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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Pope Francis made lame duck by conservatives

    For Roman Catholics — converted or cradle, practicing or not — the selection of a new pope sticks out as a flashbulb memory. It’s not so much election night, where people know they took the time to vote — or didn’t — and have a candidate they’re gunning for, but more like the finale of old seasons of “America’s Next Top Model”: Only one can win, but, outside of prayer, the matter is completely out of anyone’s hands. The judges’ decision is final.

    Maybe it’s a little more sober than “America’s Next Top Model,” but you get the point.

    And so it was during the spring of 2013 that Pope Francis was chosen to succeed the recently resigned Pope Benedict XVI. It was an odd time for the Roman Catholic Church; not since Pope Celestine V in 1294 had the head of the Catholic Church resigned of his own volition.

    The selection of the new pope seemed direly important. Where was the Catholic Church going? After the death of the beloved Pope John Paul II and a string of disheartening, all-too-prevalent revelations about sexual abuse within the organization, it was clear the Catholic Church needed a change.

    In the last year, Francis has received a lot of press coverage. Last summer, he surprised the world, saying, “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” At the recent October synod, Francis urged his followers not to be afraid of change. And just a few weeks ago, Francis demoted outspoken conservative former archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Burke to cardinal of the Knights of Malta. Burke has been critical of the pope’s “reformist” ideologies. And yet, even with Francis’ growing emphasis on issues of poverty, charity and social welfare in deference to the continual discussions against contraception or homosexuality, there have been little-to-no actual reforms within the Catholic Church. No doctrinal change has occurred on issues of marriage rights, contraception or even divorce. While this pope certainly emphasizes different issues than his predecessors, his “progressivism” has seen little-to-no dogmatic progression.

    Has Francis provided the change the Catholic Church needed?

    Though I firmly believe that you cannot analyze or criticize the leader of a religious group the same way you can an elected official, the problems with Francis’s lack of progress is comparable to the struggles President Barack Obama has dealt with: The pope, like the president, cannot make uniform decisions for the entire population. He requires the collaboration and implementation of those changes by other members of the clergy. Just as Obama hit a standstill with a highly conservative Congress, so too have Francis’s more progressive ideas been derailed by what appears to be an increasingly traditional clergy.

    “[Francis’s] attempts to spur discussion among bishops about controversial issues such as communion for the divorced and making a place for gay people in the Roman Catholic Church seem to have failed,” said Peter Foley, director of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture and an associate professor of religious studies. “… Pope Francis in not particularly liberal, … but the cadre of bishops bequeathed to him by his predecessors is not permitting him to introduce even the discussion of intentional pastoral outreach into areas his predecessors have shunned.”

    It is with the understanding of this statement and with the news that just last week Francis made comments on the importance of a “traditional family” that liberal Catholics everywhere released a heavy sigh.

    The Catholic Church, so poised to change, may be too caught up in its own red tape and Francis, though certainly a step in the right direction, may not be as progressive as hoped. Certainly, the demotion of bishops like Burke sends a clear message, but the October synod of bishops to discuss “family matters” ended with no progressive doctrinal changes.

    And yet, for an institution that has been around for two millennia, it is unrealistic to expect doctrinal changes overnight. Francis has already declared that another meeting of bishops on issues of the family will take place next October, so he may be just gaining steam. Hope is still on the horizon; progressive Catholics don’t have to give up yet.


    Paul Thomson is a senior studying BFA acting and Africana Studies. Follow him on Twitter.

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