The importance of Pope Francis to the future of the Church

Two important events took place this past week which are significant for the future of our church. Two prisoners were released to the United States from Cuba. The move seems to augur significantly improved relations between the United States and Cuba. Pope Francis has received recognition for his role in achieving this breakthrough.

The second event involves the issuance of the report on the Leadership Conference of Women ReligiousThe long awaited report turns out to be primarily positive. It offers genuine praise for the work nuns have been doing over the years particularly with the poor.

In his intervention in Cuba Pope Francis models for all the nations of the world how to lead. First of all he is not afraid to become involved with imperfect leaders in order to negotiate something that is good for the people. Also, he does not allow long standing disagreements or animosity to be the excuse for failing to achieve worthwhile ends. Finally, he demonstrates the power that comes from developing genuine trust with all parties involved.

Those who believe that foreign policy must always be about toughness and the refusal to negotiate with those we disagree with have much to learn from Francis. Nothing changes if our only response is to condemn. Escalation of relationships often leading to war does not offer hope to a world that needs it so badly.

Tom Fox, in his NCR article, highlights much to be upset about with the LCWR report. The entire process in particular lacks input from those involved. The report does not apologize or admit to an abuse of power. There is still concern about a possible report coming from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Yet the reality is, minus Francis this report would have been harsh and damaging to the future of the mission of nuns in the U.S. for decades to come.

Francis is still weak on women’s issues, but the giant steps the church has taken in attitude under Francis cannot be minimized. Despite the lingering sense of incompleteness that this report brings it still indicates Francis’ desire to end this destructive chapter in the church’s history.

Francis is central to what happens in the church. He has undoubtedly embarked on a new vision for the church and the world that is admired and critiqued by those inside and outside the church.

As the year draws to a close we can only be grateful for the great work begun in Francis. We can only pray that he will remain vigorous and steadfast in his efforts for many years to come.

The only caution is a concern for what may happen when Francis leaves the scene. Hopefully he will be able to make permanent many of the goals of his papacy. An important part of achieving these goals will be to appoint leaders who share in the vision and determination to create this new church and this new world.

Yet perhaps most important may be establishing structures which will operate independently of one man, one pope. Some of us have now seen two popes in our lifetime who pursued a more Gospel centered compassionate agenda. The intervening popes were more committed to doctrine, orthodoxy, and conformity. We need a church that will continue on the path of Francis long after he is gone. Only church structures and church governance can make that happen.

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