I grew up in a small country Baptist church. The building was plain, the pews were hard and the services were long. The preacher hadn’t graduated from high school and his sermons showed it. Well before I was old enough to realize what I was being taught didn’t match up with known science and history, with much of Christian theology and with my own core values, I felt like I was in a second-rate church.
The Catholic church looked so… different. The beautiful buildings and statues, the distinctive dress of the priests, and the reverent, ritualized worship – it all seemed so much better and deeper than what we were doing at the Baptist church.
Yeah, I know – the grass is always greener and all that. This was before I realized that what the Catholic church taught was just as opposed to my core values as what the Baptists taught. It was different, not better.
Still, I’ve kept that soft spot for the Catholic church. Their cathedrals are still awe-inspiring and their rituals still are beautiful. I respect their teachings against war and the death penalty, and the humble work many Catholics do in the field of social justice. And even though I’m a good anti-hierarchical UU and Pagan, the engineer in me is envious of their organizational structures.
So I’ve been watching the developments in Rome ever since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation / retirement / abdication last month, and yesterday I was following along with everyone else when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was announced as Pope Francis.
I offer my best wishes to Pope Francis. At my core I’m a universalist who believes the world is richer with a wide variety of religious traditions. I’m also a realist who understands the Catholic church still has a lot of influence beyond the bounds of its parishes. What he does will affect all of us, Catholics and Pagans and everyone else.
I’d love to see the new pope bring his church into the 21st century. I’d love to see married priests (it’s coming, though not any time soon), a healthy approach to sexuality and an acceptance of sexual diversity (not in my lifetime), and the ordination of women (I’ll reach apotheosis first). But those aren’t realistic expectations for this pope and Catholics who feel strongly about those issues will continue ignore the pope and to vote with their feet.
But there are some wishes and expectations that are reasonable for those of us who are not Catholics but who understand the considerable power the Catholic church still wields.
I hope Pope Francis will put an end to the child abuse scandal by removing every priest and bishop who is guilty of abuse or of enabling abuse by covering it up. No exceptions.
The Catholic church has a long tradition of claiming it alone is the One True Church. I do not expect this pope to reverse that claim and accept that Paganism – or Judaism or Buddhism or even Protestantism – is an equally valid religious path. I do hope Pope Francis will treat both leaders and followers of all religions with the same dignity and respect he expects for himself and his fellow Catholics. I’m no Christian scholar, but I think that part about “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” means everybody.
I do not expect Catholic teachings to change. But every pope chooses which teachings he will emphasize, and I hope Pope Francis will choose to emphasize his church’s teachings on compassion to all and service to the poor.
Cardinal Bergoglio took the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose life was admirable and whose Canticle of the Sun expresses a relationship to the natural world familiar to many Pagans. There is power in a name, and I hope Pope Francis will use his influence to care for the Earth and to respect all its creatures.
Contrary to what many believe, the power of a pope is not unlimited. The Catholic church has a long tradition and an immense bureaucracy and like a large ocean liner it cannot be turned quickly – assuming it wants to turn at all. It is not reasonable to expect this pope to reform his church in the ways those of us on the liberal side of the religious spectrum would prefer. But there are things he can do within the bounds of traditional Catholicism that will make our world a better place.
I hope Pope Francis is successful. Though I am quite happy as a Pagan, a Druid, and a Unitarian Universalist, I still have a soft spot for the Catholic church.