Pope Francis: Much Ado about Nothing

I admit, my antipathy for Catholicism runs deep. That has to do with its all-male, celibate priesthood, its veneration of Mary to — for all intents and purposes — divine status, its homophobia, and my first marriage. I’m copping to my own bigotries right off the bat here.

Nevertheless, I was taken aback by the over-the-top ebullience that many of my fellow Protestants were expressing on Twitter and Facebook yesterday. People were gushing, people were admitting to crying. And, most astoundingly, people were using the first person plural: “We have a new pope!”

Far be it from me to burst your bubble, but he’s not your pope, and he’s not my pope. If you or I, non-communicants in the Roman Catholic Church, were to approach the altar when Pope Francis was presiding at mass, he would not serve us the Eucharist. He wouldn’t recognize your non-Catholic marriage as sacramental in the eyes of God. And, if he agrees with his immediate predecessor, he does not think you attend a church. You attend an “ecclesial community.”

Like many, I have hoped that the Catholic Church would continue its progression, which began at Vatican II. But it hasn’t. The last two popes have rolled back those reforms, and there’s much evidence that this pope will continue in that vein.

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Why Stay Catholic?

Gary Wills appeared on The Colbert Report last week, promoting his book, Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition. I agreed with everything he said, and it made me wonder, Why is he still Catholic?

In fact, I wonder that a lot. I met someone recently who said she wept when Ratzinger was elected pope — wept tears of sorrow. She now hopes the next pope will be more progressive. And all I wanted to say was, “You know, you can switch denominations.”

I get that there’s more to being Catholic than the doctrine and the hierarchy — for a lot of people there’s family and even ethnic ties involved. So I’m wondering if some of you readers can enlighten me: If you disagree with just about everything the Vatican does and says, why stay Catholic?

The Last Pope Who Quit

The current pope who’s quitting (Benedict XVI) visits the tomb of the last pope who quit (Celestine V) in April, 2009.

Pope Celestine V, aka Peter Morrone, quit in 1294. He was the only pope, prior to Benedict XVI, to outright quit. (Gregory XII resigned in 1415 to end a schism, amid a debate about popes and anti-popes.

Well, Celestine V was immortalized in an excellent book by Jon Sweeney a couple years ago, The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation:

At the close of the tumultuous Middle Ages, there lived a man who seemed destined from birth to save the world. His name was Peter Morrone, a hermit, a founder of a religious order, and, depending on whom you talk to, a reformer, an instigator, a prophet, a coward, a saint, and possibly the victim of murder. A stroke of fate would, practically overnight, transform this humble servant of God into the most powerful man in the Catholic Church. Half a year later, he would be the only pope in history to abdicate the chair of St. Peter, an act that nearly brought the papacy to its knees. What led him to make that decision and what happened afterward would be shrouded in mystery for centuries. The Pope Who Quit pulls back the veil of secrecy on this dramatic time in history and showcases a story that involves deadly dealings, apocalyptic maneuverings, and papal intrigue.

If you’re a church history nerd like me, pick it up.

Top Ten Religion News Stories of 2012

Catholic bishops testify against Obamacare

According to the Religion Newswriters Association, the top religion news story of the year was the way that religious leaders responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. But they’d already voted on their Top 10 prior to that. So, here are the Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year, from the RNA:

1. U.S. Catholic bishops lead opposition to Obamacare requirement that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. The government backs down a bit, but not enough to satisfy the opposition.

2. A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey shows that “nones” is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, rising to 19.6 percent of the population.

3. The circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” causes unrest in several countries, leading to claims that it inspired the fatal attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya. President Obama, at the U.N., calls for toleration tolerance of blasphemy, and respect as a two-way street.

4. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith turns out to be a virtual non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did John McCain, in the U.S. presidential race.

5. Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia becomes the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse; later Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., becomes the first bishop to be found guilty of it

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