It may seem as though Pope Francis continued his pseudo-liberal crusade earlier last week, when he issued an apology for recent ‘scandals’ in the Catholic church at his weekly audience in St. Peters Square. For some time now Francis has perched himself amidst a haze of media romance, charming the most enlightened with notions of atheists ascending to heaven and remarking “who am I to judge” with regards to homosexuals who look for the Lord’s guidance. In many respects it is true, the Pope is a saint.
What therefore could the Pope possibly be sorry about? The answer to such a question cannot be a certain one. To start with the apology issued by the Pope was at best a vague generalisation; “Jesus is a realist. He says it is inevitable that there will be scandals. But woe to the man who causes scandals.” The likelihood is that he was referring to the recent dismissal from the Vatican of Father Krzysztof Charamsa, a priest who openly announced his participation in a gay relationship. Despite Father Charamsa urging the Church to ditch its “backwards” attitudes on homosexuality, no positive response was exhibited by the leading proponents of the Church, least of all Pope Francis.
Although the Pope’s vague remarks seem at first to highlight only his alignment with the Church’s archaic dogma, it does give way to several awkward observations. The first can be found in the contradictions of Francis’ persona; holding to the usual doctrinal conservatism we have come to expect from the Vatican but preaching a more organic, more ‘free-range’ outlook on the Most High. The second and altogether more uncomfortable point would be that the obscure wording of his apology affords us an unusual moment of clarity; the myriad of possible subjects for this apology point towards what many see as a prevailing moral vacuum within the Catholic Church itself. It is this image which Francis seeks to escape and which hangs above his head as a problematic Sword of Damocles from the all-too-recent past.
Despite Pope Francis’ efforts to lead the Vatican into a less decadent, more virtuous era, even the Church’s recent leaders remind us that reform does not come easily. It was after all, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who was tagged “an enemy of humanity” by Richard Dawkins and called to answer for his alleged cover up of child-sex abuse scandals in secular – not ecclesiastical – courts. Before him it was the ‘great’ John Paul II who preached vehemently against the use of condoms; resulting in countless deaths across Africa, the exacerbation of the AIDS virus, and the continuation of generational poverty across the continent.
On this side of the house we do not ask the unfeasible or even the unreasonable of the Catholic Church; we ask for accountability. Hence, after dropping the ermine trimmed mozetta and donning his iron – not gold – cross, if the Vatican can ever have a hope in hell of escaping the stains of Benedict XVI and John Paul II to name but a few, Jorge Bergoglio needs to re-evaluate what he is apologising for.
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