Is Pope Francis really ‘a liberal revolutionary’?

Theologically he is as conservative as any other pope since Vatican II

Pope Francis on his way to celebrate Sunday Mass in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke-Pool/Getty Images

Pope Francis on his way to celebrate Sunday Mass in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke-Pool/Getty Images

 

For decades, liberal Catholics have longed for the day when the beliefs of the church would reflect the everyday values of the modern world.

They have endured the seemingly endless traditionalism of popes widely perceived to be out of touch and stuffy relics from a long dead world.

Yet, the election of Pope Francis has brought a ray of hope to these beleaguered souls. This pope has won the admiration of vast swathes of disaffected Catholics. He even appeals to non-Catholics as a humble soul with a divine mission to drag the church kicking and screaming into the modern world.

Or so it would seem. The truth, however, is a little less rosy. In the two years of his pontificate, the darling of the liberal faction in the church has fulfilled exactly none of their expectations. In fact, his only achievements are strengthening the system the liberals seek to destroy.

His first achievement is cleaning out the Vatican Bank. For a man that never ceases to expound on the needs of the poor, he certainly knows how to rake in the cash.

From a low of €2.9 million in profits under Pope Benedict, the Office of the Works of Religion, as the bank is known, has seen its profits soar to €69.3 million this year.

All that talk of a “poor church that is for the poor” seems to have been an early casualty in this pontificate.

What about all the expectations of a greater voice for lay people in the church and clearing away clericalism from the curia? Well, yes, he did send out a survey for the Synod on the Family . . . once, hardly an earth-shattering shake-up.

Greater efficiency

In the Vatican of Pope Francis, clericalism is alive and well, and under his reforms the laity are to remain auxiliaries in the curia under the same system his predecessors maintained for centuries. The only difference now is the club is a far more exclusive one. “Oh but he’s so much more in touch with the modern world, he’s more liberal,” the mantra that inevitably echoes back at any cynicism of the present pontificate is easily countered with the simple question “and your evidence for that is what exactly”?

His Holiness may indeed be more liberal than Pope Benedict but without evidence that remains mere speculation. The fact is a few off-the-cuff remarks that are, in substance, fluff, haven’t changed anything except public perceptions, and that is precisely all they are meant to do.

Grave evils

His handpicked man, Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin, describes the legalisation of gay marriage as “a defeat for humanity” and he personally appointed a bishop mired in sexual abuse scandals, despite the protests of the local laity, to an important Latin American see.

While he did decline to live in the papal apartments, it is hardly a grand humble gesture when you abandon them because the “doors aren’t wide enough” and continue to use the apartments as an office while taking over the entire guest house of the Domus Sanctae Marthae as living quarters. Few people have commented on the fact that Pope Francis is using twice as much room as Pope Benedict, and while they’re not exactly Buckingham Palace, his gaff is hardly a high-rise flat on the northside.

He has simplified papal vestments, and, in fairness, he only occasionally uses the papal throne. He has abandoned the red shoes traditionally sported by pontifical feet and he does talk a lot about mercy. They are all nice, liberal gestures, but that’s all they are and I can’t help feeling humble gestures are rather cheapened when you make sure to inform the mass media of them.

At any rate, traditionalists like myself are breathing a sigh of relief; he’s not nearly as revolutionary as we thought, thank God. In fact, he’s rather tame and while we loath the excesses of his papacy, had he been as intelligent or sublime as Pope Benedict, he may have posed some kind of threat.

One very significant achievement is changing people’s perception of the papacy, and while he hasn’t changed anything of substance, he has managed to dupe everyone into thinking he has. Seáinín Mac Brádaigh is working on a book translating Gaelic prayers, songs, stories and poetry from Ireland and Scotland

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