Faith, guilt and charity. Growing up Catholic I’ve always considered those three ideas to be the hallmarks of my religion. A faith in Catholicism as the embodiment of Christ’s true teaching here on earth, the guilt that comes when we sin or do not live up to Christ’s standard and the charity that is expected from those who are blessed with so much. I was blessed personally by Pope John Paul II twice: once in my mother’s womb and another time when I was an infant. I attended CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) from when I was six years old till I was fourteen. The church is where I’ve been baptized, confirmed, where I’ve confessed and have even gotten to be a godfather. I graduated from one the world’s preeminent Catholic universities and to this day try to attend Mass (and never miss it on days of obligation). I’m that rare twenty-seven year old that proudly still feels a strong connection to my Catholic faith, yet the actions of many in the church over the last fifteen years have put my own personal faith on edge.
Pope Francis will inherit an American flock where young Catholics have been outraged by countless pedophilia scandals, discouraged by a focus on politics instead of charity and hardened by a Western society where being Catholic is not so much celebrated but ridiculed. In order to reach these people, the new Pope needs to be honest and quite frankly level with parishioners. Instead of a constant focus on social issues, perhaps a focus on caring for the poor or decrying the influence of media manufactured materialism which will plague an entire American generation. Instead of a Catholic faith where priests are expected to completely suppress their sexuality, an acknowledgement that the many of the Church’s recent problems stem from the unnatural requirement of celibacy. Instead of bishops setting the agenda, maybe the nuns have a say too and more of a role for women in the church, for that matter. These types of practical acknowledgements, even if they do not become the new doctrine of the church, will at least restore some faith in the process.
Guilt is a strong tenet of the Catholic faith, yet it seems not to have any presence in the Vatican over the last fifteen years. The guilt of sin forces many Catholics daily to choose the hard right over the easy wrong. Pope Francis should feel that guilt over the thousands of lives devastated by abuse and make it well known that cover-ups or any inappropriate behavior by priests will not be tolerated and will lead to immediate expulsion. Too many parents have seen abused children never recover, too many millions have gone to settlements instead of charity, too many of the faithful have left the flock due to inaction.
Lastly, the new Pope must make an effort to realize the Catholic faith is not a set of edicts but a set of eternal sacred beliefs. Strengthen our faith, make us more aware of our shortcomings with guilt and help us to abide by Christ’s message that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me.”