So the various early stories about Pope Francis are coming up short on truthiness. No matter. I think what we are seeing is a groupthink of Catholics and a few others who have plugged into the Hope. I have to count myself among them. Face it: we want the Church to succeed. And we don’t think the path involves ermine, six candlesticks, bureaucracy, and doubletalk. We want symbolic leadership. Real symbols that speak to something deeper than what we’ve seen in and from Rome the last decade or two.
Many Catholics are dismayed over this. They identified and attached to Pope Benedict and they identified and attached to the symbols associated with him. And, of course, his words. They became slogans: the dictatorship of relativism, continuity in reform. They provided a cautious optimism about a Church navigating the rough waters of a 21st century world.
But other Catholics had very valid questions. Why does the pope reach out to Holocaust-denying schismatics and not to my divorced-and-remarried family members? Why do bishops harp on lay people about a loss of a sense of sin and yet totally blunder about when managing sex predators? Why do Catholic populations of whole nations go into meltdown over the sins of bishops? Why do bishops get fired under mysterious and not-so mysterious circumstances, while convicted criminals stay on the cathedra? Why the witchhunts on women religious?
It’s no wonder many of the faithful have been thirsting for some sign of real leadership from the top. And if stories get made up to push the matter along, it’s a mild surprise to me. But no shock.
I can accept that Pope Benedict did the best he could, with the tools he had, in the time he was given. Looking back to 2005, I know I wanted him to succeed. But I think his ministry as Bishop of Rome has been an interlude. The ship didn’t sink or blow up or run aground. Maybe the winds have tossed us much. Maybe we heard some scraping on the bottom in Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and a few other places. But the Church isn’t a Big Problem that needs fixing. Just some pieces.
Now is the time to be setting sail for the big ocean and casting into the deep. Now is the time for courage. And checking stories. And looking for the real story that inspires.