A pope for the unfaithful [Commentary]

What Francis means to the lapsed Catholics

January 02, 2014|Susan Reimer

The remarkable humility of Pope Francis is causing lapsed Catholics to reconsider their relationship with the church, this one included.

Those of us who left the church in a huff or drifted away, disillusioned by the scandals or the money, or bristling at the ever more strict requirements to participate, did not do so easily. The church had been a community to which our families — especially our children — were welcome. Until we were not. Until we could not reconcile our consciences with the edicts from the pulpit.

My own departure was prompted by a diocesan edict that I not be allowed to speak to parents at Catholic schools — on any topic — because of the views I express here. And I had, to that point, not written a word about abortion or gay marriage, issues that Pope Francis, bless his heart, has urged the church to be less fixated on.

In my time away from mass, I have come to believe in "one God, many paths." It allows me to believe that God, in his unknowable form, would embrace all who seek peace and who love one another, without regard to what rituals they observe.

You can imagine what it is like for someone like me to hear a pope say pretty much the same thing.

He has said, "If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge."

And, to the woman who considers abortion because she is poor or the victim of rape, "Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?"

And he has said that Holy Communion is not a "prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."

Like Jesus might have, he throws open the doors of the church to be "a field hospital after battle." Atheists, he has said, can go to heaven.

It is tempting to return to the comfort of the fold now that there is a pope whose social agenda I embrace. That is, that we have a moral obligation to care for the least among us. Besides, if Rush Limbaugh is against this pope, how can I not be for him?

But Pope Francis is one man. Though he has the heart of a servant, he cannot turn the great battleship that is the Catholic Church around and make it a servant church instead of one with an impossible list of membership requirements.

So where does that leave us lapsed Catholics?

Do we rejoin our parish churches, whatever the temperament of the local leadership, in support of this man who is tilting against windmills so far away in Rome?

Is the fact that this man sneaks out at night to feed the homeless enough to balance the institutional lies that covered up a generation of sexual abuse of children?

He carries his own suitcases, makes his own sandwiches and takes selfies with the faithful. But he will not be able to move the church establishment on the matter of the ordination of women, and probably not even on the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of AIDS in Africa.

Pope Francis is a powerful symbol, but is it him that we would be worshiping? And can his teachings of mercy, service, humility and forgiveness exist outside the labyrinthian bureaucracy and the polarizing edicts of the church?

When he was elected in March, Pope Francis' first words were a request. "Pray for me," he asked the throng gathered in St. Peter's Square. Perhaps he also gave the lapsed Catholics the answer they seek.

Pray for him. On your knees in your parish church or during a quiet moment in a busy day. Pray that he has the physical well-being and the clarity of vision, not necessarily to change the church, but to do whatever good he can from that mighty throne for those who need it most.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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