put, no. Although his famous “If someone is Gay and seeks the lord, who am I to judge?” statement stays true, he still believes that these issues are sinful, for it is the Church’s doctrine that homosexuality is acceptable, as long as the resultant urges are not acted upon (examine the contradiction in that concept). However, the Pope’s efforts to change the mindset of Church officials from policy making bureaucrats to spreading the love and teachings of Jesus, along with his outreach to gay Catholics has set new milestones in these controversial issues.
Along with a new progressive view, Pope Francis is also making major changes to the structure of the Church. From his ordination, the Pope has already launched several investigations into the church and has even changed Vatican Law. Pope Francis has launched an investigation into the highly speculated corruption of the Vatican Bank, creating a special commission to investigate and monitor any fiscal corruption. Francis has had an independent firm audit the bank, and for the first time in 125 years, the Vatican Bank released an annual report. He has also changed Vatican Law making sexual abuse illegal and launched an investigation into the child sex scandal that former Popes chose to ignore. The Pope has started many programs to help the abused children, and the monitoring of accused priests so that the scandal does not happen again. Pope Francis even went as far to change the diversity of the Church which was heavily made up of white, European (mostly Italian) cardinals. He has diversified the Synod of Bishops by adding members from around the world including Chile, The Congo, Honduras, and Australia, all of which now have cardinals with membership. Although many areas of the world’s Catholic population once went extremely unrepresented, the diversity of Pope Francis’ counsels and cabinet have allowed for worldwide Catholic representation and communication, which many believe is a major factor in the rising percentage of worldwide Mass attendance.
Francis’ new attitude toward the role of Church officials is just one of his many new changes within the Catholic Church. As stated earlier, he has shattered Vatican traditions and has made radical changes to the role of the Pope in the Church. Although the Pope may not be making changes to Catholic ideology or belief, his symbolic gestures and actions are changing the Church back to the Christian institution it is meant to be. This trend can be seen in Francis’ change in Vatican symbolism and tradition by his refusal to stay in the Papal Apartments of the Apostolic Palace. Instead of the palace, Francis has chosen a much more modest Vatican guest house. He has also traded in the Mercedes Limo “Pope Mobile” for a Ford Focus, and changed his apparel from the elaborate papal garment of former popes, to basic white robes.
To many these changes seem small and have barely any significance. However, to an institution that is nearly an empire, this is considered radical. The Pope’s much more modest style is a message to the Vatican as well as Catholics around the world that the Catholic Church is reverting back to its original message of humility and charity. Pope Francis himself has conducted many charity events and spends most of his time among the people. It is even suspected that he has snuck away from his security detail several nights dressed in traditional priest attire to conduct charity work. However, Francis greatly increased the magnitude of his work for the poor when he wrote his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which translates to “The Joy of the Gospel”. In this written teaching he claimed that globalization has created a “culture of prosperity” and that economic inequality is a worldwide phenomena that cripples the poor and enables the wealthy. Francis even went as far as to single out the United States economy and questioned the policy of “Regan-omics”, calling it a belief that “has never been confirmed by the facts.” He also stated that the policy “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power…Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting”. Francis’ writings on economic inequality and the greed of the wealthy have sent shockwaves throughout the governments of the world, especially here in America, where none other than Rush Limbaugh has called the Pope a communist.
Many will argue that Pope Francis is not making major changes to the Catholic Church, they are both right and wrong. It is very confusing to decipher what the Pope’s message is, he is not lying nor being a hypocrite, but he is often taken out of context. Regardless of his messages, the Pope’s actions are definitely speaking for themselves as he makes radical progressive changes to the notoriously stagnant Catholic Church. Pope Francis once said,
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”.
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