Timothy Egan in this morning's Times:
The Jesuits have always tried to get people to think for themselves, to arrive at belief through an arduous process. When bishops started telling parishioners that their gay and lesbian siblings were sinners, and that family planning was a grievous wrong, people stopped listening to them — for good reason.
“In terms of people in the pews, the Catholic Church lost roughly one-fourth of its strength over the last 35 years,” wrote the political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell in their book “American Grace.” They argue that when the religious right politicized faith, they put a “not welcome” sign on the door for millions of people of faith. This was compounded by the hypocrisy of these same moral authorities protecting pedophile priests while ignoring the lifelong anguish of the victims. For much of the 20th century, the Catholic Church in places was essentially organized crime in clerical garb.
The spirituality of Pope Francis, like his namesake from Assisi, is by example. Shedding the glam trappings of power and the aura of invincibility, he lives in a spartan guesthouse, mixes with the folks and tries to give voice to the sick, the poor, the immigrant living in the shadows. He washes the feet of prisoners, and Muslim ones at that. He laments that worshiping “the god called money” makes for bankrupt human beings.
The church he envisions would be a “home for all,” not “a nest protecting our mediocrity.” It’s strong stuff, long overdue and as refreshing as a brisk wind blowing down from the Dolomites.
Sure. This is a welcome change. I think the world wants the Catholic Church to present its best self--a self that represents the spirit of the gospels rather than the spirit of moralistic fussiness and institutional self-protection. But nothing really changes until the Catholic Church moves out of Rome.
I know. It's not going to happen. Petrine ministry and all that. It's too bad because the "Roman" part of the Roman Catholic Church is its biggest burden. So long as the ghosts of the empire inhabit the Vatican hallways, there will be something fundamentally unchristian about the Roman Church. Popes like John XXIII and Francis come and go, but the ghosts remain.
The Roman Church in the coming century faces the choice whether it wants to be a Church that appeals primarily to fear-and-order-obsessed, right-wing personality types or to all people of good will, and if the latter it needs a clean break with its history of abuses of power. The ghosts in the hallways are all about power--getting more of it and abusing it. Those ghosts are the spirit of Rome; they have nothing to do with the spirit of the gospels.