The Francis Effect?


The year began with an unprovoked attack on a US military base. It shattered a truce that had been brokered by Pope Paul VI. At the end of that January, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, ushering in the beginning of the end of American hopes for a victory in Southeast Asia. 1968 was the height of the war for America. We had over half a million troops there with more than 16,000 killed in action. It was also our most expensive year in terms of the money we spent on the war. We were in it up to our necks and the American people were watching it on the television news every night. The protest movement took hold and the long goodbye began. Some people say that our country has never been the same since.

In the decades between 1968 and 2015, a lot of scholarly analysis has looked deeply into the Vietnam era. This is not that kind of analysis. This is a middle-aged woman looking back to a confusing and fearful time. I was growing up in a country that felt as if it had lost its way. We had divided ourselves into opposing camps. We screamed slogans at one another, but we had forgotten how to listen. Our leaders weren’t statesmen as much as media figures who spent their energies blasting their opposition. And every night we watched the film from the front lines and hoped we wouldn’t see someone we recognized being lifted onto a stretcher. All these years later, we’re still dealing with the consequences of those pivotal years.

As a Catholic in America it feels a bit like 1968 again. We aren’t at war exactly, but we seem to be floundering. My Church is under the pastoral leadership of a new Pope. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Pope Francis is in the media a lot these days. Everything he says tends to become a headline. He says he’s going to reform the Vatican bureaucracy and vows that the Church will be more focused on serving the poor. Yet some of the issues he speaks about in public have confused many Catholics, me included. Pope Francis has given some “conservative” Churchmen new assignments and has promoted others viewed as “liberal” He wants the Church to have an open discussion on same-sex relationships, extramarital sex, and divorced and remarried Catholics. It makes it seem like he wants to change what the Church has taught for centuries. That’s where the “floundering” comes into play.

All this “busyness” and calls for discussing the practices of our faith has prompted some rumblings in the pews. It can be unsettling when something you care deeply about is undergoing change. It’s even more disturbing when you hear our leaders comparing the Church to a “ship without a rudder”(Cardinal Raymond Burke, 10/21/14).Sometimes it feels like we don’t have a clear direction. Sometimes it feels like 1968.

But the Church isn’t a country in wartime. Nor is she led by a President and a Congress. The Church is the Bride of Christ and is led by the Holy Spirit. We aren’t a democracy. Public opinion polls have no place in our faith. When you think your country is headed down the wrong path, you vote in new leadership. When you are in the Church that Christ founded on St. Peter, you pray for the Pope and our bishops and priests. You do your homework by investigating Church teaching and you don’t take every headline at face value. You go to Mass and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. You trust that God is in control and will never allow His Church to teach or support error. You believe His words to the Apostles: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). You know that fears and division are sown by the enemy and have no place among us. We cling to the Cross and we pray for one another. God has a great plan for His Church and each one of us has a part to play in it.

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song.”
—-Pope St. John Paul II


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
    Jan 04, 2015 @ 22:29:25

    Judy, I read your blog always, but am not much of a commenter. However, I am compelled to say something today. Please know that I speak in a spirit of charity and with full knowledge that we both share the same passionate love of Christ and His Church.

    You write: ” Pope Francis has given some “conservative” Churchmen new assignments and has promoted others viewed as “liberal” He wants the Church to have an open discussion on same-sex relationships, extramarital sex, and divorced and remarried Catholics. It makes it seem like he wants to change what the Church has taught for centuries. That’s where the “floundering” comes into play.”

    One example that comes to mind is that he gave one of the most important jobs in the Vatican to Cardinal George Pell of Australia; arguably one of the most conservative voices in the entire church. Another thing that I think of is the appointment of Bishop Samuel Matano to Rochester; again, a more conservative man to a place thought of as far too liberal by many. We have a new bishop here; he is neither conservative or liberal as far as I can tell – he is simply an astounding Catholic and deeply so.

    And what “liberals” got promoted? I don’t even know what that means!

    My fear of these labels – which I use with discomfort – is that they are divisive. I always say, let’s start we are all are together in the Eucharist. We are Catholic. It is a big, big church, room for many – room for all.

    And where on earth has he said anything about open discussion about same-sex relationships, extramarital sex? Good sweet Lord, have I missed something? I hope that you do not rely on the media alone to parse out what happened at the Synod! I have no illusions that anything will come of same-sex unions in the church any time soon – if ever. And extramarital sex? Where did that come from? You lost me there.

    As far as the pastoral reality of divorced and remarried Catholics, I can tell you from my experience as a church worker the great challenge of many situations, many misunderstandings on what the teaching actually is. I’m not sure that anything will change, but if we can’t talk about it, then we are in bad shape.

    So your point about him wanting to change what the church as taught for centuries is not accurate according to anything that he has actually said or done. As far as him dressing down the Curia, well perhaps that was overdue.

    If you are floundering, all I can say is this – I will certainly pay for you. And I do hope that you do not take this comment as antagonistic. I fear that it might sound that way, but it is not the case at all. Please know the sincerity of my prayer and charity, along with the belief that you love the church very, very much, and serve her in faith always.


    • tiberjudy
      Jan 04, 2015 @ 22:50:50

      Abp. Cupich in Chicago is one example of a “liberal” who got a promotion. I uses quotes around liberal/conservative for a purpose since, like you, I don’t like those labels nor do I find them descriptive of much. But I write my blog for a secular newspaper so labels are a shorthand.

      The comments I receive from people in the pews do reveal what they perceive to be changes in what we as Catholics have been taught regarding gay persons (who am I to judge?) and the Holy Father’s desire to discuss divorced and remarried communion issues at the upcoming family summit. I think he has done himself damage by his openness with the press. But that’s just a personality difference from other Popes I think.

      As all this is playing out in real time, we have to read every day to keep up with what might be on his agenda for the Church over his papacy. Climate change is evidently next on the list.

      I don’t believe the Church lacks the guidance or inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But changes in focus and priorities reveal each Pope’s personal gifts and limitations. I think Pope Francis could use a better PR department. Maybe they’ll tap you for the job!

      Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments. We’re in the big tent together.

      God bless.


      • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
        Jan 05, 2015 @ 00:10:34

        I’m not sure my reply went through…

        What I said (hopefully NOT repeating myself! 🙂 ) was to thank you for your words, which warm my heart. I am reminded that it is God who is in charge, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who bind us together in unity.

        Be assured of my prayers, I wish you every blessing. Keep up your impressive blogging; your faith is such a testament.

        PS – I’m not sure I’d be the best PR person for THAT job! 🙂

      • tiberjudy
        Jan 05, 2015 @ 00:13:12

        Thank you, too. We are bound together through the grace and love of our Lord and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Our Church nourishes us along the way. I covet your prayers and friendship and appreciate your work for the Kingdom. Thank you again, my friend.

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