From the moment Pope Francis first appeared on the balcony in St. Peter's Basilica, it was immediately evident this is a pope cut from a different cassock. Looking a bit uncomfortable before a sea of admiring (dare I say worshiping) faces, Pope Francis displayed his now well known humility. This is a pope for the people, a pope who foregos the limousine for the bus, walks to nearby churches to greet his flock, rides in an open jeep, kisses the disabled, and blesses guide dogs. A Jesuit, Pope Francis is a man of simplicity. Indeed, you won't see Prada shoes or personalized cologne on this pope, but you won't see Catholic doctrine change very much either.
News anchors have referred to Pope Francis as the “reformer”, the pontiff who will bring much needed change to the Catholic Church...just what disillusioned Catholics hoped to hear...but those who rely on television coverage to get to know this pope are doing the man a great disservice. Current media frenzy grants only a superficial peek into the character of the man now guiding the Holy Sea, and Catholics must be wary not to raise the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio onto too high a pedestal lest he disappoint.
Don't get me wrong. I like Pope Francis. I have long criticized the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church (including but not limited to its calling the pope's installation on March 19th an inauguration) and welcome a pontiff who rejects the frills and luxuries that have historically created a distant, somewhat elitist office. In the past, the pope, in his gilded palace, has been viewed as far removed from the people he serves, and if Pope Francis wants to descend from the ivory tower to be among his church, I'm all for it. However, I do not expect Pope Francis, despite his humility and dignified charisma, to make any significant inroads in the Catholic Church going forward.
As the media presents Pope Francis' message of change and hope for a new attitude within the church, many misunderstand. Francis seeks to alter, fix, if you will, the image of the church as a rich, holier-than-thou entity, and restore its dedication to the “least of these”. He seeks to pump humility back into its ranks, refocus its attention onto the poor and the poor in spirit, to live simply and thus revive the Beatitudes by example. He will not accept abortion, homosexuality, condone gay couples adopting (which he has called child abuse), or ordain women. This is a man with orthodox beliefs deeply steeped in Catholic tradition. Pope Francis may succeed in luring lapsed Catholics into taking a second look at the Catholic Church, but if he does not make significant changes (including practicing a no-tolerance attitude toward pedophile priests), I doubt he can keep them there. A facebook comment posted yesterday aptly illustrates the attitude of many critics of the Catholic Church and its new pope: “Until he (Pope Francis) changes the Catholic stance on homosexuality and women's reproductive rights, I don't want to hear about this or any pope. That is all.” Pope Francis has his work cut out for him.
While changes to Catholic doctrine in the near future are doubtful, progress sometimes takes baby-steps. Instead of lifting Pope Francis onto a pedestal of unrealistic perfection, let's remember his humanity, lower our expectations, and grant him time to transform the Catholic Church from within, to burst its elitist bubble, and create a church for the people. Without that, no significant change will ever come to the Catholic Church.