Pope Francis at age 10: A reformer’s learning curve, blueprints


VATICAN CITY – So much for a short pontificate.

Pope Francis celebrates the 10th anniversary of his election on Monday, far exceeding the “two or three” years he once envisioned for his papacy and showing no signs of slowing down.

Instead, with an agenda full of problems and plans and no longer burdened by the shadow of Pope Benedict XVI, Francis, 86, has given up talk of retirement and recently described the papacy as a lifetime job.

History’s first Latin American Pope has already made his mark and could have an even greater impact in the coming years. However, a decade ago, the Argentine Jesuit was so convinced he would not be elected pope that he nearly missed the final vote as he chatted with another cardinal outside the Sistine Chapel.

“The master of ceremonies came out and said ‘Are you going in or not?’ Francis recalled in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “Then I realized it was my unconscious resistance to going in.”

He was elected the 266th Pope in the next vote.

Francis had a steep learning curve on clerical sexual abuse, initially downplaying the problem in ways that made survivors question whether he “got it.” He had his wake-up call five years after a troubled visit to Chile.

During the trip, he discovered a serious disconnect between what Chilean bishops had told him about a notorious case and reality: hundreds or thousands of Chilean believers had been raped and molested by Catholic priests for decades.

“That was my conversion,” he told the AP. “Then the bomb went off, when I saw the corruption of many bishops in it.”

Francis has since passed a series of measures aimed at holding the church hierarchy accountable, but the results have been mixed. Benedict removed about 800 priests, but Francis seems far less eager to remove abusers, reflecting resistance within the hierarchy to efforts to permanently remove predators from the priesthood.

The next frontier of crisis has already reared its head: the sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse of adults by clergy. Francis is aware of the problem — a new case involves one of his fellow Jesuits — but there seems to be no will to take decisive action

When the history of Francis’ papacy is written, entire chapters could well be devoted to his emphasis on “conciliarism,” a term that has little meaning outside Catholic circles but could be called one of his most important ecclesiastical contributions. Francis.

A synod is a gathering of bishops, and Francis’ philosophy that bishops should listen to each other and the laity has come to define his vision for the Catholic Church: It wants to be a place where the faithful are welcomed, accompanied and heard.

The councils held during his first 10 years produced some of the most important and controversial moments of his papacy.

After hearing the plight of divorced Catholics during a synod on the family in 2014-2015, Francis opened the door to allow divorced and civilly remarried couples to receive Communion. Calls to allow married priests marked the 2019 synod in the Amazon, although Francis ultimately rejected the idea.

The October session included an unprecedented survey of Catholics about their hopes for the church and the problems they faced, prompting calls from women for greater leadership roles, including ordination.

Catholic traditionalists were wary when Francis appeared as pope for the first time on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica without the red cape his predecessors had worn for official functions. But they never expected him to reverse one of Benedict’s signature rulings by reimposing restrictions on the old Latin Mass, including where and who can celebrate it.

While the decision directly affected only a fraction of Catholic viewers, the suppression of the Tridentine rite became the call to arms for the conservative opposition to Francis.

Francis justified his move by saying that Benedict’s decision to liberalize the celebration of the old Mass had become a source of division in parishes. But traditionalists saw the renewed restrictions as an attack on orthodoxy, which they saw as contradicting Francis’ “all are welcome” mantra.

“Instead of integrating them into parish life, restricting the use of parish churches will marginalize and push into the periphery faithful Catholics who only wish to worship,” lamented Joseph Shaw of the UK branch of the Latin Mass Society.

While the near-term prospects of Francis stepping down are not great, traditionalists have time on their side, knowing that at a 2,000-year-old institution, another pope who is more friendly to the old rite may come along.

Francis’ jokes about “female genius” have long made women cringe. Women theologians are the “strawberries on the cake,” she once said. Nuns should not be “old maids,” he said. Europe should not be a barren, sterile “grandmother,” he told European Union lawmakers – a remark that earned him an angry phone call from then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But, it’s also true that Francis has done more to promote women in the church than any pope before him, including naming several women to high-profile positions in the Vatican.

That’s not saying much, given that only one in four Holy See officials is a woman, no woman heads a department or section, and Francis has upheld church doctrine that bars women from the priesthood.

But the trend is there and “there’s no going back,” said Maria Leah Zervino, one of the first three women named to the Vatican office that helps the pope choose bishops around the world.

Francis’ insistence that long-marginalized LGBTQ Catholics can find a welcome in the church can be summed up in two statements that have punctuated his papacy to date: “Who am I to judge?” and “Being gay is not a crime.”

In the meantime by making these historic statements, Francis has made outreach to LGBTQ people a hallmark of his papacy more than any pope before him.

Serves members of a transgender community in Rome. He has counseled same-sex couples seeking to raise their children Catholic. During a visit to the US in 2015, she publicized a private meeting with a gay former student and the man’s partner to counter the conservative narrative that she had taken in an anti-same-sex marriage activist.

“The Pope is reminding the church that how people treat each other in the social world has far more moral significance than what people might do in the privacy of a bedroom,” said Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, who advocates greater acceptance of LGBTQ Catholics.

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