At his Christian Catholicism site, Jerry Slevin maintains that if Pope Francis represents "a ray of hope" for the Catholic church, as many Catholics wish to believe, the window of opportunity for hopeful light to enter the church will close, perhaps definitively, if Francis is not prophetic and transparent. Meanwhile, Catholics watch, and are increasingly less convinced by the convenient, shopworn arguments about hierarchical power that have been overused to thwart the open discussion and faithful dissent necessary to maintain a vital church.
And if Francis does not let the light flood through the windows,
The Vatican likely will be unable to contain much longer the cumulative and growing pressure, both internal and external, for change. Well publicized Vatican scandals continue to proliferate before a steadily skeptical world audience that is unconvinced either by the Vatican’s limited efforts so far or by its many public relations diversions. Many Catholics and others are becoming more impatient about protecting innocent victims of continuing Vatican scandals and misguided policies — including millions of poor women, children, couples, divorced persons and gay folks. The building governmental pressures indicate increasingly that the Vatican can change voluntarily or, as has already repeatedly happened in the financial area generally and in the child protection area in Australia, the Vatican will be compelled to change involuntarily.
The crisis through which the church is passing, the worst crisis since the Reformation, Jerry reminds his readers, represents hope in that it points many Catholics back to what is at the foundation of it all, Jerry argues — Jesus and the gospels:
Significantly, the Catholic majority intuitively understands that these risks generated by the present crisis, especially from building governmental pressures on the Vatican, have paradoxically also generated an unprecedented opportunity to restore the Church to an earlier condition — to a Church that Jesus' first disciples would have recognized as completely consistent with Jesus' Gospel message of love of God and of neighbors, even of enemies. This will be a welcoming Church again that satisfies the needs of both conservative and progressive Catholics.
But as Jerry notes, increasingly, Catholics also recognize that the church cannot be returned to its originating impulse and vision, to Jesus and the gospels, without radical structural change:
There are now hopeful indications (A) that the Catholic Church may restore some of its management structure to its earliest consensual, bottom up and distributed form, from its current coercive, top down and hierarchical form, and (B) that some questionable traditional Church teachings may change to fit mercifully the actual lived experience of sincere Catholics and to conform honestly to current biblical, historical and scientific scholarship, all with or without the Vatican’s affirmative assistance.
Paradoxically, these anticipated changes can also help restore the Catholic Church to one that is much closer, in essential structure and compassionate spirit, than the current Church is to the Church that Jesus' earliest disciples, including prominently some women, left behind for over three centuries.
Faced with a crisis that is, for the Catholic faithful, a crisis of trust but for the leaders of the church one of survival, Jerry underscores, Francis and the church he pastors are faced with the following foundational questions, on which the very existence of the church in the 21st century may be premised:
Will the Vatican now finally begin to try to remove the self serving papal gloss and counterproductive clerical crust that have for many centuries obscured Jesus’ radical and revolutionary Good News — to trust in a caring God and to love one’s neighbors, even enemies, as oneself? Or will the the Catholic leadership minority once again futilely try to contain the current crisis within its latest hierarchical structure?
Will the Church leadership minority now restore its management structure to the early Church’s consensual and distributed network of bishops accountable to the faithful majority from the current coercive, top down and unaccountable model? And will the leadership minority now restore its general Church-state policy to Jesus’ earliest approach of peaceful coexistence with political leaders and prophetic witness for the poor and disadvantaged from the current Vatican approach that seeks opportunistic financial, legal and other leadership preferences in exchange for papal political support?
Questions that, after one pope has resigned due to the mess his leadership was making of the church, cannot be adequately answered by obfuscation, evasion, or unconvincing appeals to papal power and authority . . . . Questions that can be adequately answered only by open, transparent, effective action to deal with the abuse crisis that is eating like acid to erode the moral authority of the church . . . .
As with everything Jerry Slevin writes, this essay is rich and multi-faceted, and a short series of excerpts of his essay can hardly do justice to the full ramifations of the argument. My hope in providing these excerpts is to point you to the essay itself, which demands careful reading in its entirety.