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POPE FRANCIS’ GREATEST CHALLENGE

March 1, 2013 · 

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By Fr. Shay Cullen

There are those Church leaders that exist in the present but their mind and heart is buried in the past. There are those that live in the present but cannot see the future and have forgotten the past. There are those who combine the best of the past and the present and can lead with courage into the future and Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J. is surely the man, a wise choice capable of the task. 

Pope Francis will surely be a leader of courage, strength and uncompromising spiritual and moral rectitude. He is a man of simple life, living in a small apartment in Buenos Aires, taking public transport and has put aside the pomp and ceremony of grandeur associated with some members of the Church hierarchy. 

We can look forward to a renewal in the church from Pope Francis from South America where the vast majority of Catholics live. He needs to be spiritually strong and fearless in dealing with the intrigues of the Vatican hierarchy so that he can act forcibly to end once and for all the biggest issues facing the Church as an institution, namely the clerical sexual abuse of children and the wrong doing that permitted the cover-up of the crimes against children.

Simply known as Father Jorge, in his home diocese because of his closeness and solidarity to the poor and the workers and a champion for family life. Taking the name Francis as Pope is reflecting his humble lifestyle. He is a good organizer with pastoral experience and he will be up to deal with the greatest challenges.

In a survey last month of over a thousand readers, the Union of Catholic Asian News Agency (UCAN) found that this issue is the most urgent mission for Pope Francis to tackle. He will need the full support of the truly faithful laity worldwide for this immense task. He will be battling those ultra conservative forces among the hierarchy and curia that prefer a cover-up of clerical sex crimes rather than direct action to turf them out into the deepest ocean with a stone around their neck, as Jesus of Nazareth said should be done

It has been the brave and courageous laity that has stood up to fight for the rights of the abused. Pope Francis will be hopefully guided by the Spirit to listen to their voices and the cries of the many victims. Those of us in the priesthood, together with the faithful Catholics, have lived with the shame and censure of public opinion long enough because of the inaction of the church leaders to end the impunity. Now we have hope and confidence that the Spirit has guided his election to deal with this problem.

This is where the strictest, uncompromising message of Jesus has been ignored and contradicted in the past by some. Jesus himself said a millstone should be tied around the necks of the abusers and they be thrown into the deepest ocean (Luke 17: 1 to 6). That was an era when women and children were of no consequence and had no status or rights in society or in Judaism. Two thousand years ago, Jesus gave them high profile and status when He said no one could enter the Kingdom of heaven unless they had the innocence of a child. When the Apostles tried to chase the children away from Jesus, He got angry with the Apostles and scolded them for not respecting the innocence of the children which he said is a model of holiness and the standard to be a member of God’s Family (Luke 18:15-17; Mark 10:13-16). We don’t expect Pope Francis to get angry with the erring but to bring justice and healing for the victims and demand repentance, public confession and penance for the abusers.

Pope Francis has to renew the faith of the church in these Gospel values. It is urgently needed. This past week as the UN Conference on protecting women from violence, the Vatican representatives joined forces with Iran, Russia and other conservative countries to block efforts by the conference to eliminate tradition, religious practice and customs as excuses for government allowing violence against women.

The wording of a final statement would oblige governments to protect women and children from violence that stems from traditional practices, misguided religious beliefs, tradition, and arcane oppressive customs that allow it. Hopefully he will recall and replace these delegates.

This is the second most important area where Pope Francis will be greatly challenged: women’s rights. He will not be judged on how prayerful and pious he is, but how forcefully he can act in defending the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth who gave His life to establish us as God’s children with inalienable human rights, dignity and membership of the Kingdom.[end]   www.preda.org

Email: shaycullen@preda.org (Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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