Pope Francis: Will the Church Join the 21st Century on Social Issues?

Pope Francis
Pope Francis’ mission to modernize and reform the Roman Catholic Church may have been dealt a blow on Saturday, after proposals for wider acknowledgment and acceptance of the LGBT community and remarried Catholics, who have been divorced, were water downed in the final revised document on the Church’s stance regarding families. This setback raises the central question of this article: Will Pope Francis manage to convince the Catholic Church to join the 21st Century on social issues?

The document, which was published on Saturday, October 18 near the end of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, confirmed that the pontiff’s reform efforts are forging ahead but will not hand him easy victories as the conservative elements of the Church continue to resist change.

The Relatio Synodi, which was an earlier version of the document, talked about acceptance and welcoming of the LGBT community, as well as noted that they have talents, gifts, and perspectives to offer to the Christian community. However, the final version of the Relatio was presented as a water downed and heavily edited document, which removed those references of embracing and welcoming the LGBT community, instead saying only that homosexuals “should be treated with respect and sensitivity.”

In the wake of this setback, the question must be asked: Will Pope Francis succeed in his mission to convince the Catholic Church to join the 21st Century on social issues?During his beatification ceremony of Pope Paul VI on Sunday, Pope Francis called upon the Catholic Church as a whole to recognize and adapt to the changing climate and status of modern-day society. The pontiff pointedly addressed the audience during the beatification mass and proclaimed, “God is not afraid of new things.”

As the bishops ended their two-week Synod of Bishops conference by rejecting an initial draft that would have significantly altered the Church’s stance toward homosexuality and divorce, the pontiff’s remarks took on added meaning. Whether or not the document issued on Saturday by the bishops is viewed as a setback for Pope Francis’ mission to modernize the Church is debatable. However, the conference did show the Church can discuss difficult topics, such as the role of the LGBT community and divorced Catholics when called upon to do so. It also publicly exposed a wide rift between conservative and liberal-minded leaders within the Catholic Church.

In the wake of this dissension within the Church, there are a number of questions and issues raised. Conservatives have raised objections to modifying the Christian Doctrine, which was drafted hundreds of years ago among the troubles and concerns faced by a radically different society. Does the Catholic Church expect to remain steadfast in its ancient belief systems and retain the respect of its parishioners, as well as society as a whole? Does the Church expect parishioners to reject or pass judgment on others whom have never harmed anyone but chose to life an alternative lifestyle? Are friends and family members of Catholics who opt to associate with or become part of the LGBT community to be ostracized or denied the sacraments? Are those Catholics who refuse to turn their backs on or opt to accept the alternative lifestyles of their loved ones to be punished as well? With the already dwindling interest in the priesthood and other religious pursuits, does the Catholic Church really expect to boost enrollment among seminaries and covenants when there are so many prejudices and restrictions inherent in the antiquated Christian Doctrine? How about those individuals with a keen desire to pursue theology as a special concentration or career path? How can the Church defend its antiquated belief system in the wake of 21st Century society and still claim to be relevant?

These queries posed all relate to the central question of this article, which is will Pope Francis manage to convince the Catholic Church to join the 21st Century on social issues? At this point, the answer remains unclear. As Pope Francis’ mission to modernize and reform the Roman Catholic Church may have been dealt a blow on Saturday, after proposals for wider acknowledgment and acceptance of the LGBT community and remarried Catholics, who have been divorced, were water downed in the final revised document on the Church’s stance regarding families. An earlier draft of the document issued last week by the Synod of Bishops halfway through their conference included wording that welcomed and accepted the talents, gifts, and perspectives of gay Catholics, as well as called on pastors to curtail any language, behavior, or tone that could be interpreted as discriminatory against divorced Catholics. Will Pope Francis manage to convince the Catholic Church to join the 21st Century on social issues? Only time will tell as the pontiff continues to blaze a revolutionary path in terms of acceptance and social justice for all in modern-day society.

Opinion by Leigh Haugh

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Sources:
USA TODAY
New York Daily News
The Globe and Mail

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