"On the surface Francis displays a pastoral
countenance to his papacy that seemingly
extends to all. But rather we clearly see the
geopolitics of a soft church bureaucrat
evangelizing to today’s shrinking American
Catholic Church - an institution that is less
churched, less married, less white,
and less conservative."
Francis continues to send seismic shock waves across the globe, and the
rapturous reception he received from his historic six-day US visit gave
us a glimpse as to why.
The pontiff, like Jesus, walked among the masses, kissing babies,
visiting prisoners and the homeless, speaking out on climate change,
poverty, immigrations, church sex abuse, religious liberty, the family
and retweeting “Black Lives Matter,” to name just a few of his pastoral
The Pope Effect brought throngs of Catholics and admirers out to see
him wave to them from his Popemobile and to hear him celebrate Mass.
And his effect not only brought Republican John Boehner of Ohio to
tears, but it also brought Boehner to the realization he should step
down as House Speaker.
However, for many religious conservatives the Pontiff’s remarks and
actions during his visit were viewed as heretical, desecrating
century-old church doctrine, and diminishing his authority as the head
of the church.
But as the Pontiff aptly stated in his 2013 interview “the moral
edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards" should
the Catholic Church, in this 21st Century, continue on its
anti-modernity trek like his predecessor.
With that statement I thought Francis was going to reform, if not
reinvent, an out-of-step institution, but at the end of his visit the
Pope was selling sadly the same product - Catholic orthodoxy. “Nothing
more, nothing less,” Francis warning reporters on his trip from Cuba to
Washington, DC,.“I may have given the impression of being a little more
to the left, but it would not be a correct interpretation.”
And he’s right.
While Francis gave a well-deserved shout-out of praise to nuns - the
backbone and housekeepers of the church - the ecclesiastical doors are
still shut to ordaining women priest. Sadly, Francis doesn’t view the
ban as a gender bias. When asked why the Pope remarked, “That can’t be
done…The Church is female … it’s the spouse of Jesus Christ.”
I recall Pope Francis’s remarks when flying home after a weeklong visit
to Brazil in 2013 when he was queried about the much talked about “gay
lobby” in the Vatican. “If they accept the Lord and have good
will, who am I to judge them,” Francis said. This public statement is
the most LGBTQ affirming remarks the world has ever heard from the
But Francis’s words don’t match his actions.
The Meeting of Families in Philadelphia included only one workshop on
LGBTQ issues - a panel with a celibate gay Catholic and his mother, and
no workshop on LGBTQ families. But his point about LGBTQ families and
marriages got across loud and clear during his talk to Congress with
his subtle jab at gay marriage: "I cannot hide my concern for the
family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and
without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as
is the very basis of marriage and the family.“
Francis’s trip to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem was
important. The structural racism in the Catholic Church has made
it an unwelcoming place of worship. African American Catholics are one
of the smallest demographic groups in the church (Of the 3 million
black Catholics only 250 are priests among 40,000 priests, and only 16
bishops among 434.) Francis visited the Our Lady Queen of Angels School
because the church by the same name was forced to close in 2007, and
against the resistance, pleadings and prayers of its parishioners.
Today the parishioners congregate in the park across from the church to
In Francis’s effort to reach out to his Latin Americans with the
canonization of Junipero Serra, he opened old wounds with Native
Americans. Serra, a Spanish missionary, left a horrific legacy trying
to decimate California Native American culture. Letters to stop
Serra’s canonization were written to both the Vatican and Francis but
these pleas fell on deaf ears.
“This letter serves to document the many reasons for our opposition to
the canonization of Serra. Serra was the architect of the mission
system; he developed the brutal inhumane policies that had no regard
for our ancestors….We also requested a meeting with your Holiness to
share our knowledge and oral history of Junipero Serra, the California
mission system and the continuing impact of our historic trauma that
continues within our Tribe today, Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah
Mutsun Tribal Band wrote to the Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is a complicated, if not confusing pontiff.
On the surface Francis displays a pastoral countenance to his papacy
that seemingly extends to all. But rather we clearly see the
geopolitics of a soft church bureaucrat evangelizing to today’s
shrinking American Catholic Church - an institution that is less
churched, less married, less white, and less conservative. And
his welcoming demeanor is not enough, in my opinion, to
bridge the diversity and divisions the American church face.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A
native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a
pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity
School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to
MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC.
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David A. Love, JD
Nancy Littlefield, MBA