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ROME — On a recent Sunday, a group of young American Catholics were among thousands who gathered in St Peter’s Square waiting for Pope Francis to deliver his weekly message.
Gillian Caruso says he is doing very well.
“He made the claim we talked about last night that no pope has ever said that being gay is not a sin,” she said. “So that’s pretty cool.”
Her friend, Carolyn Cree, agrees.
“Especially during this time, like, everyone feels supported by him, you know?”
The recently mentioned women of the pope speaking to journalists, on a flight home from a visit to Sudan, during which he denounced legislation that criminalizes LGBT people. He said such a law is an injustice and a sin, because LGBT people “are children of God and God loves them.”
Back in St Peter’s Square, his message concluded, Pope Francis made his signed affirmation:
“Do not forget to pray for me,” the pope said. “Have a great meal and arrived.”
As the crowd cheered, the 86-year-old pope returned to the modest guest house of Vatican City, where he had chosen to live, abandoning the pomp and isolation of the Apostolic Palace.
After a decade as pope, Francis continues to push for reform
In the same square on March 13, 2013, the new pope introduced himself from “the end of the world”. Born in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio became the first non-European pope in more than a millennium.
Since that day, say Massimo FaggioliProfessor of theology at Villanova University, Francis has made it clear that the old world no longer decides what is Catholic and what is not.
“Western Hemisphere, North Atlantic, some bourgeois Catholicism, he rejected it most radically,” said Faggioli.
The first and first Jesuit pope to take the name Francis – after the saint of the poor – was elected with the task of cleaning up the scandalous Vatican government. Pope’s biographer and veteran Vatican follower Politician Marco says that Francis’ reforms to the Vatican bank, for example, are radical.
“There is no longer the possibility of mafia money flowing through the Vatican bank or corrupt money to political parties in Italy as in the past,” Politi said.
And he says it’s not just financial matters that Francis has left his mark on.
“He has wiped out all obsessions of the Catholic Church on sexual issues,” Politi said, adding that Francis stays away from culture wars and rarely talks about birth control or abortion.
“He didn’t change the letters of some church documents,” Politi said. “But with his gestures or words, he opens the way for new attitudes.”
The Pope has received populists around the world
Francis has traveled the world, mainly to peripheries where there are few Catholics and feels marginalized.
His maiden voyage is the island of Lampedusa, closer to Tunisia than to Italy – the gateway to Europe for hundreds of thousands of migrants making the perilous crossing in rickety smugglers’ boats.
There he fiercely attacked what he called the “globalization of indifference” – one of his many appeals that was not welcomed by populist and nationalist politicians.
And Pope Francis has promoted outreach to other religions, especially strengthening the Church conversation with Islam.
And yet, Francis has probably proved more than his cardinal electors bargained for.
He angered many conservatives inside and outside the Catholic Church with his harsh criticisms of liberal capitalism and his uncompromising environmentalism.
In Bolivia in 2015, Francis gave one of his most scathing speeches. Behind the harm to the environment is what he calls “the devil’s excrement, the unlimited pursuit of money.”
“Once capital becomes an idol and guides human decisions,” the pope said, “once the greed for money dominates the entire socio-economic system, it destroys society, it pits people against each other, it even endangers our common home. Our sister mother Earth.”
And during his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis famously prayed at the US border.
On the flight back to Rome, he was asked about then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the border. The Pope replied, “A person who only builds walls and doesn’t build bridges is not a Christian.”
Francis pushed the boundaries of Catholic practice, and conservatives pushed back
In the Church, Pope Francis has opened the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. And he is making the Church less Vatican-centric, Politi said, leaving more decisions to the bishops. “It was a slow process of decentralization,” he said.
The Pope has opened up the administration of the Church, with many women holding leadership positions.
And he declared war on clericalism – the network of priests, bishops and cardinals of those old boys – the privileged caste that governs a flock without a doubt.
“This kind of elitism is what drives Pope Francis crazy,” said David Gibson, director of the Institute. Center for Religion and Culture at Fordham University.
Francis, Gibson adds, sees clericalism as the great sin of the Church — the cause of the abuses of power and the sexual abuse of minors that have shocked Catholics around the world.
Gibson said, Francis has addressed the cover-up of clerical abusers and their crimes, by ultimately holding those responsible accountable.
However, Gibson added, the resistance to the papacy has been intense.
“The opposition to Francis is growing, the opposition is very strong. It’s very passionate. Things are happening,” he said.
Francis’ traditionalist opponents accuse him of sowing confusion among the faithful by focusing on pastoral issues rather than doctrine.
ONE anonymous memo published last year — apparently written by the late Australian Cardinal George Pell — called the pontificate “a disaster.”
German Cardinal Gerhard Müller — removed by Pope Francis as the Vatican’s theological watchdog — was publicly criticized last October. In one interview with conservative Catholic cable network EWTN, he scorns what he sees as Francis’ progressive programming.
““The occupation of the Catholic Church is a hostile takeover of the Church of Jesus Christ,” Mr. Mueller said. And they think that doctrine is just like a program of a political party, (capital) can change… according to their constituency. “
But in contrast to his conservative predecessors, Francis has never disciplined his critics. Instead, he more or less ignored them. When pressed by journalists on a recent flight back from Africa, Francis was very brief.
“Those people are unethical“, he said. “They belong to a political party, not of the Church.”
Some Vatican observers say a civil war is brewing in the Catholic Church, as enemies of Francis intensify efforts to push the pope to resign.
But, Gibson said, time is on Francis’ side – the longer he stays, the more cardinals he appoints who will choose his successor.
“So time equals power and influence in the Catholic Church, and conservatives feel they’re running out of time,” Gibson said.
Some see wrong in Pope Francis’ response to the war in Ukraine
There is an issue on which Francis has been harshly criticized by both libertarians and libertarians. conservatives – his initial reluctance to call Russia an aggressor in Ukraine.
The Vatican has emphasized the traditional role of the Holy See as a mediator in international disputes. And in recent months, Francis has increasingly pointed out that Moscow has started the war.
But theologian Massimo Faggioli says the initial reluctance was a grave mistake, suggesting the Argentine pope did not fully understand the historical significance of war breaking out in Europe again.
“And when a political leader, like the pope, when he talks about war, when he talks about very serious issues,” said Faggioli, “every word should be weighed very carefully. “
The pope’s most ambitious project is the ongoing broad-based global consultation on the future of the Church, culminating in two meetings of bishops at the Vatican this year and next. Francis’ goal is a more inclusive church where everyone can be heard and shared in the decision-making process.
Conservatives will likely do all they can to thwart the pope’s agenda.