(Continued from: Thinking about Pope Francis - Part I)
The truth is that no pope can bring about substantial change in the Catholic Church without going through the labyrinthine, even tortuous rules
and regulations already imposed by the Catholic Church - some so restrictive that they seem to have been intended to thwart revision.
The most formidable obstacle standing in the way of any progressive pope is the Roman Curia (the Curia Romana) which is the administrative body of the Church made up of cardinals and archbishops who were promoted to their hierarchal positions by previous religiously ultra-conservative popes. That means, of course, that the new pope has inherited a group of high-level officials who think as did Francis’s predecessors and would oppose adamantly any significant changes that he might want to make.
Francis obviously is aware of this stringent limitation which, no doubt, is why he said, “That door is closed,” when asked by reporters about the possibility of ordaining women as priests. That issue was “resolved” by Pope John Paul II, he admitted.
The truth is that there is a widespread consensus within the Roman Church hierarchy that a possible modification of tradition cannot even be considered unless it can be presented as supporting “a deeper continuity.” In fact, in 1845, John Henry Newman enunciated his strongly held opinion (called “the Development of Doctrine”) that any change must reaffirm the underlying changelessness of the Roman Church. That concept, thus far resolutely supported by the Curia, effectively negates the possibility of innovation or reform. And, of course, the harsh denunciations of doctrinal diversity that characterized the stance of John Paul II and Benedict XVI not only reversed the progressive movement (called adjournamento) by Pope John XXIII, it also nailed shut the door on any future likelihood of significant positive change, especially since the last two popes before Francis appointed only high-level officials in the Church hierarchy whom they knew would perpetuate their sentiments.
I value much of the rich heritage of the Catholic Church, the many good things with which it has gifted us; and, as I have stated, I very much like Pope Francis. I still am attracted strongly to his humility, his openness, his major focus, and his apparent progressive orientation. But he may be more limited in bringing about “a progressive revolution” in the Roman
Catholic Church than many of his reform-hungry supporters realize. I hope I am wrong; but, at this point, given the long history of the Roman Church and the aversion of its hierarchy to change, it may be premature for anyone to celebrate.
I am reminded of how fortunate each of us is to have the freedom that is ours - the freedom under God to think for ourselves, to express ourselves openly, to disagree with any inherited creed or dogma if it makes no sense to us to accept women as valuable equals under God, to welcome people who may be different from ourselves, and to bring about constructive reform wherever we think it would be helpful. I am thankful that no one has the authority to stand between us and God, to make religious decisions for us, to excommunicate us or to ban us from receiving Communion; and I am grateful for the memorable, liberating words enshrined forever in scripture: