Since the moment he was elected, Pope Francis has been shaking up the Catholic Church—not by changing doctrine but overhauling its message. He has led by example and words by shirking the comforts of a lavish papal suite for a simple apartment and dumping the Vatican limos for a 1984 Renault with 197,000 miles. He carries his own bags and mixes with the poor, AIDS patients, and he even washed the feet of women and Muslims on Holy Thursday.
The Pope’s words are shaking things up. First he set a new tone in the Church’s attitude toward gays saying “Who am I to judge.” Last week he gave an interview for a Jesuit magazine in which he said that the Church has become "obsessed" with abortion, contraception, and homosexuality to the detriment of its larger mission to be "home for all."
“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel," he said.
On Sunday, the Pope made his strongest statement yet against income equality. He abandoned his prepared text and spoke from his heart. He said the global economic system could no longer be based on a "god called money."
"Excuse me if I use strong words, but where there is no work there is no dignity...It is not a problem of Italy and Europe ... It is the consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its centre an idol which is called money," he said to the cheers of the crowd.
The Pontiff has also told priests and bishops to get out of their homes and mingle with the poor. He has criticized priests and bishops from driving expensive cars. His message is applauded by the faithful but it is not clear whether any American Bishops and priests are actually following the Pope’s lead. Most Bishops and many priests drive nice cars and live in very comfortable homes.
It is quite likely that the Pope’s messages will not be heard by American Bishops and pastors. Since the days of Nixon’s moral majority, the Catholic Church has led the fight against abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Catholic Bishops urged priests and parishioners to take the battle from the pews to the streets and the ballot box.
This politicization of abortion, contraception, and gay marriage meant the Church was endorsing Republican candidates because of their stand on these issues. Soon, Republican politics became “identity politics” for most Bishops and priests.
This identity with Republicans has become overt. Priests are addressing Republican conventions. The Bishops have made their fight against Obamacare a matter of “religious freedom.” Last year a Bishop in Illinois said that any Catholic who voted for Democrats could not go to heaven. Not only was Pope Benedict silent, but so was Cardinal Dolan, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Silence indicates tacit support.
The Pope seemed to be addressing this when he said that this obsession threatens the moral edifice of the Church. When Bishops and priests become entwined with Republicans, they are putting people into office that oppose abortion, but also oppress the poor who the Pope is championing.
Republicans are fighting a war on the poor by cutting food stamps, head start, health care, jobs, fair taxation, and income equality. Republicans in the U.S. are on the opposite side of every issue the Pope has made the focus of his attention. When Bishops and priests urge their flock to vote for anti-abortion candidates, i.e. Republicans, they are urging them to vote for politicians who will hurt the poor.
It will be nearly impossible for American Bishops and priests to actually hear the Pope’s message and act on it because they are assimilated so thoroughly into Republicans and especially Tear Party politics. It will take something like an exorcism to break that bond. Nevertheless, it is very uplifting to many that the Vatican is occupied by a man who talks like Jesus.
“The righteous care about justice for the poor but the wicked show no such concern”—Proverbs 29:7