These are amazing times for the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI resigned due to his advanced age and declining health, making him the first pope to relinquish the papacy on his own accord since 1294. He left the Church reeling in scandal, with pedophile priests molesting young parishioners, money laundering through the Vatican Bank, and a widening gap between the Church’s teachings and its parishioners’ beliefs on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and a female’s place in the hierarchy of the church. Benedict apparently believed that another Pope could better lead the Church through these scandalous and difficult times. Benedict was right.
On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year-old Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires and first Pope hailing from the Americas, was elected Supreme Pontiff. See, http://bit.ly/16VIYIs. His election was a bold move toward a new perspective as evidenced by the Pope’s extraordinary actions taken during his young papacy.
To combat the long-standing accusations that the Vatican bank engaged in tax evasion and money laundering, Pope Francis created a commission of inquiry to reform the bank, better harmonize the bank with the Church’s calling and eradicate the appearance of favor. The commission, which includes a female Harvard Law professor, reports directly to Pope Francis and has the power to obtain information without regard to the secrecy of the offices from which the information comes. See, http://bit.ly/18jrmqW.
In an attempt to align Church policy with international legal standards, Pope Francis dramatically changed Vatican law by issuing a decree making sexual violence against minors, including child molestation by priests and child pornography, a crime punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Importantly, the Pope extended the reach of the new law outside the Vatican, making it possible for both the Vatican and the country in which the crime occurred to indict the alleged child abuser. See, http://bit.ly/10P09HS; and http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/07/11/19420382-pope-francis-targets-child-abuse-leaks-in-vatican-legal-reform?lite.
The Pope’s recognition that the Church was “obsessed” with homosexuality, abortion and contraception, that it “marginalized” gays, and that it needed “to find a new balance [or] the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards” was also extraordinary. Http://nyti.ms/18dJO0s. It was not necessarily a change in theology, but rather an unprecedented transformation of the discourse. We understood that a new day of inclusion and mercy had dawned when the Pope asked, “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Http://news.yahoo.com/pope-says-gays-must-not-judged-marginalized-110838664.html and http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/455215/who-am-i-to-judge-pope-says-of-gay-priests.
We now have a Pope who will criticize his Church for putting dogma before love, who believes that his “Church …should be…the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” and who believes his Church has a mandate to serve the poor and oppressed. Pope Francis has washed the feet of prisoners, hugged disabled pilgrims and visited a refugee center. It is this Pope’s vision of the Catholic Church as a church of tolerance that is truly profound. See, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/world/europe/pope-bluntly-faults-churchs-focus-on-gays-and-abortion.html?pagewanted=all.