I think all people are excited and intrigued by this new Pope and the interesting journey he seems to be taking the church, dusting off some old dogmas and allowing a refreshing spirit of change to enter into the Vatican from the cloisters all the way down to the catacombs.
Of course the US media will be exclusively focused on the hot button social issues, but in a wide ranging and candid interview with a Jesuit publication in Italy and translated into english by Fr. Jim Martin (official chaplain to Steven Colbert), the Pope discusses his own personal failings, feelings on spirituality, the role of women in the Church, and why he has deliberately chosen to avoid divisively discussing abortion and homosexuality and why he meant all gays, not just gay priests, when he said he would not judge.
He, along with a team including Boston’s own Cardinal Sean (the only American I might add), are planning on an important meeting which some faithful are hoping includes releasing a wide ranging set of statements (possibly encyclicals!) addressing the clerical abuse scandal, internal curia reform, a new unifying focus on social justice, the role of women, and widening the role of laity in Church discussions.
The interview is worth reading, we see how intelligent and culturally engaged the Pope is from his love of Caravaggio, Mozart and Fellini to the love for his grandmother and how serving in the slums truly changed him from being an authoritarian priest to a pastoral one, and now a pastoral bishop.
I try to temper my hopes within a realistic framework. I think a focus on universal salvation (which I would argue is more patristic and orthodox anyway), uniting the church in mission to serve the needy, reaching out to other churches and faiths more constructively, cracking down on abuses and more importantly the insular culture of clericalism where they arise, and possibly re-examining celibacy should and could be on the table. And this Pope has indicated an openness towards those very changes. I hope adopting open communion and expanding the diaconate to women and considering more ways for them to serve, could also be but are less likely from the sounds of it.
But Popes, like Presidents, can use the bully pulpit and appoint the people who implement the changes. Much as we are still living under Reagan’s Court, we are living under John Paul II’s and Benedict’s College of Cardinals. It is the bishops Francis appoints and the manner in which he conducts himself in public that will have the greatest impact. He may not be a liberal, but he also does not sound like a hardline conservative either, and a Pope open to more dialogue within the Church and out in the world, a Pope chastising priests that alienate gays from the Church, that condemn women who’ve had abortions rather than consol them, who washes the feet of women and non-Christians, who is open to God’s grace saving every atheist and sinner, and who thrives on engaging the public, could make big changes just from these small gestures. John XXIII is fondly remembered by progressive Catholics, simply because he was open to discussing change. I think Francis is treading down the same path.