Francis is … the only pope of the modern era who has previously lived and worked among slum dwellers and ministered to a populace that had suffered decades of poverty and violence. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires (1998-2013), he moved out of the episcopal palace to live in a small flat where he cooked for himself, and travelled by bus rather than chauffeur-driven limo.
On Saturday nights in his latter years as Archbishop, he routinely went to the seamiest, most poverty-stricken depths of the city’s red-light district, dressed simply as a priest. Sitting on a street bench he talked with prostitutes, listening to their problems and offering spiritual comfort. ….
Successive popes have preached the grave sinfulness of contraception, sex before marriage, divorce and remarriage, the “disorder” of homosexuality. But the faithful for several decades now have shown their rejection of these teachings by lapsing in their millions, or by continuing to practise their faith while repudiating the doctrines. ….
The fate of Catholic confession under Francis’s papacy will be a crucial factor in addressing what the split between teaching and practice will be. Francis, along with many bishops, is striving to tempt the faithful back to the sacrament of confession, now known as “reconciliation”. ….
If Francis is to bring back the untold millions of marginalised Catholics, he may need to … concede that Church teaching on sexual matters is more of an ideal than an absolute condition of remaining in good standing with the Church. In an interview with a Jesuit magazine last September he declared that there had been too much focus on sexual sins to the detriment of more important social sins. ….
Today many Roman Catholics are looking to Francis for a new era of compassion for human “irregularities”. If their hopes are met, the Catholic Church could even enjoy a renaissance, a mass return of those who have until now let their faith lapse.
John Cornwell, “Pope Francis’s papacy one year on“, Financial Times, 8 March 2014.
There is much more in the full column, including a brief history of confession, which, I learned, was introduced in 1215. “The sacrament,” writes Cornwell, “has enjoyed three historic periods of enthusiasm in the past 800 years, each ending with perceived or real abuse of the practice.”
John Cornwell (born 1940) is an English journalist and author. He has written numerous books on the papacy, including Hitler’s Pope (Viking Press, 1999) and, most recently, The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Basic Books, 2014).