Tag Archives: Catholic Church

By his name, may we overcome: Francis I

In a huge surprise, it didn’t take long for the Sistine Chapel to emit white smoke from its chimney.

In fairly short order, the cardinals ended the conclave and reached what appears to be an easy two-thirds majority, if not a unanimous consensus, as if it were a congenial parish council.

And then came the pronouncement over St.Peter’s Square:  “Habemus Papam,” (we have a new pope), and indeed we did.

He is Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of  Buenos Aires, Argentina, 76, described as a “simple man,” who like his abdicating predecessor became a pope of firsts.

Bergoglio is the first non-European, from Latin America, a Jesuit who didn’t choose Ignatius, but the revered saint’s name, Francis–the first pope ever to take the name of St. Francis de Assisi, the patron saint of the poor and the humbled, who rebuilt the church.

And isn’t that just what the Catholic Church riddled with accusations concerning sex, money, and inequality needs right now.

“Here I am,” he said in Latin, as he addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s Square. He then thanked Benedict, the Pope Emeritus and led the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.

Pope John Paul II made him cardinal in 2001, and at the last conclave, Bergoglio was said to be the runner-up to Benedict.

But in pope handicapping this time around, Bergoglio was hardly mentioned among the favorites.

Indeed, the questions remain as Francis I takes over. He’s known as a simple man. But is he charismatic? An administrator? A communicator? Does he tweet?

Did we get someone who recognizes the need for reform? Or did we get someone all too willing to let the faithful believe that indeed God works in mysterious ways.

The church will lose members either way.

Surely, the conclave could not go with a traditional man of Rome. That would be like leaving “not so good” alone, and flash a green light to the smart, cunning men (and unfortunately in the Catholic Church, men is all that we mean),  who will  continue to do what men do, all be it in the name of God.

Considering the sheer mass of alleged wrongdoing by Church leaders, some that’s only recently come to light, this was a critical moment for the cardinals.

There’s been no better case for reform in the Catholic Church since Vatican II.

It would be great if someone just plopped out of the sky, or appeared at a mountaintop in a flash of light. But that only happens in the presence of God, and the election of a pope is purely political and in the realm of man. It’s not a matter of liturgy.

If the choice was to be a Rome outsider, I thought Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, who seemed to have impressed many with his linguistic ability and charm, might have been a good choice.

That would have made a great St. Patrick’s Day story in America. O’Malley knows the politics of sex scandals, and would have lifted the American church.

But with Bergoglio, the cardinals seem to have picked the right person based on demographics. As a Latin American, the new pope is  someone who represents where the church is presently. There are 501 million Catholics in Latin America,  the largest group of followers in the world. Bergoglio appears to be the right choice just on the makeup of the modern church.

His politics is more traditional and conservative, but let’s not forget, Catholics also believe in virgin births.  Should it be a surprise that Bergoglio has been fervently against gay marriage, not to mention against contraception. Well, how do you suppose Catholicism reaches 1.2 billion people in the world. Not with condoms.

As his past is dredged over, no doubt people will find some things that might make one wish there was a better vetting process. Ratzinger/Benedict  withstood his connection with the Hitler Youth Corp.  But will Bergoglio/Francis live down his past actions where he hid from a Human Rights Committee the political prisoners of the Argentinian dictatorship?

Is the explanation compassion? Or complicity? If so, maybe this is an opportunity for a little public penance and contrition, though the preference for the simple life and embrace of the poor is already a signifcant display of  Bergoglio’s humility.

In the end, that may have been the reason for his selection. It wasn’t his penchant to bring the church into the 21st Century so much, but to bring back the simple values on which the church was built. When the debate rages within the church,  Bergoglio’s humble, spiritual style is a winning one.

To see him elevated is truly a “first will be last, last will be first” moment.

One wonders if Bergoglio, the bus rider would have shunned the papal helicopter to the papal retirement resort.  That’s the common touch that makes Bergoglio’s papacy most hopeful.

Observers and lay members of the church who may want to see all the sex issues resolved in the church, may not see the kind of reform they’d like to see in their lifetime.

But at this time, more than ever, is there a question that the Catholic Church could use a pope named Francis?


His politics is more traditional and conservative, but let’s not forget, Catholics also believe in virgin births.

Still, it’s Bergoglio’s humble,  spiritual style that I find more interesting. And hopeful.

At this time, more than ever, is there a question that the Catholic Church could use a Francis?

Pope Benedict gives up his job for Lent–what’s next?

As a die-hard practicing American Filipino Catholic (practice makes perfect, you know), I admit to being startled by the news.

And to think, I was just getting used to Benedict, every bit of his sixteenthness. And now he’s giving up his job for Lent? His job span was but a sixteenth note compared to others’ operatic tenures. What gives?

Was Il Papa really an ill papa?

It’s said he had what I call a real Filipino heart—a pacemaker. But was it really Benedict’s frail health and instability that brought on his departure? (You mean they couldn’t just make a walker version of the Pope-mobile?)

I don’t know what really happened to force his stepping down, or if one could even characterize his leave-taking as an “ouster.” He apparently ousted himself. Still, Benedict has not exactly been an unstoried pope in terms of real headline news.

And I mean headlines far beyond the church bulletin.

In Benedict’s time, $2 billion in settlements were paid out due to priestly sex scandals around the world. Last year, another big scandal involving the pope’s butler revealed inside dirt on Vatican nepotism and corruption.

No one can ever accuse Benedict of being the “good news” pope.

And yet, when the news was released at the start of the week, almost immediately the Vatican spin was apparent. Abdication? No, the pope’s stepping down was an “act of humility.”

Of course it was. And he really does care about the church. So much that he’d rather do his penance as an ex-Pope?

Taking things at face value is an act of faith, which we Catholics are very good at. I don’t question the pope’s motives, really. If he wants to leave, that’s his right.

But the record is pretty daunting. No one EVER abdicates as a pope. It’s just not done. Not in more than 700 years. When the last time something happened was 700 years ago, you better have a pretty good reason for letting it happen now, beyond simply not feeling up to it anymore.

Being pope is a job that comes with ultimate job security. That’s the reason most popes die with their pope hats on.

It’s too good a gig to lose. In fact, you can’t really lose it.

You’re the pope for goodness sakes! The president has a hotline to the Kremlin? The pope has a hotline to God.

Maybe the hotline told him something about how he’s left the church?

That would make the lesson of Benedict’s leaving a reminder that the pope, whomever he is, is really just an ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances.

He may be God’s main messenger on earth. But he is just a man. And with that comes all the venal stuff that man can do.

Oh, and isn’t that one of the problems of the church, that it’s all men with a very limited role for women?

Speaking of which, I’d rephrase the idea going around that the pope wants to “make room for a younger man.”

I mean isn’t that what usually why Catholic priests end up leaving?

Maybe the new pope can get to the bottom of that.

Don’t count on it. The cardinals were handpicked by the pope for their deferential nature. Maybe there will be an awakening as the jockeying now begins prior to the vote in the Sistine Chapel.

As an American Filipino, it makes me yearn for the late Cardinal Sin. Having a Pope Sin would have been too cool.

Alas, the new Phiippine Cardinal, Luis Antonio Tagle, in his 50s is perhaps a bit too young to be elevated yet again, having just been been appointed among a group of cardinals from the Third World last October. So a Filipino pope is unlikely.

The name that comes up is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.

Given all the issues in the church including a a declining flock, gay marriage, women’s role in the church, predator priests, first/third world differences, conservative/liberal divides, contraception, to name just a few items, the church is mired in negativity.

To announce the first black pope? It could be a way to heap history on this historic abdication. And maybe the way to get the church spinning in a more positive and modern direction.


Birth Control, Boobs and Catholics

I published a piece in the Filipino ethnic press last week and spent most of the week responding to angry Catholics, including one named Jesus,  about the recent insurance flap concering health care and Catholics.

The president’s accommodation last Friday apparently wasn’t enough. 

Some people still see it as forcing contraception on Catholics.

Ironically, there are a good number of Catholics who also want their crucifixes and their condoms, too. 

Most, however, are still too willing to buy the GOP’s framing of the issue, which is to put a political prophylactic on Obama’s health care plan and call it sent from the devil. 

Let’s be clear. This issue isn’t about religion.

President Obama’s initial approval of a provision in his health care plan that would require Catholic institutions and hospitals to provide health insurance to its workers is just about insurance, not about the right to be Catholic.

The health insurance includes coverage for such things as contraception and the morning after pill. It does not directly pay for abortions. And it’s only for insurance coverage benefits. Catholic institutions and hospitals have all sorts of people working for it, so it just doesn’t cover Catholics.

But some Catholics around the country claim this is an affront to the Catholic religion. How can Catholics be Catholics under this law?

If you went to Church two Sundays ago, you know the Bishops are all tweaked about this and are ready to start a jihad on the Obama administration, with the First Amendment their battle cry!

Everyone, please stop for a moment of prayer and sanity.

When Newt Gingrich sides with the Bishops and calls what Obama is doing an attack on Catholics, we all need to rethink exactly what this is—and isn’t.

The law doesn’t say Catholics can’t practice their religion.

It only forces them to offer insurance to workers. What the workers do with it is their business.

If it’s a benefit like your weekly pay, what you do with your money shouldn’t be your employers’ matter.

On top of that, as I said, not all workers in Catholic hospitals and institutions are Catholic. If the Bishops believe in religious freedom, why would they want to force it on non-Catholic workers 

The law is being applied to every employer equally, and to that end, the Obama administration isn’t forcing it on Catholics. The law is the law. There was even a period of transition built in for Catholic employers to adapt.

But the Catholics are trying to politicize this in a presidential year, and trying to rile up Catholics on the issue of abortion (which incidentally this law doesn’t support directly).

Who’s bullying whom?

More interesting is that a majority of Catholics actually want their contraception and their birth control these days.

Catholics should have their choice to do as they see fit. Their medical decisions aren’t religious ones, and medical decisions are private.

That’s a tough enough issue for people to tackle without also having to deal with a fake political issue that the GOP and the Church are so adamant in deploying against Obama.

In America, aren’t we’re supposed to have a separation between church and state. The Obama administration maintains that. The Church is crossing the line.

 But the other line it’s crossing is the one that keeps medical/health matters separate from religion.

 I’m all for faith. Keeping it separate means we don’t have to make a bad choice between health and faith.


Exit polls say abortion isn’t all that burning an issue these days, but candidates who need a spark will keep turning to it to get attention and divide an electorate.

The Susan G. Komen fiasco is an indication that contraceptive rights could get hotter this campaign season.

When right-wing influences inside Komen, forced it to pull support from Planned Parenthood cancer screenings we got a glimpse of how the issue can mobilize. The dis-funding set off a firestorm of protests. The Right doesn’t like Planned Parenthood’s abortion policy. The Left resents the politicization extending to innocent cancer screenings.

Komen felt the ire and reversed its stand.

But can anyone see pink again without thinking Komen is just a tool for the right-wing? 

There are a lot of other groups out there that put women’s health first before politics.

Now we know Komen isn’t one of them.