Panelists discuss geopolitical, ecumenical, & cultural perspectives of the current papacy

A panel discussing the impact of Pope Francis’ papacy was held at McKenna Hall. It featured the following panelists: Anne Thompson, NBC News Correspondent, Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Philosophy, and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College, Julie Hanlon Rubio, Professor of Christian Ethics at Saint Louis University, and Bishop McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego. The panel was moderated by Father Kevin Sandberg C.S.C.

“His [Pope Francis] predecessors have had a distinct way of what it means to evangelize,” Fr. Sandberg commented, “Pope John Paul II sought to re-catechize fallen away Catholics. Pope Benedict XVI sought to rechristen Europe. Pope Francis’ insight in Evangelii Gaudium is that the Church can evangelize no one until it itself is evangelized by the poor.”

The first panelist, Julie Hanlon Rubio, spoke on the topics of polarization, progress, and potential.

Polarization, more evident within the inner circles of those deeply invested in the Church, is not unique to Pope Francis; it also came under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

“Francis applies a consistent ethical method to all social issues, including family and gender,” Rubio claimed, “This is what makes him controversial”.

As for progress, Pope Francis convinced more Catholics that climate change is happening after publishing Laudato Si. Moreover, his strong preference for the poor, more evident than in his predecessors, has led him to install laundromats and hair services in the Vatican.

According to Rubio, though gender theory and the theology of women seem shut down, there seem to be some signs of hope, such as the women deacon study and appointment of women to Vatican positions.

“The support from bishops and cardinals on [James] Martin’s bridge building work and silence from Vatican is all good,” said Rubio regarding inclusivity.

Rambachan spoke about interreligious dialogue, coming from a Hindu perspective. He examined what Pope Francis has said on interreligious dialogue, putting ourselves into the shoes of others.

“Any claim to self-sufficient theology is childish,” Rambachan asserted on the topic of dialogue.

“People of other religious traditions become suspicious that interreligious dialogue is just another way of evangelization,” said Rambachan on the tension between the pope’s emphasis of the two ideas.

“At the center of Francis’ papacy are charity and mercy,” Thompson said, “His focus on the poor, whether they be poor in spirit or poor in wallet, begins with listening.”

There are “two persistent problems of the Church”  that Thompson is watching as Francis’ papacy starts its new year, namely his response to the abuse crisis and women.

Francis has sent a special prosecutor to Chile surrounding Bishop Barros’ protection of a pedophile priest. The pope will also visit Ireland in August for the World Meeting of Families, “where the wounds are still very raw from the cover-up and the abuse of children in that country.”

“Pope Francis appointed a commission to study the possibility of women deacons, but not much has seemed to have happened. Yes, a woman now heads the Vatican museum, but in general, it’s hard to find women in jobs of true influence and importance within the Church hierarchy.”  

Thompson mentioned a CARA report on women, which found that only 24% of women who identified as Catholic went to Mass at least weekly. Kathleen Sprows-Cummings of the CUSHWA Center points that millennial women are more likely than millennial men to say they do not attend Mass. “That’s the first generation of Catholic women where this is the case.”

During the question session, one man asked if there was a generational dynamic for those not impressed by the pope. Rubio sees disappointment on both sides, whereas Thompson views the problem as philosophical. She noted that “the seminarians inspired by John Paul II seem to struggle with what is going on in the Church… I think the difference here is that you have a pope who has decided that he is going to make an effort to meet people where they’re at, for lack of a better term. As opposed to dealing with putting the theology first, it’s more practical first.”  

Another man inquired about the effectiveness of the pope in translating gestures, preaching, and presence into actual reform of the Church.

The bishop remarked that the institutional inertia seems to be slowing down, noting that “train[s] shouldn’t have been started if there was no endpoint in mind”. “Now I’m still hoping that there’s going to be an endpoint,” he said, “that the ordination of women to the diaconate will have been found to be historical and that it will be reinstituted”. We still have to put “a question mark” on some things, but there are things that won’t be so easily reversed, such as Laudato Si and the trajectory on the environment.

Bea Cuasay studies Philosophy, Theology, and the Organ, the king of all instruments. If you want to listen to Bach and Palestrina incessantly, email, an already terminated account.