Spirituality and ethics are now in the hands of the people. What difference can the new Pope make?




How wise commentators are after the event. How they continue to project their own hopes on the new Pope Francis. Give the man a chance for Heaven’s sake!  On the balcony he certainly displayed a confident MC’s touch. But talk of the huge burden of responsibility may be misplaced. Apart from vague goodwill, do many people really expect much from him?  Too low expectations will dismay the upholders of the Church’s authority more than too high.

The Pope’s attitude to the poor and ordinary people may warm hearts but Catholic social teaching on economics is no more reliable than it is on sexuality. He may show more charity over sexual behaviour and women but a real shift to bring understanding of sexuality into line with human experience seems unlikely . This softening may turn out to be more disillusioning than the old bonkers hard lines -“ I love you but you’re still wrong.”

Whatever touch on the tiller of the Vatican “barque” the new Pope may make, the old days have gone forever, not only the era of John Charles Mc Quaid  but even of  JP 2’s visit to Ireland 33 years ago.  The Irish Times spells it out:

In the 2011 census 84 per cent of the population of the Republic ticked the “Roman Catholic ” box. Yet weekly Mass attendance is as low as 30 to 33 per cent and falling. Still good by Europe an standards, but look at the age profile of those attending church services.

Further, in urban areas, that attendance is as low as 2 or 3 per cent. More and more Catholics in Europe and the developed world are only nominally so. They attend church for funerals, first Communions, and weddings – and less of this last, as upwards of a quarter of marriages now take place in civil settings. That figure, too, is rising. So Europe, Ireland, the developed world is becoming mission territory where the Catholic Church is concerned.

The crisis extends far beyond what “ mission” can address. The dark stain of the abuse scandals exposed endemic  immorality and has destroyed the presumption of authority of the Church’s leadership to pronounce on human behaviour. What therefore are they for?

Even though judgment must charitably be suspended until he makes his opening moves, nothing the Pope is likely to do will make much difference. The tipping point has arrived.  The old complacent talk of the Church thinking in centuries is redundant.  The Catholic Church – Christianity as a whole – is now irreversibly a minority pursuit. But can the pace of decline be halted?

My USP such as it is, is that for as long as the Vatican insists on having the last word on discipline and appointing bishops through its diplomatic service, the contemporary crisis in Catholicism will drag on. On the other hand a more “collegial” approach – more power to the bishop’s conferences in each country – risks the decline of the Church through fragmentation rather than shrinking.  An idea of a permanent United Nations of the Church of laity clergy and  the Vatican like a permanent Vatican Council sitting in Rome to replace the Curia is too unwieldy and expensively unrealistic

How amazing it is that instant communications threaten centralised power like the Papacy’s rather than strengthening it. The life of the Church will continue to shift towards its people whatever the old men in red may decide and will survive more and more outside its formal structures.

An example for the future lies in the life and work of Fr Alec Reid the Redemptorist priest who was the subject of a recent BBC NI documentary 14 Days.  His awareness of protestantism and unionism was limited  but he was surely right when he said that the  Church took the easy route by talking about liturgy all the time. “You have to get involved.”  The message I took  from Reid for today was less about  his involvement  in a horrendous episode of the Troubles but  his reiterated message: ” I did what I could.. I did my best.”

Any assumption  of authority was blessedly absent, apart from the priestly function to administer last rites.

  • Newman

    Thoughtful and reasonable Brian even if your understanding of the formal structures of the church betrays a lack of appreciation of what it means to be Catholic A pope is successful if he points us to Christ..I like your invocation of the Fr Reid vignette..people do respond to humility and a solidarity with the poor..Francis has got off on the right note…

  • Granni Trixie

    From the off spin was at work…’humble man…gets the bus..’ Blah,blah blah. Then we are told he is ‘conservative’ eg doesn’t support gay marriage. But gay marriage is the extremes for such ad he…why not explore if he thinks in keeping with the law of love and Christianity namely love of your fellow man by value for inclusivity …making gay people not to say divorced people welcome in the church. .? On this kind of thing will I judge if his appointment represents progress.

    The jury’s out btw on if Fr Reid is a role model.

  • BarneyT

    Whatever happened to Jean Paul I. Was he not going to create waves? Was he not a modernist? Is there any truth to the rumour that he was killed off due to the direction he planned for his church? Who knows.

    Until the Catholic Church recognises that there are areas in the developing world that need birth control to reduce the dependent population and prevent the spread of STDs, then they have little positive relevance.

    Instead it seems that swelling the numbers from 1.2 billion upwards may remain a priority. The word of God will not serve a famine or war torn country, whereas irrigation, enablement programs, medicine and education will. No doubt it is argued the Catholic and other churches address these issues…and they may in part, but there is nothing that an introduction of Christian faith or its traditions has to offer coutries with these challenges.

    If an organisation with such influence and authority throughout the world is responsible for actively discouraging the use of condoms (through one way or another) where they are clearly needed, then they should be held to account.

    Clearly there are other issues that the Catholic church needs to address

  • alex gray

    So in the 2005 conclave Inquisitor Ratzinger persuades Argie Jesuit Bergoglio to withdraw from Papal election saying I’ll take if for 8 years and then hand over to you ?
    Now elected Bergolgio was going to Castelgandolfo immediately, then on Thur, then of Fri and now “soon” – how the worm turns !! Ratzinger will have to tell it to hs cats and play some demented Wagner on the piano !! Humble people are ALWAYS deeply ambitious – not because they are “holy” – humble is a stunt to get elected to the big job !

  • BluesJazz
  • Rory Carr

    Not for anything reported in that article he hasn’t. Might be a good idea to read the footnote.

    In any case we have to ask whether we take the Church in Latin America to task for being seen as supportive of murderous, despotic regimes or for supporting armed guerilla action against such regimes because it did both.

    Indeed the policy of “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds” is one most often attributed to devious Jesuitical strategy of winning souls to Christ whatever the colour of the secular power.

    It was a strategy later developed by the Popular Socialist Party of Cuba (really the Communist Party in thin disguise) who joined in coalition with Machado and Batista in a government that was hunting down and executing members of that section of the party which had been ordered to go underground – a policy influenced some think by virtue of the thought processes of a leadership whose early education owed more to Ignatius of Loyola than to Marx amd Lenin.

  • Barry the Blender

    I’ve never understood why anyone would expect a religious institution to reflect contemporary secular attitudes to sexual morality.

  • Not much to do with me, but it seems to me that the glue which has really held the Catholic church together has been the enormous contribution of women. Any church which still refuses women full participation (ordination) will fade away, I believe. Forbidding married clergy too, perhaps.

  • FDM

    I can’t think a reason why all these sons of Unionism are lining up to bash a Jesuit Catholic priest who has just been appointed the pope of the Roman Catholic church?

    Somebody help me out here?

  • Granni Trixie

    You are presuming on the basis of…what?

  • FDM

    @Granni Trixie

    Don’t mind me Trixie you continue with your judging.

  • Mr Walker,
    Just to put this article in context, how would you describe your own position and your relationship with the RC Church?

  • Alias

    The decline of the Catholic is a myth. It continues to increase in strength year on year. The latest figures were compiled in 2010 and show another increase of 1.3% globally.

    True, the g-dless EU showed a decline but only by 0.22% but the EU region is fast becoming a backward global irrelevance anyway.

  • tomthumbuk

    I’ll be blunt about this.
    Unless the Pope changes the law prohibiting married priests, he can forget about it.
    The reason there is a worldwide problem with paedophila within the Catholic Church is exactly that.
    It’s not scriptural, it was not always the case,(there have been married Popes), and it goes against nature.
    There you have it. I’ve sorted that out, I think I ‘ll now work on the Ulster Unionist Party

  • Alias

    The problem is mostly with pederasts, not peadiohiles – and pederasts, being homosexual, wouldn’t want to marry women anyway.

  • Alias

    Excuses the typos *blushes*

  • Coll Ciotach

    Who cares what the secular world says? I do not. The Church has been a thorn in its side from the beginnning and will always be. The real move must be to try to reach out to the wing of the Church that is growing both in Europe and throughout the world in general, the wing of the Church that has full seminaries but still cannot keep up with demand. That is the Traditional wing as seen in the SSPX. Pope Francis had a very successful SSPX seminary in Argentina which he did everything to block but which continues to grow anyway. As for those who wish the Church to reflect the rotten mores of the secular world there is a warning in Romans 1.

    “Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error.

    And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers, Detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.

    Pope Francis would do well to steer clear. Keep faithful to the teachings of the Church and interpret all through the window of Tradition and be an alternative to the world.

  • Greenflag

    Coll Ciotach

    ‘Who cares what the secular world says? I do not. ‘

    Bishops Casey, Archbishop McQuaid . Cardinal O’Brien and a hundred more or should that be a thousand other clerics in the RC Church would echo your sentiment above .Alas the ‘secular world ‘ discovered the truth about the aforementioned .People everywhere even non Catholics will be willing to give the new Pope a chance to steer the institution of church in a direction where it regains some of the respect which it has lost these past several decades .

    But already the critics are being heard and the past is being dug up and the new Pope’s connections to the former Argentinian Military Junta are re-emerging . At least Benedict was just a teenager in the Hitler Youth .

    ‘Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.’

    Where are they from ? The first Book of Ayatollah the First ?

    As for your God’s ‘justice ‘ ? On this Earth -and there is no other we have to rely on man’s justice which is by no means’s perfect but has to suffice to make ‘living ‘ a fairly decent life possible .

    Anyway this God business is overrated . It’s a racket and a con game for a lot of them (clerics of all denominations ) and you can include your rabbis and imams and lamas as well .

    I trust your ‘God ‘has a good day and doesn’t go apeshit any time soon like the time 65 million years ago he caused those poor innocent dinosaurs to go extinct and then the previous 4 near mass exterminations of life going back to the Great Permian .

    I guess it’s a paradox for those who are religiously bent to come to grips with the Great Creator who regards life as his creation and then causes it’s destruction not just once as in the Noahcian flood tale but several times ?

    The RC Church along with the rest of them like the politicians they are always find a way to deal with these paradoxes -They ignore them .Anyway gotta keep the masses believing in that hopium .Otherwise they’ll start asking awkward questions .

  • Greenflag
  • Brian Walker

    You’re all getting along fine in this thread without me.. but just a couple of points. Bangordub asks me for my credentials so to speak. The answer, some reporting and commentary on religion many years ago, recognising that the churches cannot be seen simply as political institutions ; agnostic fascination and reading; above all the fabric of my background – yes, a Protestant background but with Catholic forebears. Do I give myself away?
    Coll ciotach A nicely provocative piece from those beyond the pallium. Thanks for the insight!

  • GEF
  • 241934 john brennan

    Any pope, good, bad or incompetent, follows the first one, Saint Peter, who said of Jesus:
    “There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved!”
    Pope Francis , 266th pope after Peter, said to the assembled cardinals and bishops, in his first informal homily after his election – ‘Our job is simple. Teach the Catechism and remember the Beatitudes.’
    So with Francis following Peter, following Jesus, other than emphasise and style, there will be no changes in doctrine or direction

  • Greenflag

    News flash -New Pope Francis pledges an end to money laundering by the Vatican Bank . Roman Curia not impressed ?

    Is’nt there a ‘commandment ‘ against money laundering ? or would that be just okay and not stealing ?


    ‘A Vatican representative annoyed by the requests for more information, shouted, “How can you ask us such questions?”’

    Such arrogance eh .If Jesus Christ came back this Roman Curia lot would have him recrucified for that seditious and communist inspired Sermon from the Mount 🙁

    Apparently poor Benedict simply gave up trying to impose some transparency on the secretive world of the Roman Curia money men . No wonder the cardinals voted for a 75 year old Argentinian .It’ll take him several years to find out what’s going on and by then he’ll be too old to do anything significant about it .Then it’ll be time for another ‘retirement.

    plus ca change as per usual . ‘.

  • GEF

    Maybe the new Pope Francis could hand out a few quid from the Vatican bank to the poor of Buenos Aires in Argentina. President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would be ever so pleased.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Grow up. Criticizing the pope does not make you a unionist.

    The Catholic Church is a corrupt organization whose leading members effectively enabled it to operate as a paedophile ring. That needs to be confronted and the organization thoroughly reformed to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Yet, I see no indication as yet that they have any intention of reforming a damn thing.

    I feel bad for practicing Catholics and the many good priests (Donal McKeown would be one of them) who have given their lives to this organization.

  • GEF
  • Coll Ciotach

    That was a whole lot of nothing Greenflag – suffice to say the waffle and half allegations dressed up as truth will be spread by the usual quarters. In the meantime the Church will continue to present an alternative to the zeitgeist and will no doubt be on the receiving end of the approbrium of those whose dictum is do what thou will as opposed to the Christian do as God wills

  • UserAinm

    There’s no reason to expect any major change in the direction of the church from Pope Francis. Nothing that I’ve read so far suggests anything other than more of the same.
    Further, if people are still prepared to call themselves Catholic after the last number of years then why should the church change? They’re obviously weathering the storm just fine. I mean, if you still want to be a member of this sect of Christianity after what they have been found to be perpetrating and covering up, then there is nothing lower that you have to worry about them having done, is there?
    My problem here isn’t with people of faith, it’s specifically in this instance with the Catholic church as an organisation.
    So lead on Pope Francis you’ve nothing to worry about.

  • Barry the Blender

    I can’t think a reason why all these sons of Unionism are lining up to bash a Jesuit Catholic priest who has just been appointed the pope of the Roman Catholic church?

    As a full blown, protestant,bible thumping, evangelical and on occasions, collarette wearing unionist, I sincerely wish the new Pope well in his new role.

  • babyface finlayson

    I see no reason why the future direction of the Catholic church should not be relevant to all of us ,including sensible heathens like me.
    The church has influence worldwide in many aspects of life.
    The most obvious, but far from only,concern is the abuse of children. Everyone in society has a duty,don’t you think,to be interested in that?
    I wish Pope Francis well and hope he plays some part in reducing the harm done by religion.

  • Coll Ciotach

    The only real concern to me as far as the internals of the Church is concerned is the the reversal of the harm done by the interpretation of Vatican 11 by some on the extremes. The continuing return to Tradition by the faithful and by Benedict should continue, although given the current Popes poor record on this, I am sceptical. It is imperative the SSPX is taken back fully into the fold again as its present half in half out status is ridiculous, hopefully a quote of another Francis – De Sales – will resonate.

    “We are what you once were.
    We believe what you once believed.
    We worship as you once worshipped.
    If you were right then, we are right now.
    If we are wrong now, you were wrong then”

  • Greenflag

    Coll Ciotach ,

    ‘suffice to say the waffle and half allegations dressed up as truth will be spread by the usual quarters.’

    I seem to recall the RC Church denying for ever and a day any allegations made against their clergy or bishops .Not only did they deny them but they went so far as hide the facts and the criminals from the civil authorities – not once but hundreds /thousands of times in various countries around the world.

    ‘the Church will continue to present an alternative to the zeitgeist ‘

    Which alternative would that be then ? Disregard of the civil authorities and criminal law ? Continued abuse of women and children ? Money laundering ?

    The RC Church Institution is as corrupt if not more so than many of our multinational financial institutions .The only difference being that the latter make no false promises of a blissful heavenly hereafter for the poor and the meek and those who keep giving the men in black the readies /dosh in return for salvation .

    As for ‘zeitgeist ‘ I have news for you .It’s no longer the 16th century or even the mid 20th . .Just as well that Martin Luther came along to put an end to the absolute monolithic Church of Rome .

    Your comment above ‘we are what you once were ” is reminiscent of the infamous Kerryman in hospital on his deathbed who when asked by his priest was he a Roman Catholic or not -replied he was and he was’nt .When pressed further the Kerryman confessed that in the old days when the Mass was said in Latin and he had’nt a clue what was being said he ironically could pray like a whore (it’s an expression not meant to be taken literally and no offence intended to whores or to those who pray ) .

    But nowadays that it was in the vernacular (English) and you could understand the words /mumbo jumbo from the heaven magicians shure twas’nt the same at all at all. .

    Now go back to your 16th century and let the rest of us enjoy that oul ancient conman St Patricks festive springtime bacchanalia .

    Best regards now from a happy atheist and may your God whoever he or she is go with you. In the name of the Father , and the Son and into the hole we all go .Life is not a dress rehearsal .

  • abucs

    I was praying that the secular media would be critical of whoever was the elected Pope. That way i would know he would be a good one.

    It took the Guardian one full day to get their battle-game together. About the same time it took for them to call Benedict a Nazi when he was elected.

    I don’t know much about Francis, but he’s off to a bloody good start.

  • Newman

    Greenflag..your post reminded of me of Chesterton’s epigram…”When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

  • Otto

    Which is another way of saying that a belief in God is a great excuse to believe in nothing else?

  • zep

    Here comes the new pope, same as the old pope. He could do a lot for the poor by recommending the use of contraceptives to prevent the spread of AIDS, and maybe auctioning off some of the treasures in the Vatican and giving the money to Catholics in need.

    “Greenflag..your post reminded of me of Chesterton’s epigram…”When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” – Drivel. What does this even mean?

  • Coll Ciotach


    No one has produced anything against the pope concerning the argentina junta, as was alleged earlier, and as for internal investigations it is a pity secular organisations did not do it as it would have lead to the discovery of much that went on in England if they did, you really are scraping the barrek looking back to the 16th Century in some cases.

    The message of the gospel is the same now as ever and is just a relevant as ever and people will always respond as it is a more humane alternative to the secular model with commodifies people.

    The quote is reminiscent of Francis De Sales, not a kerry man even though he is correct, the vernacular Mass is not the same, it is not an accurate translation and does not have the same structure.

    Go ahead and enjoy the bacchanalian fest, it is all you have.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Zep – if you followed the Popes teaching AIDS would be stopped in its tracks, but if people ignored the Pope then why would they follow him if he changed – they do not listen to the secular world either. So bit of a silly pop at the Church

  • zep

    How so CC, in what way can the teachings of the Pope prevent the transmission of Aids? As I understand it, condoms are a no-go, meaning that if you want to have sex and keep the Roman Catholic Church sweet then you must live with the risk of transmitting infection. I don’t think it is a silly pop at all.

    I will never forget the day I spent at the Vatican, awestruck at the collected works of art, a fantastic sight. Then walking into St Peter’s and being confronted with a collection box. These guys need my money? I don’t think so. As with all churches everywhere, greed, misogyny and intellectual mediocrity masquerading as virtue and redemption.

  • zep

    CC – “The quote is reminiscent of Francis De Sales, not a kerry man even though he is correct, the vernacular Mass is not the same, it is not an accurate translation and does not have the same structure.” – You do know that vast swathes of your ‘holy’ book could be considered an accurate translation?

    And oh, the irony of a person who lives his or her life according to values and standards laid out in a book over a thousand years old, chiding someone for looking back to the 16th century for examples to support an argument.

  • zep

    could not be considered*

  • 241934 john brennan

    Elimination of all sexually transmitted diseases is elementary and cost free – fidelity within marriage, and chastity if not married!

  • zep

    Chastity, hilarious.

  • Reader

    241934 john brennan : Elimination of all sexually transmitted diseases is elementary and cost free – fidelity within marriage, and chastity if not married!
    Brilliant. There are of course a similar proposals for eliminating murder, theft and abuse. Imagine the savings if we could eliminate the need for condoms, police *and* a legal system. You should form a political party.

  • Alias

    True, but the Vatican also has policies against murder, theft and abuse. Is the argument that folks listen to the Vatican telling them not to wear a condom but ignore the Vatican when it tells them not to murder, steal or abuse?

    Look, it’s quite simples (as a certain meerkat would say): if a Catholic guy or gal has AIDS or an STD and chooses to have sex without a condom, thereby infecting another person, then he is hardly the sort of pious person who would pay attention to his Church on moral matters.

    Yes, yes, I know, the poor innocent might have failed to notice the sores and puss oozing out of certain body parts and thereby could be a moral and pious person who wouldn’t infect another but you probably won’t get good odds on that event from Paddy Power.

  • babyface finlayson

    ” if a Catholic guy or gal has AIDS or an STD and chooses to have sex without a condom, thereby infecting another person, then he is hardly the sort of pious person who would pay attention to his Church on moral matters”
    How about if a devout catholic woman consents to sex with her husband, not knowing he has been with prostitutes? What should she do?

  • Alias

    So you’re arguing that married couples should wear condoms at all times just in case the woman married a cheating scumbag as the love of her life – or, indeed, the man married a cheating scumbag?

    Of course it is rational to use condoms at all times but if people were purely rational then they wouldn’t be driven by irrational sex urges, would they? At some point in life you have to trust someone as wearing a cover-all latex body suit when you have sex might be a tad impractical.

  • Alias

    And by the way, you can’t catch AIDS from yourself so most of you guys have nothing to worry about. 😉

  • babyface finlayson

    “So you’re arguing that married couples should wear condoms at all times”
    Not really. Just giving an example of an individual whose adherence to catholic doctrine might put her at risk from HIV.
    I don’t think your argument takes into account how contradictory people are. Even scumbags might consider themselves good Catholics. We are all capable of hypocrisy.

  • Alias

    The most contradictory aspect here is your own argument, i.e. that ‘Catholics obey Church teaching and therefore don’t use condoms’ which is immediately contradicted by ‘Catholics don’t obey Church teaching and therefore do commit adultery.’ Either they obey the Church or they do not. Waffling is a poor means of disguising a logically unsound argument.

  • babyface finlayson

    ” Either they obey the Church or they do not.”
    Clearly you don’t know any Catholics