Tomorrow’s Emerging Upheaval

by Juan L. Mercado

“It was a wildly successful World Youth Day in Brazil”, wrote Ross Douthat of New York Times.  Over three million gathered in Brazil ’s Copacabana Beach to  hear a pope from Latin America urged them to break out of “self-referntial” cocoons to serve the poorest.

Francis spent time in a slum favella, visited a rehab center for drug addicts and shunned luxury cars. When he turned 75  earlier he submitted his resignation, as bishops the world over do. He booked a room in a retirement home for priests.  That changed when the conclave elected him, in March, as the 265th successor to Peter the Fishermen.

“Popes do not change doctrine, But they choose what to emphasize and what to downplay”, adds. Douthat.  “We’ve seen enough to sense where Francis’s focus lies: social justice and spiritual renewal. And  he doesn’t have patience for issues that get in the way of that approach to Christian witness. “

“If Francis can stop hemorrhage of church authority, both left and right seem prepared to set aside  old arguments”, columnist Michael Gerson worte. “Some of this good feeling is the traditional…optimism in a formative papacy.  “But there is something deeper at work” here..

That’s the upheaval, launched by Francis.  “It is now a revolution that is rippling out”, writes veteran Vatican correspondent John Allen of National Catholic  Reporter. “Some of its content has yet to arrive. Change is here. “With Francis, what you see is  what you get,” Allen adds. 

Four hallmarks of the new order seem clear. “First, this Latin American outsider is determined to break the Italian monopoly on governance of the universal church”.

He set up three bodies to flesh out reform: a group of cardinals to assist him in governance, a committee to investigate the Vatican bank, and a pontifical commission to study the Vatican ‘s economic and administrative structures.” All told, they include 21 people now in positions of real influence.  Only three are Italians”. 

Second, Francis seeks to enhance role of the laity  — not just in ceremonial ways, but in the nuts and bolts of reforming Vatican and governing the church.

Seven lay people were picked for the group crafting reforms  of economic and administrative structures. A Spanish priest makes eight “Logically speaking, this implies clipping the wings of the Vatican’s clerical overlords”.

Third,  Francis is giving rise to a new culture of accountability. He is moving toward a framework where “accountability” means somebody actually gets  fired.

He accepted resignation two Vatican bank officials. He refused to shield Msgr.Nunzio Scarano of Vatican bank from a $30 million laundering charge.

Fourth, Francis seems to be repositioning the church in the political center, after a fairly lengthy period in which many observers perceived it drifting to the right.

“It cannot be an accident that after 120 days of his pontificate, Pope Francis has not yet spoken the words abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage,” veteran Italian journalist Sandro Magister observed,

Yet, Francis has imposed no such gag order on himself when it came to poverty, environment and immigration. “These points are arguably significant enough to constitute a “revolution’.

But more changes will come, after the commissions tasked with studying reforms  report. That’s later this year. Vatican watchers, meanwhile, fixate on questions such as:  Who will Francis name as the next cardinal secretary of state.

“But the only issue most people have about a pope is: Does he inspire? For now, the answer seems to be yes,” Allen adds. Given all the scandals and controversy the church “weathered over the past decade, if that’s not a revolution, it’s hard to know what one would look like”.

How will this revolution ripple out to the Philippines ?

This is a country of “split-level Christianity. Leaders hear Mass on Sunday and spend Monday to Saturday in playing pork barrel scams.

Eight out of 10 Filipinos are baptized Catholics. Many are poorly educated in their faith. In an earlier University of Santo Tomas symposium, Fr. Catalino Arevalo cited a 2000 study that projects the Philippines would no longer be a Catholic country in 40 years at the rate it has been losing members.

Only 6 percent of young Filipinos receive “significant religious instruction,” a Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines study found. Filipino youth are not “are not turning away, Arevalo said. “They are simply not being reached.”

But a new leadership is emerging among Philippine church leaders, many of rigid pre-Vatican mindsets. Cagayan de Oro’s archbishop Antonio Ledesma doesn’t  waste time in sterile denunciations.

He initiated family planning programs that blend church doctrine with Philippine law. That’s significant a country where an estimated 560,000 abortions occur each year where couples are blocked from receiving family planning services.

“The Church should contribute in the public square”, Luis Cardinal Tagle told the last Synod. “We in Asia are very particular about the mode…So you may be saying the right things. People will not listen if the manner by which you communicate reminds them of a “triumphalistic”, know-it-all institution.”

Cardinal Tagle of Manila was ruled out as too young (at 55) at the last conclave.  The Guardian notes. “If Tagle does ever get the top job, may he be as lucky in his biographer as Jorge Bergoglio has been. 

Are you listening bishops of Bacolod and Lipa — after that disastrous backing of “Team Buhay” in the last elections? 


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