New Pope But Same Old Church!

The Roman Catholic Church is the elder statesman of all Christian churches. Prior to the “church of Rome,” as it is sometimes referred to as, there was the Church of Turkey. Early Christendom was kept alive there before moving to Greece and then to Rome. Like every family, there were differences in beliefs even in those early days. The Eastern rite churches, Greek and Russian among others, broke from the newly formed Holy Roman Church with its Pope.

In those days, priests of either rite married and had children. In 1139 the Roman church decided celibacy was a more proper route for its priests. This position was reaffirmed by the “Council of Trent” in 1563. But by 1563 the Roman Catholic church was under fire. It had for centuries maintained its own army and fought wars, mostly within the Italian provinces but also with Spain and France. And the power of the Pope had at least twice been challenged, first by King Henry VIII and then by one of its own bishops, Martin Luther. Each in turn formed new Christian churches, Henry the Church of England, and Luther the Lutherans. The Roman Catholic Church dug in its heels proclaiming the infallibility of the Pope and by extension, his decisions. The infallibility remains and is referred to as “ex cathedra.” This means whatever pronouncements the Pope makes takes on the power of church law. Popes have been extraordinarily careful in their pronouncements.

In 1965, during the 2nd Vatican Council, several changes were made by Pope Pius XII and his successor, Pope Paul VI. No longer would the mass be given in Latin but in the native language of the attendees of the mass. Other lesser changes were also made but people looked at this as a new beginning for the church. Unfortunately, and predictably, that was a far as any pope wanted to go. The College of Cardinals, those in charge of electing a pope, has stayed very conservative in its general beliefs and ensured those beliefs would remain by electing very conservative popes. Cardinals elect popes and popes raise bishops to the rank of cardinal. It is a very self-serving process that insures a continued conservative control. As an aside, by Catholic law, any Catholic man can be elected pope, he need not be an ordained priest but that has not happened since the earliest of days.

We now have the relatively new Pope Francis. He is the first pope elected who was not born in Europe and because of that many of the faithful thought, hoped, this signaled a new order. Francis is viewed as being a pope of the people. That is, his closeness to the poor of Argentina, where he was a cardinal, allowed him to be viewed as something other than the regal previous popes. But in truth, that is mostly hype rather than reality.

Pope Francis has reached out to gay and divorced Catholics, inviting them to return to the church. It was hoped that he would speak ex cathedra and at the very least embrace gay love as equal to any other but he has not. It was hoped that he would do away with the prohibition of divorced Catholics who have remarried from receiving communion, but he has not. I asked a priest why I, a divorced and remarried Catholic, would want to attend church services and not receive communion. A politic man, he had not good answer and side-stepped the question. I do not blame him, he is, after all, answerable to the Pope.

The Roman Catholic mass, and I believe Episcopalian and Lutheran services as well, are centered around the reception of holy communion. What is going on is like having a cake and ice cream party and inviting people to join in on all the festivities but not the cake and ice cream. It is pure silliness.

The Roman Catholic church is stuck in the 16th Century and staunchly refuses to move forward. Most church laws are founded on Biblical teachings. In the 16th Century, when most people could not read and were extremely poorly educated, that worked. But the intervening 500 years have seen the education of most Catholics far beyond just the ability to read. Educated Catholics have learned to think for themselves and that does not sit well with Roman Catholic leadership.

Even 500 years ago, however, certain beliefs of the Catholic church were challenged by enlightened men, Copernicus, Galileo, and Michelangelo. The Popes of those days could not imagine that the earth was not the center of the universe and declared heresy any who said otherwise.

Today, scholars are at odds over not just the meaning contained within the four gospels of the Bible, but their validity. You see, each of the four gospels, it is known, is an almalgem of early writings with unknown, or at best, questionable authors. And those are just the four accepted gospels. In truth, there are dozens of gospels. There are the gospels of Matthias, Mary, Thomas, Truth, Judas, Peter, and Phillip, to name a few. Many of these gospels are fragmentary at best and of debatable origin. Still, this shows the difficulty in determining the authenticity of what is written. I mention this because the four accepted gospels are referred to as the word of God when in fact they are the words of men. I am not trying to demean the gospels but simply put some perspective on them. I believe the most honest depiction of the gospels would be to refer to them as being divinely inspired.

The New Testament Bible we have today was translated from the ancient Greek. Theologians are wont to explain the construction of each. The four seldom are in complete agreement about any particular event and sometimes are in obvious disagreement. Therefore, to base an entire large religion on these texts is of questionable decision. One of the places all four gospels are in total agreement is where Jesus teaches that prime of following him is faith, not just in belief but in works. He taught basics of humility, kindness, honesty, empathy, suffrage, and acceptance as being more important than position, money and even man-made law. The Catholic Church, however, has chosen to not follow all of His beliefs. Jesus accepted all who came but the Roman Catholic church picks and choses who it will accept. How is that following the most basic teachings of Jesus? I suggest it is contrary.

The Roman Catholic Church has things backwards. It tells its membership to do what it wants rather than serving them as it should. That is, the church says, “here, come do this for your church!” Instead, it should be saying, “how can we better serve you?” The reason is does not and cannot ask that last question is because it would be required to allow priests to marry, women to become priests, gays to marry, and remarried Catholics full participation in the mass. These conservative old men, who Francis leads, simply cannot imagine such a situation becoming a reality. But it is a reality they need to embrace or they will be burying the very church they claim to defend. The percentage of participation by those born into the Roman Catholic church is falling world-wide and will continue unless changes are made.