After all the appealing window dressing that accompanied Pope Francis when he assumed the papacy — he carries his own bags, he lives modestly: wonderful stuff — faded before the agenda he slowly unfolded, conservative Catholics began to question the direction this kindly but decidedly liberal man would take the Church.
They had reason to do so back then; they have even more reason now.
Noting the priest shortage in the Amazon regions of his beloved South America, Francis has opened debate’s door to alleviating that shortage by allowing “proven men” (who happen to be married with families) to join the priesthood.
This is tectonic material that may have “schism” written all over it. Liberal Catholics will hail the suggestion as practical, realistic. The Church is growing in South America and Africa, and priests are needed. Why not join the 21st century and let the clergy marry? It may also have the added benefit of addressing the sexual-abuse scandals that have rocked the church.
For conservative Catholics, this limited experiment in South America may make good sense — until they realize it may put the camel’s nose firmly under the tent. If not in South America, then why not in South Boston? More than 1,000 years of tradition would be swept away, and those who look to the Church as the “Rock” declared to Peter by Jesus: “(T)hou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) would be left adrift.
Surprisingly, and somewhat ominously, Francis seems to eschew tradition; to wit: On Sunday, during his homily at St. Peter’s in Rome, he said, “If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo.”
But what if by sweeping away tradition and obliterating the status go, “the gift vanishes”? What will that say of the “Rock”?