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We have a pope: Thoughts from the outside looking in

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter?s Basilica on Wednesday (March 13) in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world?s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter?s Basilica on Wednesday (March 13) in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world?s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Last week the Roman Catholic Church selected its new pope. As pastor of St. Clare, a non-Roman Catholic community, I have been asked a number of times over the past week about my thoughts about the new pope. Since this question has come up so often, in so many contexts, I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts here.

First, about the person selected as the Roman pontiff. By all accounts, Pope Francis appears to be a humble, simple and spiritually oriented person. And, he appears to have a genuine concern for the poor. These are personal attributes that we can all admire and emulate. Second, he appears to have a track record of administrative competence. This is something that will be of great benefit to the Roman church in the months and years ahead. Third, there has been some 'noise' in the media about his tenure as the Jesuit provincial of Argentina, and his relationship with two imprisoned Jesuits and the Argentine military dictatorship. Frankly, the details are not at all clear. The context was one in which most of us have never lived (i.e., under a dictatorship in a third world country). I think it is best, at this point, to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt with regard to these circumstances, and not draw any impressions of him from this situation.

Second, about the process of selecting the pope. There are about 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, worldwide; more than half of these are women. None of these women were allowed to participate in the selection of the pope. This is an injustice, in my opinion.cOne of the biggest problems facing the Roman Church, locally, nationally, and internationally, is the declining number of celibate male clergy. It has reached the point in some areas where folks do not have regular access to sacramental rituals or related pastoral care. It appears there was no on participating in the process of selecting the pope who is an advocate of ordaining women or married men; or of other models of ministry. This is an injustice, in my opinion. Another problem facing the Roman Church, locally, nationally and internationally, is the clergy sex abuse crisis. It appears there was no one participating in the process who represented the victims, or advocated for their needs. This is an injustice, in my opinion. Another problem facing the Roman Church, locally, nationally, and internationally, is the question of how to relate to our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers in a way that does not damage their spiritual, emotional and sexual lives. It appears there was no one participating in the process who represented a healthier, more compassionate manner of relating to these individuals; individuals, who, after all, are God's beloved daughters and sons, and our beloved sisters and brothers.   

Albert Einstein once remarked that a problem cannot be solved with the same consciousness that created it. These examples suggest there has been no change of consciousness within the Roman Church. Ongoing problems continue to be thought of and addressed with the same consciousness that created them. Until there is a change in the consciousness within the Roman Church (and, this change is reflected in the ways that they perceive, think about and address these and similar problems) I do not hold out hope that the Roman Church will be any different in the future than it has been in the past.

Third, what is my response to this situation? I have quit complaining about the church that I have known, and decided to put my energy into creating the faith community that I believe God desires for us. After all, there is no evidence that Jesus came to create a large, international institutional church. But, there is ample evidence that Jesus came to help people deepen their spiritual lives; transcend human motives to accumulate riches, violence, honor and pride, and embrace human motives of simplicity, service and humility; and to foster love of each other and love of God. To paraphrase Gandhi, I have decided to, “be the change that I seek.” This, in my experience, has been the healthiest way for me to move forward. I am no longer frustrated with the Roman Church for not being what I think it should be. I am simply doing what little I can to create a space where all are welcome; and, where we can all experience and celebrate the presence, compassion and love of God in our lives, our relationships, our families, and our communities.

About Thomas Altepeter

  Rev. Thomas Altepeter is an Ecumenical Catholic priest and pastor of St. Clare Ecumenical Catholic Community in Spokane.

He is also a licensed psychologist and has previously served as pastor of an ECC community in Wisconsin, been employed as a university professor, served as a director of a large behavioral health department, and worked in private practice as a psychologist.

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One comment

  1. Tom, thanks for your perspective in the church you left but at one time were within too. So isn’t it fair to assume that there probably are men and women within that are advocating, praying and seeking to represent those people?

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