So much commentary about Pope Francis seems to come from non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics, I thought it might do some good to hear from a practicing Catholic.
That's so we can dispense with some of the nonsense that we've been hearing about what the Catholic Church is and should be. After absorbing the commentary for the past week, I dare say the general feeling is Francis can be forgiven his widely acknowledged conservatism on matters of church teachings, faith and morals because he cares about the poor.
As if conservative religious beliefs and caring about the poor are mutually exclusive terms.
It's a shame this slander requires a response, or that it's necessary to point out that the church — for about two millenniums — has been concerned about the poor, voiceless, persecuted, homeless, deprived, uneducated and a long list of other suffering and injured people. Not just concerned, but actually doing something about them. We all can do more, but some who call for more from the church in this regard betray an astonishing level of ignorance or malevolence. Or both.
If only the church cared as much about unwanted children as it does about children in the womb, goes one threadbare criticism. That, despite the church's deep commitment toward caring for women and their unplanned or unwanted children. If anything sticks in the craw of the abortion industry, it's the number of church-affiliated crisis pregnancy centers that offer women a real choice and provide services for them and the children they decide to carry to term.
It's one of the great ironies that the most rabid church critics can, on one hand, blast the church for not caring enough for unwanted children, yet crab about crisis pregnancy centers allegedly trying to deny women the right to end their pregnancies. The abortion industry years ago even went so far as to demand that the Yellow Pages ban crisis pregnancy centers from advertising under the heading "abortion alternatives" because it would "confuse" women.
Maybe Pope Francis will get the church to do more for health care, some say. Please pardon my unecclesiastical response: What crap. Can anyone name a not-for-profit organization that provides an equally broad network of hospitals, clinics and other health care services for the poor?
Well, the response comes, the American Catholic bishops opposed Obamacare. No, not exactly. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reflecting the church's teachings on social justice, has been one of the strongest voices for access to health care as a fundamental human right from conception to death. It was only when the Obama administration decided to force a confrontation, requiring the church to choose between violating its faith or crippling its health care network, that the bishops conference withdrew its support of the specific legislation known as Obamacare.
The Obama administration's hypocrisy in this matter is more than breathtaking: It is willing to strangle the church's real contribution to quality health care for the sake of making the church, directly or indirectly, subsidize certain kinds of abortion and free contraception.
Pope Francis will indeed open the window to a breath of fresh air in church, as it was said of Pope John XXIII decades ago. Say goodbye to the over-the-top ostentatiousness of some hierarchy and clergy that has troubled many Catholics. Pray that Francis can cleanse the church of the last vestiges of the child sex-abuse scandal and that he will clean up the alleged hinky financial dealings. Expect a crackdown on the curia — the church's own version of a bloated government bureaucracy. And I'll bet Francis will bring more women — religious and lay — into the higher ranks of the church.
But the church's critics — inside and out — might as well get used to some things not changing — opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, artificial contraception and, as much as I would like to see it, married and women priests. I'd be glad to engage my religious friends on those issues, but that's for another day. Disagreement over such things need not destroy my faith. And it shouldn't allow the church's critics to define it as a medieval, abusive organization, obsessed with sex.
Pope Francis or no, the church will remain both a human and a divine organization, hamstrung by human frailties but capable of great deeds.
This column appeared in the Chicago Tribune.