Where Will Pope Francis Lead the Church?

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Last week I shared my initial reflections about the election of Pope Francis.  In the past week, we have all had a chance to learn about this new leader, to see him in action and to listen to his words.  His Inauguration Mass, for example, provided graphic evidence of his ability to relate to all people and his commitment to a more simple and open style.

His homily at that Mass was replete with inspirational phrases capturing his clear focus on serving the needs of the poor, the less able and the environment.  He framed his ministry and our calling as one of being a “protector” in the model of St. Joseph, on whose feast day this special Mass was celebrated. He challenged all of us to be “protectors of God’s gifts.”  He encouraged us “not to be afraid of goodness, of tenderness.”  He called us to create “a horizon of hope.”

But in the coming weeks and months, we will move from rhetoric and symbol to the reality of Pope Francis’ leadership for the Church. And a Pew Research Center study released on the eve of his Inauguration Mass provided a sense of expectation, at least in the United States.

The study is based on a survey of over 1500 respondents from every state who were contacted by landline or cell phone between March 13th-17th.  The study reflects the actual responses from 325 Catholics.  While an overwhelming percentage (73%) were happy with the selection of Pope Francis (only 2% were unhappy with the rest unsure), they have a clear agenda for the future.

This study reflects the following priorities for Pope Francis:

-       Addressing the Abuse Scandal (70%)

-       Standing Up for Traditional Moral Values (49%)

-       Spreading Catholic Faith (39%)

-       Addressing the Priest Shortage (36%)

-       Reforming the Vatican Bureaucracy (35%)

But what this study also reveals is the increasing percentage of Catholics in the United States who favor a change in many of the Church’s “teachings and policies.”  For example, 76% believe the Church should permit birth control; 64% believe that priests should be allowed to marry; and 59% believe that women should be allowed to become priests.  Significantly fewer respondents thought any of these “teachings and policies” would, in fact, change in the foreseeable future.

What we know about Pope Francis is that his views are very traditional.  It will be interesting to watch how he balances his clear fidelity to the teachings of the Church with his apparent ability to inspire people to faith, prayer and service.  For now, we all look forward to a “horizon of hope.”

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Friday, 18 April 2014