It has been a few years since I wrote about the leader of the Catholic faith, Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina). The first time was right after he was elected as the new Pope to succeed Pope Benedict and the succeeding time was to mark his successful visit to the Philippines to visit the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda who were devastated after the storm left them homeless and separated from their loved ones. It was an inspiring visit and one that filled many of our countrymen with much needed hope in a time of deep crisis.
Over the years I have been impressed by Pope Francis’ efforts of trying to bring the church back to the people and especially to the younger people who have been either disillusioned or just plain disappointed with one of the world’s oldest religions. After all, many mistakes have been made in the past and it seemed as if church leadership – up to a certain point – were content to keep it that way without any regard for how the world was changing. I suppose that many priests and bishops have fallen into the trap of old habits and were hard pressed to make changes. Up to a certain point it just seemed as if they were content to keep sweeping things under the rug.
Pope Francis is not that same type of leader. In fact, he has faced much opposition for his more – for lack of a better word – relaxed view on doctrine, his desire to face things head on, and for his passion for simplicity. Many grand and ornate churches around the world say something about the Catholic faith’s stand on simplicity despite Jesus teaching us to remain humble and simple in all things. Pope Francis (much like the saint he shares a name with) brings back that message and ends up hitting hard at parishes that collect money for lavish expenses.
He has also been more open to those traditionally ostracized by the church. This has led to some opposition from more staunch Catholics who feel there is no wiggle room in faith and find his views to liberal. However, personally I feel that it is important for our religious leader to be forgiving and open first and foremost. The church is comprised of so much more than one type of faithful and it must always keep its doors open to all kinds of people if there is any chance for our survival in a new era. I commend the Pope for consistently trying to reach out to all kinds of Catholic people. In fact I will never forget when he said, “who am I to judge a person who seeks the Lord with goodwill?” when asked about his stand on homosexuality. I feel it was a very open and heartening response.
It is unfortunate that the Pope recently took a very bad hit though when he came to the defense of Bishop Juan Barros, the protégé of Chile’s most notorious predator priest Rev. Fernando Karadima. In, what can only be called a highly surprising move, the pope strongly defended the bishop and said that the victims of the abuse had not presented enough evidence and accused them of “calumny” for pressing their case against Barros who they claimed was complicit in Karadima’s abuse.
His defense of the bishop was quite a shock to most everyone and once again reopened the can of worms that has been dogging the Catholic church for years – abuse by the clergy. I suppose that those who support Pope Francis for his openness to change and his ability to look past the way things have been done for years and years were hoping that this pope would be more open to seeing things that others may not have and more adamant about making things right. Initially though that did not seem to be the case.
However, this time the people would not be silenced and others around the world joined in to voice their concern and demand the pope take a closer look. And I was happy to read that he did not ignore their outcry and sent the Vatican’s most respected sex abuse investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna to look into the matter further and report back with his findings. Scicluna and his colleague spent over two weeks in Chile and interviewed dozens of people, coming back to the pope a dossier that was over 2,000 pages.
After reading the extensive file over, Pope Francis did what no leader, and certainly no leader of the Vatican, has ever wanted to do – admit that he was wrong. In his statement which many have called extraordinary and I would say is quite unprecedented for a Catholic leader, the pope said he made “grave errors” in the way he handled the Barros and Chile sex abuse case.
He further added that had lacked “truthful and balanced information” when judging Barros and the claims against him. And now he is striving to make things right and hear all sides of the story openly without bias. He has invited the victims of the scandal to Rome to speak more with them and to ask for their forgiveness for his earlier statements about their truthfulness. He was also summoned all of Chile’s bishops to the Vatican for an emergency meeting in the coming weeks to further discuss the matter.
I think this is a definite step in the right direction. While the pope’s initial reaction to the scandal may have shocked and disappointed many, his desire to make things right shows his humility in admitting his mistake and his dedication to move forward openly and honestly. His goal now is to re-establish faith in the Catholic church and help win back the confidence that has been lost by “our errors and sins and to heal the wounds that continue to bleed into Chilean society” – and by proxy the world at large who is watching the case unfold.
Hopefully this will show the church making a definitive stand against sexual abuse among its ranks. It’s time to see that real positive changes are being made. That way, the doors for healing and re-establishing faith may be fully opened once again.