Pope Francis, the first South American to become pope is from Argentina. He was born of migrant Italian parents and is the most liked and popular pope in modern times. He replaced the conservative and remote Pope Benedict who retired. He is seen as the great hope and light of the People of God. Catholics and non-Catholics welcome his feelings of compassion and understanding and action for the poor, the excluded and marginalized people in society.
Francis has taken a stand with them and has a strong solidarity with the victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking. He established an advisory group of eight trusted cardinals and bishops to advise him how to combat child abuse in the church. He has fired priests and bishops involved with covering up child abuse. He said he will do much more.
The commitment to justice and peace is a top priority for him as is the protection of the environment and his concern for climate change as seen in his famous and beautiful encyclical document, Laudato Si.
He welcomes gay people. While Benedict XVI incorrectly declared that homosexuality was a human disorder and evil, Francis declared a different belief, attitude, and teaching and welcomes members of the LGBT community to the Vatican and meets with them.
A Gay man from Chile was invited to the Vatican and Francis told him, “You know, Juan Carlos, that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.” Pope Francis told the media during an interview on his flight, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Francis meets with victims of abuse frequently and speaks directly in friendly conversation, listening and discussing issues with them. He has denounced human trafficking as a crime against humanity, a terrible humiliation of those victimized and likened it to slavery. He went to prisons and washed the feet of the prisoners including Muslims and women’s feet, an unheard of practice.
After he was elected in March 2013, he has adopted a simple life without servants, living in a small apartment in the Vatican guesthouse and refuses to live in the papal palace or ride in limousines, preferring to walk or riding in small cars. He dresses simply and has none of the pomp and ceremony and ornate robes of his predecessors. He carries his own bag a lot and has called on bishops and archbishops to live frugally.
Francis demanded a major reform of the corruption-riddled Vatican Bank. His teaching and practice have alarmed many traditionalists and conservative bishops and laity who have resisted the reforms of the Second Vatican Council held from 1962 to 1965. They are now resisting his reforms and positive change. He has simplified the marriage annulment procedure in the church removing the bureaucratic delays and costs. He instructed priests to forgive women who have had an abortion, which was formerly reserved to a bishop and could lead to excommunication.
Mercy, compassion, understanding, forgiveness and justice and equality is his call for a just world and a renewal of faith based on the gospel values of love, togetherness, sacrifice and service for one’s neighbor. His care and support of the migrants are well known and he called on every parish in Europe to give them a welcome.
All of this has angered some conservatives around the world and especially in the United States where some bishops and theologians have called Pope Francis a heretic for allowing divorced people to receive communion at the Eucharist celebration. The capitalist Catholic elites took strong offense when Francis denounced the evils of liberal capitalism that was causing poverty as “the Idolatry of Money.” When he visited the United States and the US-Mexican border and spoke against building walls, it was seen as a criticism of President Donald Trump. His support of President Barak Obama in bringing Cuba into the diplomatic fold once again was offensive to many US conservatives. Besides, he has announced that the death penalty is “inadmissible.”
But perhaps his most ardent enemies and critics are among the Vatican bureaucracy known as the “curia” and their friends around the world whom he denounced in December 2014 describing the fifteen “diseases” they suffered from. These include spiritual Alzheimer’s disease, rivalry and vainglory, gossip and back-biting, hoarding material goods and the disease of persons who insatiably try to accumulate power and to this end are ready to slander, defame and discredit others, even in newspapers and magazines. Ever since anger and resistance at his reforms have grown until it hit the headlines recently with accusations that Pope Francis knew about and did not act on the allegations against the influential US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick some years ago. After the successful pastoral visit of Pope Francis to Ireland this August 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Papal ambassador to Washington from 2011 to 2016, published a letter accusing Francis and other Vatican officials of knowing about the sexual abuse of McCarrick and doing nothing about it.
He himself has a murky track record. According to legal documents, it has been revealed that Archbishop Vigano, the then papal nuncio, ordered an end to ongoing investigations into allegations against Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdioceses of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2014. Nienstedt resigned a year later.
MacCarrick refused to obey and respect the restrictions placed on him, he was ordered to step down from priestly ministry. Pope Francis has refused to reply to the baseless allegations, unsubstantiated by Vigano. They are likely part of the resistance and opposition by US bishops to the reforms of Francis. The letter of Vigano may be a “preemptive strike” to discredit Pope Francis by the US opposition bishops who fear they may be called to Rome and resign in an answer for the massive cover-up of child abuse by 300 priests against over 1000 children in Pennsylvania. That, they must answer for and they will have to resign or be fired.