Yesterday here in this space I suggested that it will take a fair amount of time before we know what effect the recent visit by Pope Francis to Cuba and the U.S. might be.
So I was glad to see a similar hesitancy to draw hard conclusions in this piece by David Gibson, an excellent writer for Religion News Service.
"Of all the many questions that Pope Francis has raised in his brief papacy," David wrote, "perhaps none is as insistent, or as crucial to his legacy, as the debate over whether he represents a real change in the church, or if his pontificate, which has heralded so much promise for so many, is just style over substance."
Gibson then noted two areas -- the death penalty and the environment -- in which Francis may be moving toward "real change in the church," as evidenced by things he said in his U.S. visit. It's an intriguing analysis and I commend it to you.
I also commend to you this understanding, as David describes, of how change happens in the Catholic Church -- and, no doubt, in most of the major world religions:
"But how other doctrines develop is a complex matter; it’s not just about a pope waking up one morning and deciding to switch things up. There must be solid arguments developed over many years, a certain accord with the sense of all the faithful, and the assent of much of the hierarchy as well. Change in the church is about realizing more clearly a truth that already existed."
The pace of such change can be frustrating, of course, but it's a lot easier on our nerves and spirits if we acknowledge the reality of that pace and not drive ourselves crazy trying to move a mountain all at once when, it turns out, the only way to do that is by one spoonful of dirt at a time. And it's much more satisfactory for the Catholic Church if it has a pope who speaks for the church and not just to it.
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PUBLIC MONEY FOR PRAYER?
I see nothing at all wrong with members of Congress getting together on a regular basis to pray for the nation. But I see plenty wrong with the fact that taxpayers' money is being used to support the work of the congressional Prayer Caucus. The story to which I've linked you reports that "the taxpayer-funded congressional Prayer Caucus meets in an ornate room in the U.S. Capitol to defend the role of (mostly) Christian faith and prayer in the U.S. government." You may or may not agree with the group's goal. And if it's a private group not being supported by public funds, it doesn't much matter whether you agree or disagree. But this strikes me as a misuse of taxes and I hope this kind of publicity will lead to an end to public subsidy for this.
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P.S.: Normally my next National Catholic Reporter column would post today. But because editors have been buried in work because of the visit to Cuba and the U.S. of Pope Francis, the column will be delayed one week. My previous NCR columns are here.