Pray for the New Pope
Why the choice of a Catholic pope should matter to Protestants
The Roman Catholic Church has a new pope. Argentine Jorge Bergoglio, who has chosen the name Francis, has the distinction of being the first South American pope. I am not Catholic and have never been Catholic, but I take a great interest in this new pope, praying that God will guide this man. After all, I owe the Roman Catholic Church. It has done much to preserve the faith that I love. For all its faults, it carefully defended the Christian faith over the centuries and kept it intact on some important doctrines, such as the Trinity and the substitutionary death of Christ. It also carefully guarded the Scriptures over the centuries, making sure that the Bible I now read is the one that the early church also had.
Besides that, the Catholic church pursued social justice long before it was a popular interest of evangelicals. For centuries, they have established hospitals, fought for the underdog, and provided for basic needs in many countries throughout the world. For all the culpabilities of the church hierarchy, individual Catholics were often the lone voice of compassion in a corrupt society.
I’m also interested in the new pope because the Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest Christian church in the world with wide-ranging influence in developed as well as third-world countries. When they take a stand on issues to preserve the faith and fight corruption, we all benefit (see the article “Evangelicals and Catholics: Let’s Celebrate our Similarities” to explore this idea further). And according to this article, Catholics are becoming more evangelical.
The new pope also has an enormous impact on the lives of Catholic women throughout the world, as the Her.meneutics’ article, “What the Benedict Papacy Meant for Women,” points out.
I find the choice of a pope from South America encouraging. It shows a fresh wind blowing in the Catholic church, which is extremely weak in Europe. Even though statistically there are a great many Catholics there, the reality is that most of them are non-practicing. In other words, the majority of them never go to church nor try to abide by the church’s rules. But even if they did, Europe still has a smaller population of Catholics than other parts of the globe. Since Brazil and Mexico have by far the most Catholics of any countries in the world, it’s extremely refreshing to see a pope come from the Western hemisphere.
However, as glad as I am about this change, there are three more changes I’d love to see Pope Francis institute. These are what I’m praying he will do.
Lift the Bible above church tradition
Most of the reforms I would love to see in the Catholic church stem from this one issue. Indeed, this is the issue that caused the Reformation and the rise of the many Protestant churches that now dominate the landscape. But with centuries of church tradition in place, this seems an impossible step for a new pope to take, so I don’t expect anything radical to happen in this regard. However, if Pope Francis would take a few steps in this direction, to get the ball rolling so to speak, perhaps future popes would continue in this course and make sure they are perpetuating scriptural values and not just traditional values. I would be encouraged to see just one of these changes—maybe something as small as dispensing with having people kiss his ring. Such a small change would be a huge break with tradition, and thus would be significant.
Allow marriage for priests
Although ceasing to have people kiss his ring would be refreshing, I’d love to see a big change, such as revisiting the option for priests to marry. Such a break with tradition would be enormous since it’s such an old and established practice, but I’d be greatly encouraged to see Pope Francis at least bring the subject to the fore and dignify its possibility by writing and speaking on the subject. Surely, those within the hierarchy of the church must at least acknowledge to themselves that the widespread sexual abuse scandals may point in part to the loneliness and isolation of their priests. Marriage will certainly not solve the complete corruption that these abusive men have fallen into, but it would at least break the cycle that has evidently been in place for centuries.
Publically confess sexual abuse sins and change policies that allow them to continue
In the US, the Catholic church has done much to address this on the local level, dismissing abusive priests that for years they tried to protect. However, this only came about when they were cornered and exposed. Clearly, something needs to come from the pope on this subject. Pope Benedict had an unprecedented opportunity to address these horrible sins and put in place safeguards for the children of future generations. But he changed nothing in this regard, allowing abuse to continue in countries that don’t have the media and litigious help that the US and Europe has. I pray that Pope Francis has the courage to not only face these despicable sins, but to change the system that protects evil men from using children for their own corrupt purposes.
There are many more issues I could name, so take time right now to pray for Pope Francis. He will have an enormous influence on the world, and its perception of Christianity. Although Protestants may view themselves as wholly different from Catholics, those outside the faith still color us with the same brush. And our prayers can make a difference in how the next pope influences the world for Christ.