Pope Francis is in a bind despite his progressive leanings. The German Catholic Church is blessing same-sex relationships and homilies by women. The Holy See cannot ignore the upheaval in Germany.
Meanwhile, the Pope is fighting traditional doctrine and its conservative proponents while promoting his long-time interest in modernizing the papacy and the churches and parishioners it is supposed to serve.
He confronts the richest Catholic Church in the world in Germany. At the same time, the German Catholic Church has lost more than 522,000 parishioners. German Catholics are moving aggressively to implement progressive changes involving not only the blessing of same-sex marriages and a greater role for women in religious services, but also the possibility of married priests.
This observer applauds the German Catholic Church. I hope that Pope Francis can overcome opposition by conservative American bishops and oversee long-discussed changes that would breathe life into the staid Catholic Church.
At age 86 he’s running out of time and possibly the energy to confront his make-no-waves, hidebound opponents.
When Pope Francis became the first Jesuit to lead the Vatican, he embodied hope and optimism. Maybe a religious institution that considered change and modernization sacrilegious would become more inclusive. He seemed prepared to pepper the Papacy with formerly heretical ideas and concepts.
He talked about addressing poverty and climate change. He opined that God blessed all human beings regardless of their choice of lifestyle and gender. He suggested a substantive role for women in church liturgy.
His actions have not matched his words. Church conservatives viewed his calls for change with alarm. He seemed stymied. Inertia characterized the worldwide Catholic Church. Progress was minute.
Except, of course in Germany.
As Catholic leaders convene tomorrow for a summit comparable to the momentous Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the future of a powerful but sclerotic religious institution hangs in the balance. It can move forward incrementally, or remain stuck in quicksand, encouraging renegade churches to proclaim their liberation from the Vatican.
I am rooting for an energetic Pope determined to leave a legacy of necessary change. After more than 10 years leading a polarized church, Francis must push and prod a church to bless all people and their partners, enable women to participate more fully in the sacristy and allow priest to marry.
So powerful with worldwide scope and influence, the Catholic Church can serve God in a way that provides access and comfort to gay couples, enables priests to marry and continue serving parishioners hungry for religious sustenance and allows women to participate in services and blessings.
Gallup data gathered in late March 2021 revealed that the Catholic Church had lost 18 percent of its population, while Protestant churches had experienced a nine percent drop in membership. I do not pretend to understand the reasons; empty churches represent to me a sad diminution of spiritual growth.
Avoidance of change by the Catholic Church, abandoned by hundreds of thousands, equates to adherence to the status quo. That leads to irrelevance.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.