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Milt Hankins: Don't expect new direction from new pope

Mar. 22, 2013 @ 12:06 AM

Some say "Yea!" and some say "Nay!" to the new pope -- Francis I of Argentina.

I was never an official Vatican observer, as is one of our local columnists. But I can reflect, from a strong theological and church history perspective, on what may or may not be the results of what, at first glance, could spell new directions for the Catholic Church.

Permit me to say, don't count on it.

As a spoiler alert, I will add, you may not need to read further than that comment.

Francis I is first, foremost and consistently a Jesuit. Jesuits are known for their sense of humility and compassion, their vows of poverty and their commitment to education.

Jesuits are highly-respected for their nominal obligation to peace and justice (for the poor).

But Jesuits are especially known for their recalcitrance when it comes to change -- and particularly to change in the moral, doctrinal and social order.

Francis I will make no changes in the traditional roles, or lack thereof, for women in the church.

He will not allow priests to marry. He will not recognize the basic civil rights of gays. He will not make momentous pronouncements that change the existing organization within the hierarchy of the Catholic order.

Frankly, the new pope is immediately confronted with major problems within the infrastructure of the Catholic hierarchy at the Vatican.

He faces a deliberate, entrenched and strong opposition to any degree of progressivism within the church, and he has neither the power nor the support to make much needed changes.

Perhaps, he does not even have the energy, at his age, to attempt sweeping or radical reforms. His energy will likely be sapped by behind-the-scenes dealing with the sexual scandals which have plagued the church in Europe and the United States.

These scandals are the proverbial white elephant in the church which goes not unnoticed, but insofar as possible, ignored.

Women will continue to be second-class citizens in the hierarchy; pedophile priests will be gently told, behind closed doors, to tone it down -- and will be shifted around -- and marriage will continue to be as it has been for the last two centuries in the Catholic Church, a sacrament whose thinly veiled purpose is to facilitate the growth and ongoing indoctrination of the congregation.

What might change? Style -- but almost nothing else.

Francis I was not elevated to the papal throne for purposes of change or new directions.

He was elected to give a softer image to the papacy than his stern predecessor evinced, to ensure the status quo, and to pay homage to that part of the world where Catholicism is strongest.

The College of Cardinals had the opportunity to select a younger and more progressive man who might have brought the church into the 21st century. They did not do so.

So, my Catholic friends, lower your expectations and flow along with the tide.

I could be wrong, but, in all good faith, I suspect I'm not. We must all wait and see.

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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