Francis is out to change the church

There can be no doubt now that Pope Francis is out to change the church. He is indeed seeking to remake the church into his own image.

Pope John Paul II did very much the same thing during his reign. He did so very effectively. The results of his efforts are still with us today. The hierarchy, especially in the United States, was remade by Pope John Paul into a very conservative hierarchy. Now Pope Francis is working toward a much more moderate hierarchy.

Blaise Cupich in Chicago was just named archbishop and has now quickly been elevated to cardinal, and he is clearly a supporter of Francis' policies. Also, let's look at Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis who stood up to vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence and insisted he would bring Syrian refugees into the state despite the order of the Indiana governor. These are not the kinds of choices we have been seeing from John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Also, look at the bishops who could have been expected to be elevated to cardinal who were not. Archbishop Charles Chaput in Philadelphia is a very conservative bishop who has not hesitated to challenge the direction Pope Francis has been taking more than once. He is still an archbishop. My own archbishop, William Lori of Baltimore, has pushed a very dubious religious freedom agenda and is also without a red hat. The archbishop in Los Angeles is also not seen as moving in the direction Francis would like to move the church. Even though Los Angeles is an archdiocese with a large number of Hispanics and has more than 4 million Catholics, Archbishop José Gomez did not receive the red hat.

The question for Francis is whether he will have enough time to reshape where the church is heading. Pope John Paul II had decades to change the face of the church. He has had a dramatic impact in putting a stop to the work of the Second Vatican Council. It will not be easy for Francis, and it will take time. I don't think Francis can do this job by himself.

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Most would agree, I believe, that what Francis is trying to do is make our church a more pastoral one. Francis wants a church that is not so quick to judge. He is looking for pastors that reach out with love and understanding rather than condemnation and judgment.

To me, it seems to be a no brainer. The goals Francis has for our church coincide firmly with Jesus and the gospels. Yet there is so much resistance.

For me, one of the big problems with Catholicism is it is often more interested in being Catholic than it is in being Christian. When an issue arises, clergy and laity look first to church teaching, church rules, and practices rather than looking to the Gospels for direction. Sometimes it seems we almost forget that we are called to follow Jesus and not rules derived by theologians. Our theology builds on centuries of church tradition which is a positive, but sometimes we fail to see how each generation can take us farther and farther away from the core of the Christian message.

Francis is doing his best to remake the hierarchy and curia. He continues to preach his message of love and mercy. What Francis needs, however, is for the current hierarchy to get the message that Francis is preaching, and the message Jesus preached, and get on board. Our allegiance is to Jesus, and we need to expect our leaders to be preaching and following that message as well.

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