Doubts about Pope Francis

Friday, March 18, 2016

Sorry, but I can’t shake off my misgivings about Pope Francis. The new issue of First Things, a publication not given to criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, contains an article which is quite sharp in its depiction of the pontiff’s failures to meet rigorous standards for addressing the church’s problem with sexual abuse (back in the news partly owing to the Oscar-winning film Spotlight). It fits with the picture of the former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio who showed a similar weakness when the Argentine “Dirty War” was going on all around him. Unlike Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, the Archbishop of Santiago (Chile), Pope Francis–then Archbishop of Argentina–did not encourage his priests to speak out as did Silva Henríquez when Pinochet’s regime was torturing and “disappearing” thousands. 

I can’t forget the memory of Elisabeth Käsemann, the daughter of the great New Testament scholar Ernst Käsemann, who died under torture during the Argentine Dirty War. Along with many other political prisoners, she died because there was no one in power to speak out on behalf of those who were imprisoned simply because of their political views.

The New York Times Magazine recently published an interview with a celebrated Mexican journalist, Jorge Ramos. When asked about the recent visit of Pope Francis to Mexico, drawing tremendous crowds and media attention, he said this:

 I don’t know. In Cuba, he called Raúl Castro — who’s a dictator — the president. He refused to meet with dissidents there. He refused to meet with victims of sexual abuse in Mexico. He refused to talk to the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Ayotzinapa. It was a different pope from the one we saw here in the United States. When he goes to Latin America, he becomes shy and lacks the courage to criticize those in power.

I admit to a longstanding, deeply-held view that to ignore wrongdoing is to encourage it. In my previous post, I write about the sin of denial. I’m always amazed and disappointed that so many people persist in denial when its usefulness as a psychological buffer has long passed its “best by” date.

I was not particularly thrilled when Bergoglio chose the name Francis. I can’t believe that the real St. Francis wasn’t dangerous in some way. These legends about him, these treacly quotations attributed to him, these popular sentimental images of him seem false to me.

Well, we’ll see. Pope Francis does seem to have confronted the Curia in some ways. Certainly he has caught people’s attention with his “optics” and soothing words as he travels the world. But not to meet with the families of the 43? Is that courageous? Is that Christ-like?

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