Thursday, March 14, 2013

Welcome, Pope Francis -- and here's some unsolicited advice

I happened to be online yesterday when white smoke was first observed coming from the Sistine Chapel chimney. I quickly logged onto the website for the all-news radio station here (you can't get AM reception otherwise in downtown Chicago) and then Yahoo! posted the ABC News TV feed. I watched and listened.

It was a nice touch when the new Pope asked for prayers from the assembled crowd before offering his own blessing.

And the Vatican is insisting that the Pope, a Jesuit, took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, not St. Francis Xavier (the Jesuit missionary).

There's never been a Jesuit Pope before, but the Superior General of the Society of Jesus is colloquially referred to as "the Black Pope." This raises protocol questions hitherto unimagined. As the scarred product of a Jesuit education, my first thought upon realizing Pope Francis was a Jesuit was can this be legal? Shouldn't the Pope be Catholic? (Note to my non-Catholic friends... yes, the Jesuits are Catholic, at least most of the time -- Pope Clement XIV actually suppressed the order in 1773, although Pope Pius VII restored the order in 1814.)

But at least the new Pope's status as an S.J. explains why he could be selected at the age of 76. Even though he allegedly was a strong candidate at the last conclave, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not on the short lists of either the experts or the bookies this time because of his age. The Cardinals, it was felt, would be looking for a younger man. Of course, for a Jesuit 76 is practically youthful.

Bergoglio's selection was also seen as a surprise by those who assumed that the Italian Cardinals (still the largest single group in the Church) would want to recapture the papacy. But, though born in Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (like so many other Argentinians) is the son of Italian immigrants. I think the Italian Cardinals pretty much won.

I hope the entire Church comes out a winner, too.

The initial coverage is very favorable, of course, but it is for every new Pope. The Pope is the focal point of a great many conflicting hopes and the grumbling will begin sooner or later.

Pope Francis might as well go for sooner: If the Church wants to presume to instruct the world (much less the faithful) on matters of morality and conscience, it has to confront its own history of child abuse. It must extirpate those who have committed these crimes, regardless of rank, and openly punish those who have concealed, covered-up, or otherwise tried to evade the question of the Church's responsibility. Pope Francis should pledge cooperation with civil authorities for the protection of children. Abusers should be laicized and jailed -- unless, of course, the passage of time has made criminal prosecutions impossible. In that case, the abusers should be retired to a locked-down facility administered by the Church (these do exist). Any superior of an abusing priest or nun found to have shielded an abuser from prosecution should likewise be subject to prosecution or, if the passage of time has made that impossible, obliged to confess their misdeeds publicly and, in the appropriate cases, being forcibly retired to a life of contemplation -- and penance.

We will never rid the Church of persons who would exploit children. We can't get them entirely out of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or out of sports programs or public school classrooms either. The abuse of children is not just a Roman Catholic problem; wherever there are children there will be those lurking nearby who harbor an unnatural attraction to children. But we Catholics can take the lead in honestly dealing with the problem. We can confront our ugly past and regain our future.

And the abusers? There aren't as many as the lurid accounts in TV and newspapers would make you think. We can keep our kids safe if we exercise a little vigilance and common sense. You don't have to call the cops because a priest hugs a child. But no one -- no priest, no teacher, no coach -- needs to be alone with your kid. Ever. Anyone who tries to get your kid alone is someone who should never, ever be permitted to do so.

Francis, tell the world this, and mean it. And follow up. The screaming will be loud, and sorely overdue, but if you insist on claiming a tie to Francis of Assisi, remember what he heard in a vision back in 1205, "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins." Fix our house, Francis.

1 comment:

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

so far i like him just fine...

smiles, bee