Pope Francis caused quite a stir this week when he held an unprecedented 80 minute no-holds bared Q & A session with the press on the papal aircraft. The pope covered a wide range of topics but most of the focus was on his comments about gay and lesbian Catholics. The pope when asked about the alleged "gay lobby" in the Vatican curia answered that he personally doesn't have a problem homosexuality saying, "Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?"
Many took this as indication that the Church was changing their long held position on homosexuality when the pope was just reiterating it but in gentler tones than his predecessors. Not all progressive Catholics are caught up in the excitement surrounding Francis though. Jamie Manson at the National Catholic Reporter, a noted progressive Catholic, is very disappointed in the pope's short reign:
I think he has an authentic warmth. I appreciate his desire to be among the people. I laugh at some of his jokes, and there are themes in his sermons that genuinely move me. I share his desire to break down clericalism and the injustices of capitalism, and I believe wholeheartedly in his vision of ecological justice.
More substantively than even all of this, I share with him a deep passion for the poor and marginalized. Like Francis, I, too, have my most vivid encounters with Jesus among those who are homeless, mentally ill, incarcerated or suffering with addictions.
But Francis and I part ways on the topics of women's equality and the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in the church. The pope's statements on the plane only reinforced the depth of my disagreement with him.
Traditionalists, too, are weary of the new pope not just because of his more off-the-cuff approach but because of his "stripped down approach" to the Mass.
Reports are also coming out that Francis has, in principle, reversed the one major effort of his still-breathing predecessor, which was to give liberty to all priests to say the traditional Latin Mass, which had been practically suppressed after 1970. Benedict’s ideal was that priests should be able to choose between the traditional and the new mass, in hopes that the beauty and dignity of the old might counterbalance the banality of the new. On Monday, it was reported that the Vatican has decreed that one religious order’s priests are now forbidden from saying the Old Mass unless they get explicit permission. The ruling reflects the pope’s style; Francis personally embraces a “strip-the-altars” mode of worship, which, of course, no one asks about. Is the policy restricting the Traditional Mass returning for the rest of the church? Was Benedict wrong?
What does this Catholic think of Francis? It's too soon to judge his papacy but so far I am impressed with his relaxed and carefree candor, it's very likable and refreshing. John Paul II permanently changed one of the unwritten requirements for the papacy: a warm and caring pastoral approach. Pope Benedict, as much as I liked his zest for the pomp and circumstance of the traditional Church, was too old and too scholarly to be the face of the Church in a modern era that demands an almost-showman. Benedict, for as brilliant as he was, never had a shot at filling the shoes of John Paul II but Francis does.