Pope Francis

Now that the glitter and glamour (strangely out of place) of his election is wearing away, Pope Francis can get down to trying to resurrect a total train-wreck called the Catholic Church. Claiming a membership of some 1.2 billion may not be as significant as it seems, especially since Catholics are born into the church, not necessarily converted, as is the case in Protestant and other denominations, such as the Baptists and Pentecostals. Thus, all the Pope’s talk about converting non-believers is in order.

According to TIME magazine, the major growth area for the church in the last five years has been Africa, particularly the sub-Equatorial area. Angola, for instance, is 57% Catholic, although the World Almanac indicates 38%. There perhaps is a difference between Catholic and “nominally Catholic,” as seen in the figures for Argentina, with TIME claiming a 77% rate and World Almanac, “nominally 92%.” Brazil has dropped from a one-time 99% to the current 65%, largely due to evangelical adherents sort of “converting” Latin American Catholics.

The recent election and celebrations were almost nether-worldly in that Catholics seem to worship the Pope more than God, not hard to understand since the attribute of “infallibility” (at least in spiritual matters) has been accorded the Pope. It would be interesting to test this attribute if Pope Francis and the retired pope Benedict 16 should publicly disagree, even though unwittingly.

This may explain why evangelicals, who insist that a believer stands on his own feet before God, are becoming quite successful in Latin America, where Catholics are taught to confess to a priest (though this seems out of fashion now), who in a way stands between the congregant and God, in a way acting as Christ.

There are 206 Cardinals, the “ruling” cadre of the church, though the Pope by definition has the final say on everything. The Cardinals, other than electing a Pope when necessary, are responsible as Archbishops for the operations of dioceses or collections of dioceses throughout the world. Nearly half the Cardinals (92) are past age 80, with only those below that age eligible to elect the Pope, 114 in the case of Pope Francis. The average age of the 117 Cardinals when they elected Pope Benedict 16 in 2005 was 71. Benedict 16 was 78 that year. Pope Francis will be 77 this year.

The church is its own worst enemy in a way. Transparency is almost totally absent in its affairs. This may be part of the reason that evangelicals are making significant inroads in Latin America. The unbelievable effort at total secrecy, even the penultimate cloistering of the Cardinals during the election, is a good example of how not to gain the trust of the people. Other denominations have open elections and even politicking goes on. This may be good or bad but at least it’s observable.

So…the Papacy is an “old guard” thing. The Pope appoints the Cardinals and the appointees have been around awhile before taking office, meaning that little change will take place soon, especially with regard to abortion, same-sex marriage, ordination of women to the priesthood, toleration of homosexuality, even though the latter is a genuine problem in the priesthood. There was a horrible well-publicized homosexual orgy involving priests in Rome prior to the recent election.

The worst disgrace for the church in recent years, of course, has been perpetrated by priest-pedophiles, who have molested no telling how many children for no one knows how long and for which the church has been paying tens of millions to satisfy both the victims and the courts. Some 10 million dollars were paid in California to four victims just prior to the papal election. The pedophile is a different creature from the homosexual, but the church leadership must rid itself of both if it’s ever to have credibility.

Allowing the priests to marry might assuage the homosexual problem, though that would need a decision by an infallible Pope negating a decision by another infallible Pope, but it’s been done before. The pedophiles and the bishops/cardinals who “moved them around” should all go to jail.

The recent Vatican bank-scandal is a good example of no one being at home to take charge. The church has much to offer but it must “purify” itself. There are “irregularities” (sin, whatever) in all denominations but one hopes that Pope Francis can set things straight in his church.

Disclaimer: I am not a Catholic.