Earth to Planet Catholic: Francis Papacy is no Picnic

Still from Fellini's La Strada.

At a recent Jesuit-sponsored conference in Brazil focusing on the first five years of Pope Francis’ papacy, scholars waxed poetic about papal documents, quoting chapter and verse, claiming that this papacy is different from every other. Some speakers seemed far removed from the Catholicism that is unraveling throughout the world.

Australia leads the way with its highest-ranking prelate set for trial on sex abuse crimes. Cardinal George Pell holds the third highest post in the Vatican where he was imported to put the financial house in order. He is now steps away from the pokey and no deputy has yet been named. Rumor has it that Pell’s legal counsel costs the earth and people in Australia have been asked to ante up.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson convicted last week of covering up sex abuse cases in his diocese will be sentenced in mid June. This is a first in Oz where knowing about abuse and not stopping it is judged to be as bad as the crime. Prosecutors are pushing for jail where clerics may need their own wing.

On to Chile where thirty-four bishops resigned en masse in the aftermath of credible abuse accusations that many of them knew about as well. Chilean priest serial abuser Fernando Karadima had been shipped off to Rome to live out his days in Italian peace. Meanwhile, Francis named Bishop Juan Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno despite reports that Barros too had been aware of abuses.

His installation was out of a Fellini movie. People arrived with black balloons to signal their distaste for a man who was said to have been in the room when Karadima abused boys. Pushing and shoving, near fisticuffs ensued as Bishop Barros paraded down the cathedral’s center aisle. This is odd even on Planet Catholic.

Francis denied that anything untoward happened in Chile, defended his choice for bishop until three victim/survivors spoke out. Two thousand pages of evidence later, Francis realized that he has been lied to by those he had trusted. Details must be damning because he invited the three men, now middle aged, to be his guests in the Vatican for discussion and apology.

Pundits speculate that Francis will accept a small number of the resignations for cause beginning with Barros, others for reason of age, and ignore the rest. The smartest thing Francis could do (but won’t) would be to receive all of the resignations. He could invite each diocese to set up leadership teams of women and men with various skills and try a new model of participatory, inclusive leadership. Within a year, no one would miss the bishops.

Pivot to Germany where Cardinal Walter Brandmüller proclaimed that those who promote women’s ordination are heretics. German Archbishop Georg Ganswein assured the faithful that women would never be ordained during his lifetime, or, even “after his death.” Who knew that the gentleman also known as “Gorgeous George” had such amazing ability to foretell the future? No wonder he manages not one, but two, papal households. Women’s Ordination Conference measures its effectiveness by the virulence of such critics.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the solar system there are wars, Royinga women dealing with babies after an epidemic of rapes, and superpowers at odds over nuclear capacities. As for the Francis legacy, I suspect history will ask, Francis who?