For a few reasons, yesterday was a hard day for me. Believe it or not, some of it actually has to do with the pope. You see, almost eight years ago when Benedict was named, I was in a hospital giving birth to my youngest daughter. A lot of things in my life started to go wrong after that day, but that day was about perfect. Just like she was.
Yesterday, a new pope was named, and the set of circumstances in my life couldn't be more different if I had tried to imagine how much things would change.
I consider myself to be a recovering Catholic, which really just means that I will probably forever associate myself with the Church I was raised in even though I take issue with a large and growing number of their social policies. I attended Catholic school. I taught religious education for four years. I was confirmed and married in the Church. All my children are baptized. It's with a heavy heart that I lost my connection to this institution I was raised in.
This new pope represents hope for so many people around the world, though I fear that might be somewhat misleading. Yes, he is a Jesuit and a humble man, a far cry from Benedict and his affection for very exquisite things. Refusing even the papal car, he has already demonstrated his commitment to staying humble. I believe that he may indeed help the Church find it's way back to the service of the poor, the caring for the downtrodden, to humility and more. Or at least I hope so.
As he is an outsider and not a member of the Roman Curia, there are some who fear he will struggle to find truth and honor in the wake of the Vati-leaks scandal, others who hope the very fact that he is an outsider will make progress. There are those who fear that the inner circle of Vatican leadership will not be amenable to any attempts he may make to reform the Church in terms of dealing with the abuse cases and the controversies.
Then there is the matter of Francis' views on all the things the Church has grown notorious for, primarily his opinions about homosexuals, which he has been quite vocal about. I find it so terribly ironic that the Church can condemn the very sexual activities that occur within even the highest levels of leadership as an abomination. Homosexuality, in his eyes, is wrong. A sin. He was outspoken about his disapproval of Argentina's marriage equality measures, which gained him a lot of criticism even in his home country.
The rumors that Benedict resigned because of the threat of exposing homosexual activities within leadership continue to swirl. As much as the Church may want to believe and insist that homosexuality isn't a part of normal human sexuality, and exists even within those wearing the robes of faith, they are kidding themselves. They are refusing to look in the mirror in any genuine way, passing judgment on their followers, decreeing from the mountaintops to do as I say, not as I do.
Francis is of the most conservative branch of the Church, and there is no reason to believe even for one second that any substantive changes will come in the areas of marriage equality, or contraception, or abortion rights, or the role women play.
This new wave of leadership may very well just end up as more of the same. There are many faithful who are welcoming of that inflexibility, of the refusal to bend at the will of an evolving society, who respect the Church more for holding steadfast to their beliefs. All of which is well and good, I suppose, but all of which will also continue to alienate people like me.
I hold out irrational optimism for the Church to practice love, tolerance, forgiveness and peace, not just in words, but in reality. To fight for human rights, regardless of who someone loves. To own their multi-level responsibility in violating the bodies of too many children at the hands of predators, to stop hiding it, to admit it openly, to make real changes to protect the victims, to remove the criminals that have harmed others. To recognize that involving women in leadership is essential to change and relevance in the world today. To recognize that celibacy is impractical and may very well be the root cause for so much dysfunction within the Church. To understand that honesty and openness is the way back into the hearts of millions of recovering Catholics.
Until then, I'll be at my Ecumenical Catholic Church. Where everyone is welcome, where women are in leadership, where priests have families, where love is evident, where tolerance abounds.