‘Francis Effect’ to impact bishops’ talks
By David Gibson RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
ALESSANDRA TARANTINO ASSOCIATED PRESS
When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather on Monday for their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, one of their chief duties will be choosing leaders to guide the American hierarchy for the next three years.
But the more than 200 prelates will also be looking over their heads — and maybe their shoulders — to the Vatican to gauge what Pope Francis’ dramatic new approach means for their future.
If Francis has made one thing clear in his nearly nine months on the job, it is that he wants the church to radically change its tone and style. The pontiff has repeatedly blasted careerism among churchmen and ripped “airport bishops” who spend more time jetting around the globe — and to Rome — than being pastors who go out among their flock and come back “smelling of the sheep.”
- The pope also has lamented what he calls the church’s “obsession” with a few moral issues, including abortion and homosexuality, and has called for a new balance that highlights the church’s concern for the poor and the marginalized.
“The pendulum has begun to shift back, and how long it will continue to do so, well that is up to the Holy Spirit. For the moment, I find all this absolutely amazing,” Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote in an enthusiastic blog post.
The so-called Francis Effect is showing up in various ways. Some culture-warrior bishops have moderated their language on gays or shifted their emphasis to issues such as immigration. On the other side, bishops who have struggled for years to highlight the church’s social-justice teachings are getting a new hearing.
But what will this mean for the Catholic Church in America?
In conversations with a range of bishops, church officials and longtime observers of the hierarchy, the answer seems to be maybe not too much, for now, beyond a shift in tone or the type of news releases emanating from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
Observers say a significant number of churchmen have not been won over by Francis, and if they have tempered their public criticisms, they are still fuming privately.
“He’s got to stop giving these off-the-cuff interviews,” said one bishop , who asked not to be named publicly in order to speak candidly about his new boss. The comment was echoed by several others.
Some appear willing to wait out this pope — Francis turns 77 next month — or they are betting that Francis’ ambitious agenda will be blunted by the Roman bureaucracy and the bishops’ inherent inertia.
Even those who are rooting for Francis acknowledge that the hierarchy is one place where trickle-down theories work, and nothing will change much unless the pope “makes some appointments that turn heads,” as one bishop put it. If Francis does that, the bishops could fall in line more quickly.
One important indication of where the hierarchy is headed will come when the bishops elect new leaders to three-year terms. They upended tradition three years ago in bypassing the sitting vice president — Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz. — for the top job. Conservatives backed New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan because he was expected to bring a more-forceful public presence in battles with the administration of President Barack Obama.
This year, church observers fully expect the current vice president — Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz — to win the top job.
That will make the battle for the second spot — and presumptive president three years from now — the real test. The slate of 10 candidates covers the spectrum from prominent culture warriors to strong advocates of social justice.
Early indications are that the bishops could opt for a middle ground — either Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who is a vocal proponent of immigration reform, or Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, who has extensive experience working in the bishops’ conference.
My apology to readers who may think I pay over-much attention to this Pope and perhaps wonder if I am trying to force religion down people’s throats . I am not. While I don’t deny that I was born a seeker, there was also the thirst for truth and beauty in all it’s forms. How much influence was automatically imparted via my God-loving mother, it is hard to say for she was strangely powerful, beautiful and fully present, always. Whatever higher understanding which germinated in me came from her loving nurture and not the church.
But later as an adult, I experienced church life with fellow believers and those years of Bible-thumping and sharing. Been there — done that, haven’t missed too much in life. The spiritual life is important to each of us in different ways. We are all conscious of the need for ‘more than’ and we reach for different things and in diverse ways and perhaps call it it by all kinds of names. And it matters to us. We sense it and know that it is part of us. Its personal. I believe all of us, in our own way understand that we are part of this larger essence and that we are connected, somehow. This is an inner reality. Has nothing whatever to do with a structure, a place, a person or any kind of hierarchy or ascending ladder or book of rules; but it can and does in the framework of “Organized Religion” which is a whole other thing.
So I understand the church thing. Churches are exquisite, uplifting places. Humans are a social species and we need to gather and mingle. Since religions are generally based on some great principle or belief system, with an ethics and/or morality based dogma or credo, it can happen that doctrine and rules become more heavily weighted than the loving and doing and understanding kind of thing. If and when this happens all becomes a ‘should’ thing rather than a ‘joy’ thing. . . and flocks can lose heart and dwindle.
Since I have been happily among the ‘dwindled’ for about forty years (have previously written about that), churches really haven’t taken my interest much. There hasn’t been a lot to admire about some leaders, so-to-speak. Until Pope Francis. I sense that this choice for the leader of the Catholic Church was laid on the hearts of the men who would be choosers of the new pope, and so it came to pass. Perhaps few men since Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth have so closely emulated what it was that the Lord Jesus was saying, doing and trying to show to his followers, and wanted them to understand.
I might not be able to believe that Pope Francis was the real thing; that he is so totally willing to do the Lords work that nothing else matters but that, if I had not been witness to others with a similar loving spirit. When one has seen it, then you can know. (By their fruits, you know them)
This ‘pure soul’ Francis deserves a far more dedicated hierarchical bunch of bishops around him, supporting the needs of the church and the flock. Francis deserves acceptance, cooperation and respect. He is the chosen one, isn’t he? Jan)