With the new Pope Francis, American Catholics seem hopeful and optimistic, though watchful and wary to see how the new prelate will guide the Church to a stronger, more healthy position.
He seems to be a simple person who led the large Archdiocese of Buenos Aires without a whiff of financial scandal. So, on that front the future seems hopeful that he will clean up the corruption and put the Church back on a sound lawful and ethical ground. He seems to have a particular love and appreciation for the poor so, apparently, he will be a strong proponent of reducing poverty and will begin to focus on related social issues.
Unfortunately, however, on issues of contraception, women's advancement and sexuality, he seems to hold a hard line according to Church tradition. Apparently, while he will be a strong enforcer of conformity to Church and civil laws regarding abuse, he will continue to oppose gay marriage.
Catholic Church officials say it is a given that their core social values of sexuality and the patriarchal approach to women's issues will not change (they do not refer to financial corruption), but unless they open their eyes wide and begin to face their core problems, after a period of euphoria, the Church will likely continue to fragment.
The celibacy issue will not change, yet they have been plagued for years with sexual abuse scandals, which in the United States alone have cost them more than $2.3 billion -- $10 million more this week in Los Angeles. Women clergy (nuns) and other women are protesting Church patriarchy to the degree that a schism is forming.
It is obvious that, only by facing up to, and resolving the real issues that will continue to inflame the laity can the Church become healthy and move forward to focus more on solving social problems such as poverty, and to promote real spirituality. Church leaders seem so unaware of this reality that they remind me of the fairy tale Emperor who preened before his subjects believing he was wearing sumptuous new clothes, yet he was actually naked.
With the ceremonies accompanying the change of command, we are seeing the theatricality of centuries-old tradition and pomp, accompanied by the Church's signature characteristic, secrecy.
Sexual Issues. A large enough number of Catholic clergy are obviously gay that the legal ramifications of their secretive crimes have bankrupted entire dioceses and caused inexpressible, ongoing pain to victims and their families.
Admitting to the reality, that both homosexual and heterosexual expression are unavoidably natural aspects of humanity, and allowing that expression, would eliminate most of the sex abuse scandals, for the Church in years to come.
Regarding women, most often addressed is the role of women in Church leadership, and that is huge. Not mentioned so often, however, are problems resulting from the Church's refusal to allow contraception. These involve affordability and other practical issues relating to raising an unstemmed number of children. In numerous cases, men, feeling the intense financial pressure, opt to leave the home putting all the burden of providing for the children on the mother. The Church assumes negligible responsibility for the care of unlimited numbers of children.
Greed and resulting financial corruption also run through the tapestry of Catholic history. Currently, Vatileaks has exposed corruption and mismanagement of Vatican funds. The U.S. State Department has put the Vatican on a list of countries of concern regarding their degree of compliance with international financial standards and practices. Hopefully, Pope Francis will rein in a significant degree of corruption.
A member of the Jesuit order, the new prelate is assumed to be a reformist, and not all reformists are Jesuits. Reformists say they will crack down on sexual abuse and address women's role in the clergy, but say nothing about the root cause of the sexual abuse or plans for inviting women to provide the balance needed in this all-male establishment. Rather, they say they will try to make these intransigent issues palatable to the laity.
Facing the truth about the natural sexual expression of both heterosexuals and homosexuals and accepting it, admitting that women's influence would provide needed balance, and focusing more on simplicity in their lives will certainly go a long way toward returning the Church to the ideals and principles which Jesus Christ taught.
I cannot remember when the Church last focused on promoting Christ's teachings of spreading peace and love, rather than promoting their own issues of power and greed protected by secrecy, but perhaps that time has come with Pope Francis.
Today, the Internet does not allow for secrecy, and it is only the Vatican and other clergy who may still wear the Emperor's New Clothes, believing that the laity cannot see their nakedness.
Facing reality and abolishing secrecy -- not only for the immediate future, but for all time -- might allow thinking Catholics to return to the Church, and the Church to return to Christ's teachings.
Pope Francis, it seems, will indeed bring some positive change to the ailing Church, but will leave the core problems in place. Perhaps future generations of Catholics will see the correct social evolution, but it will take generations for that change to come. We must remember that, like Rome, a socially meaningful Church wasn't built in a day. We must appreciate and build on the positive progress.