We first talked about Pope Francis in June 2013. Just a few months after he was elevated to the position. That meeting focused on the many problems facing Catholicism. In the pre-meeting post, I listed them as the:
- Need to reconcile Church doctrine and practice with the modern world without alienating Catholics in traditional societies that now make up the bulk of Church membership.
- Loss of moral authority stemming from the worldwide sexual abuse and cover-up scandals.
- De-Christianization in Western countries, especially in Europe and especially among young people.
- Loss of authority over American Catholics.
- Shortages of priests, nuns, and other church officials.
- Challenge in developing countries posed by other religions, particularly evangelical Christianity.
Certainly, no single pope could be expected to turn the tide against many of these long-term, structural problems. Also, the pope has limited freedom to make bold changes even if he wants to do so (opinions vary on how much fundamental change Francis really wants). Francis is constrained by the Vatican bureaucracy; the global network of Cardinals, Archbishops, and other Church officials; and public opinion of multiple laities all over the world.
Despite all of these obstacles, this pope has made a lot of bold moves and excited a lot of people with hints of broader reforms. I thought we could discuss some of these moves and what might and might not be coming.
I’ll try to sum up Francis’ biggest and most controversial actions to pen the meeting, assuming I’m able to do the reading. I think the Vatican is a great example of how hard it can be to make international organizations – even one that is not democratic – work.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What have been Pope Francis’ biggest changes?
- How have others centers of power in the Church responded to Francis’ moves, and what does that say about the difficulties he faces?
- What changes has Francis signaled that he will NOT make?
- What will American Catholics think of Francis’ new-ish direction? Will it go far enough for them?
- The Catholic Church’s center of gravity is moving from Europe and North America to the global South. How will that change the Church? How does that constrain and empower Francis?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- PROBLEMS: Monday’s Mtg post June ‘13: Links to material on Catholicism’s biggest challenges and speculation on how Francis might govern.
- CONSTRAINTS: The pope is not the church! We should stop obsessing over who is pope.
- Who is Francis? A book review at the NYRB.
- The Pope’s “gentle revolution.” (Rolling Stone) Recommended
- He is embracing and accelerating the shift to the global South, which will revolutionize Catholicism.
- Francis’ views on sexuality are complex.
- He’s a revolutionary and it’s about time! Andrew Sullivan on the meaning of Francis. Long, but a must-read.
- CONSERVATIVE POV: Francis is a radical and is leading the Church astray from its traditional principles. (Douhat NYT)
Next Week: The Changing Definition of Whiteness.