Rock star

Despite all the liberal hype, Pope Francis has changed little in conservative Catholic doctrine

Pope Francis

Pope Francis


Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Two hundred seventy bishops from 120 countries issued a disheartening report after a recent three-week Vatican synod discussing family matters for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, called the document “deeply disappointing,” one that blocked “civil and moral equality for our community.” That community: an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

A Vatican official, fired recently after admitting publicly that he was gay and in a relationship, sent an angry letter to Pope Francis. The official, the Rev. Krzysztof Charamsa, wrote that Francis was making the lives of gay and transgender people a hell. He added that the church is persecuting gay Catholics, causing them and their families immeasurable suffering.

Many conservative bishops at the synod called those who remarry without getting an annulment, adulterers living in sin. They said the church cannot change its doctrine that marriage is indissoluble. But some bishops called that “insensitive, even cruel, because it refuses to take personal circumstances into account.”

No wonder the New York Times called it “the most contentious and momentous meeting of bishops in the 50 years since Vatican II.”

The synod exposed deep fault lines between traditionalists wanting to shore up doctrines and those who want the church to be more open to Catholics who are divorced, gay and single parents.

Pope Francis, papal rock star, has won worldwide praise for being a nice guy. But that is hardly praiseworthy. The sad truth is that the pope has changed none of the musty doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis made a temporary absolution for Catholics “who bear in their heart the scar” of abortion and repent during the upcoming Jubilee or Holy Year.

Katie Klabusich in a Truthout news analysis countered that 95 percent of Catholics who have had abortions have neither struggled over nor regretted their abortions. It is not the “existential or moral ordeal” characterized by the pope.

“I grew up Catholic and attended a Jesuit university,” said Erin Matson, co-director of the reproductive justice organization, ReproAction.

“The official teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality, including but not limited to abortion, harm people around the world,” he pointed out. “The views of the Vatican are deeply out of step with the views of Catholics. Women who have had abortions have done nothing wrong. They have nothing to apologize for. Pope Francis is not changing any doctrine on abortion.”

The Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, is blunt: Francis starts off with compassion “but quickly turns to more shame for women.”

“Women have abortions for many reasons,” he noted. “What a woman really needs from her clergy is someone ready and able to have deep pastoral conversations about the decision.”

One in three Catholic women have had one or more abortions. Catholic women oppose criminalizing abortion by a margin of 2-1. This is the reality of Catholic women’s lives, not some obsolete papal decree.

The church is adamantly against birth control yet most Catholics use it, forced to be grossly hypocritical about their faith. Moreover, Garry Wills, Catholic writer, ridicules the idea that using a contraceptive is “a mortal sin for which Catholics would go to hell if they died unrepentant.”

Still more reactionaryism: The church is woefully short of priests but will not allow women into the priesthood. It deems women unequal to men. Sister Louise Akers, head of the Sisters of Charity, rightly calls the Catholic Church “the last bastion of sexism.”

And still more backwardness: the church insists that priests be celibate. Celibacy is unnatural. At least some priestly pedophilia can probably be attributed to celibacy. The church doesn’t allow divorced Catholics to take communion. It should. Communion is central to Catholicism.

And still more backward doctrines: The church prohibits the use of condoms even to prevent AIDS—a clear example of head-in-the-sand dogma. The church opposes premarital sex, a view contrary to human nature, and therefore practiced by most Catholics.

And still more dithering: The streamlined annulment procedure recently unveiled by the pope supposedly simplifies the arduous gauntlet of red tape. A worthwhile outcome is dubious.

Annulment proceedings can take a year or more and cost upwards of $1,000 in “bribes” to annulling bishops. Francis asks that annulments be granted free. Asking is not promulgating.

The church needs genuine reform, not cosmetics and pretty talk.

Pope Francis recently canonized Junipero Serra, founder of Spanish missions in California. He called Serra “a friend of humanity.” Keener judgment would call him unworthy of sainthood.

Pope John Paul II, during his first U.S. visit in 1979, at Yankee Stadium, New York City


The mission’s main purpose was to convert the “heathen” Indians to Catholicism. Indigenous Americans rightly denounce Serra for trying to destroy their culture.

His missionaries sought to convert Indians to Christianity. Serra required Indians to learn Spanish. He advocated using whips to lash those who spoke the native language and followed native culture. Indians were forced to labor under brutal and sometimes fatal conditions.

Sainthood should not be bestowed on someone who forces conversion at the end of a whip.

Panel praises pope

Pope Francis in his homilies, press conferences, interviews and offhand remarks to visitors has impressed observers worldwide by his humility, friendliness and earthiness.

Typical comments by all-faiths panelists published recently in the Reno Gazette-Journal: “a witness to the world”; “a visible role model”; “an inspiration”; “fountain of grace”; “uplifts the very soul”; “lover of all mankind”; “a Christ-like pope.”

Such extensive praise disturbs Harvey Cox, a Harvard divinity professor. He fears a “cult of personality,” making the pope less effective.

Kenneth Lucey, philosophy and religion professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, was the only RGJ panelist who dissented from the adulation. He rightly urged the ordination of women. But Lucey should have gone farther, urging Francis to abolish the dogmas against abortion, birth control, homosexuality, gay marriage, divorce, transgenders and married priests.

Oh, the pope utters fine Biblical lines like “judge not that ye be not judged.” But he refuses to go to the root of the problem for most worldwide Catholics.

Until he approves those essential changes, Francis remains mired in the past. All the encomiums heaped on him by leaders of all religious faiths will not hide the bleaker truths.

The headline over comments by the faith panelists proclaimed, “Can Pope Francis change the world?” That is a terrible cliché as well as being terribly untrue. Lucey conceded in his panel segment that the pope “could change the world by altering the rules of the church.” But making Catholic women priests will hardly “change the world.” Nor will married Catholic priests.

As for the pope’s marvelous appeal for social justice and rightful denunciation of the “tyranny of capitalism,” its “trickle-down theory,” its “free market” and his rightful urging of climate control, those are matters that he can do nothing about.

Conservative editors of Time proclaimed Francis “person of the year” for 2013. Citations by magazine editors: “The People’s Pope … He prays constantly, even when while waiting for the dentist … He has retired the papal Mercedes for a scuffed-up Ford Focus … No red shoes, no gilded cross … General aura of merriment not usually associated with princes of the church.”

The men and women of the year should do greater things than just being popular.

Sainthood and bad popes

The Catholic Church and the saint business can be unholy. Bad popes are often canonized for no other reason than that they have been pontiffs. Such is the case of the recent bestowal of sainthood on a bad pope: John Paul II.

Maureen Dowd, columnist for the New York Times, is a Catholic yet rough on the Vatican and popes like John Paul. She wrote a recent column bluntly headlined: “A saint he ain’t.” She tells why:

• John Paul presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of the gruesome pedophilia scandal.

• Another cloud over his papacy was “the shame of giving sanctuary to Cardinal Bernard Law, a horrendous enabler of child abuse, who resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston.”

• An unforgivable papal breach was his “stubborn defense of the dastardly Mexican priest, Marcial Maciel Degollado, a pedophile, womanizer, embezzler and drug addict. He ran his order, the Legionaries of Christ, like an ATM and a cult for himself and the Vatican for 65 years.” He was probably the worst sexual predator in Catholic history.

• The church is giving its biggest honor to the man “who could have fixed the spreading stain and did nothing. It is wounding and ugly when the church signals to those thousands of betrayed and damaged victims that they are a mere fading asterisk.”

But, alas, Ms. Dowd tells only half of John Paul’s misdeeds. Michael Gallagher, Truthout columnist, tells the other half. He writes:

• “John Paul, in his eagerness to gain America’s material support in liberating his native Poland, had no qualms about selling Latin America down the river.”

• He condemned Liberation Theology, acclaimed by Latin American bishops, for its key tenet: “the preferential option for the poor.” Latin American Catholics, using the teachings of Jesus, wanted to liberate the poor from unjust economic, political and social conditions. It was nothing less than “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering and struggle.” Nevertheless, John Paul dismissed Liberation Theology as Marxist-inspired. (There is more Marx in Jesus than Christians admit.)

• John Paul made one of his favorites, the pedophile monk Hans Groër, archbishop of Vienna.

Dorothy Day


• After John Paul’s long-delayed response to pedophilia, he wallowed in self-pity (“that this should fall upon me in my old age”).

• He refused to attend the funeral of the martyred Archbishop Romero in 1980, “giving the green light to the murderous Salvadoran junta eager to get rid of pious meddlers.” The situation has echoes of the murder in Canterbury Cathedral of Archbishop Becket in 1170 by four knights in the entourage of King Henry II. The king is said to have asked: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” The knights did. The Salvadoran junta in 1980 sent a death squad to rape and kill two Maryknoll nuns and an American missionary in El Salvador. In 1981 the junta dispatched an elite military unit, trained at Ft. Benning, Georgia, to murder six Jesuits on the faculty of the Central American University at San Salvador, El Salvador.

• The papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pio Laghi, with John Paul’s approval, “functioned as President Reagan’s go-between with the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua whose favorite victims were doctors, nurses, literacy workers and campesino coffee workers.”

After devastating a bad pope and horrible saint, columnist Dowd extols a good pope worthy of sainthood: John XXIII.

The saintly John XXIII convened the historic Vatican II, aggiornamento, “a bringing up to date,” an open window on the Catholic Church. He embraced Jews and opened a conversation on birth control.

John XXIII, the good, was made a saint the same day as John Paul, the bad. It was one more example of cynical Vatican machinations, a subterfuge unworthy of Pope Francis.

Opulence is out

The simplicity of Pope Francis has been an object lesson to all Catholics: He lives in modest Vatican quarters. Yet the Archbishop of Atlanta, Wilton Gregory, planned to build a luxurious $2.2 million mansion until a backlash of his parishioners made him drop the plan.

Archbishop Gregory lamely rationalized that “the world has changed.” Perhaps he never heard of the modest living style of his pope. But surely he has read the Gospels. Matthew 6:24 reads: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Pope Francis declared before Congress on Sept. 26: “In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement.”

Unfortunately, he did not say that Day deserves to be a Catholic saint.

He did not mention that she also co-founded the Catholic Worker with Peter Maurin in 1933, the best “unknown” newspaper in America. It is still published today.

The eight-page monthly is packed with progressive articles that match the leading leftist magazines in the country, the Nation and the Progressive. What’s particularly amazing is that the Worker carries the banner of the conservative Catholic Church.

Day is far more worthy of being a saint than the many nonentities who have been canonized. Some people object that she was a heretic and an unmarried mother who had an abortion. None of those objections matter.

Her record for sainthood is clear:

• She wrote a biography of her favorite saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Day called her ’the people’s saint.’”

• In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, published in 1952, she spoke of concern for the unfortunate, her fight for women’s suffrage, socialism, the Industrial Workers of the World and becoming a Catholic.

• Day was a Christian through and through. In the Worker for November of 1936, she wrote: “Christ did not need pomp and circumstance to prove Himself the Son of God. … If Our Lord were alive today, he would say, as He said to St. Peter, ’Put up thy sword’ … Prince of Peace, Christ our King, Christ our brother and Christ the Son of Man.”

Day started and led a lay movement that operated without authorization of the Catholic Church. The Worker took and still takes positions far ahead of the Vatican, most newspapers and television. She prophetically anticipated themes of Vatican II: ecumenism, liturgical renewal, religious freedom, the right of conscience and opposition to racism and anti-Semitism.

She denounced war. She was jailed for protesting Civil Defense drills. She called preparation for nuclear war blasphemy.

As a teenager, she was an avid reader of such writers as Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Darwin, Aldous Huxley, Kropotkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Gorky. So it is no surprise that in the Worker of May 1951, Day wrote that Marx, Lenin and Mao Tse-tung were animated by brotherhood.

In 1917, she was arrested for picketing the White House on behalf of women’s suffrage. She backed the suffragette Silent Sentinels organized by Alice Paul. The cost: 15 days in jail, 10 of them on a hunger strike.

As a journalist in 1933, Day covered the Hunger March of the Unemployed Councils for Commonweal magazine and the Farmers’ Conference for America magazine in Washington, D.C. Above all, she fought for the poor, for justice and for humanity.

As a teenager she was an avid reader of such writers as Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Darwin, Aldous Huxley, Kropotkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Gorky.

Dorothy Day should clearly be made a saint. It remains to be seen if the rock star pope has the stones to enable her canonization.