Monday, December 29, 2014

Married Catholic Priest Replaces Priest Leaving the Catholic Church to get Married

Talk about a head-scratcher. I wonder if anyone in the Vatican recognizes the absurdity of all this?

Another case of a priest leaving to get married, being replaced by a married priest – in this case, a former Anglican priest who with his wife and family, entered the Catholic Church. There were several cases of this in England when the Anglican Church started ordaining women. Full details can be found in the Tablet article at… 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Priest shortage here... and everywhere?

Chicago’s Cardinal George ordained a dozen priests on May 17th – one of the largest ordination classes in the US this year. However, that is a far cry from the 30 to 40 that were ordained annually a few decades ago. And they can scarcely replace the 31 Chicago priests that died in 2013. The continued decline of traditional clergy was reiterated in the recent newspaper article in Florida. Perhaps a new kind of priesthood is needed.

U.S. Catholics face shortage of priests

 Dave Breitenstein, The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press7:06 a.m. EDT May 25, 2014

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Nationally, one in five Catholic parishes does not have a resident priest.
America's Catholic population is rising by 1 percent annually, but seminary enrollment is flat. An inadequate supply of priests already has forced hundreds of parishes to close or consolidate.
Priests aren't getting any younger, either. Their average age is 63.
Something's got to give.
"These people have served the church for 30, 40 or 50 years, and now they are retiring or dying and leaving the priesthood," said Mary Gautier, senior research associate with Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
In the Diocese of Venice, Fla., though, Bishop Frank Dewane is sitting comfortably for the 59 parishes from Bradenton to Marco Island. Dewane has 111 diocesan priests under his authority, along with 60 priests supplied by religious orders. Additionally, between 10 and 70 outside priests, who often are retirees from parishes up North, assist the diocese on a seasonal or part-time basis.
Dewane's focus isn't covering next Sunday's Mass; he is charged with building the next generation of religious leaders.
"We're blessed right now, but we always have to look at where are we in, say, 25 years or 50 years out," Dewane said.
In 1975, there were 58,909 priests in the United States. Today, Georgetown's CARA puts the figure at 39,600, a 33 percent drop. Meanwhile, America's Catholic population rose from 54.5 million to 78.2 million, a 43 percent increase, during the same period.
Although the 39,600 priests seems plenty for America's 17,413 parishes, it's not. Presiding over Mass is just one of a priest's duties, along with hearing confessions, baptizing babies, officiating weddings, counseling parishioners, conducting funerals, teaching schoolchildren, blessing hospital patients, running missions and more. On Easter and Christmas, some parishes in Southwest Florida have a half-dozen or more Masses, often simultaneously on church campuses, to accommodate residents, tourists and seasonal residents.
"I don't know of any bishop who believes he has too many priests," said the Rev. John Guthrie, associate director for the secretariat of clergy, consecrated life and vocations with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Nationally, Guthrie said, the ratio of priests to parishioners in 1950 was 1 to 652, but that climbed to 1 to 1,653 by 2010. That doesn't account for the millions of Catholics who are not registered with a parish or regularly attend services.
"There are fewer of us doing more and more work," Guthrie said.
When schoolteachers are sick or on vacation, a principal finds substitute teachers. The same holds true for a church when priests are needed.
A long-term vacancy at school, however, poses more serious problems: Who will teach students, and will their education suffer because of instability and inconsistency? The same questions arise for a parish without a resident priest: Who will provide spiritual guidance and manage the parish? In some cases, the answer is no one.
"There are places where they only hold Mass once a month because that's the only time you can get a priest," Gautier said.
The recent sex abuse scandals certainly had an impact on the priesthood, damaging the reputation of priests and possibly keeping some men from considering the priesthood.
"Did the scandals hurt? Yes they did," said the Rev. Cory Mayer, vocations director for the Diocese of Venice and parish administrator at Ave Maria. "There were victims, and justice needs to be served. But the good young men see the scandal wasn't part of the church or its teachings."
The Rev. Rafal Ligenza, parochial vicar at St. William Parish in Naples, was raised in Poland, the homeland of Pope John Paul II. Consequently, priests are among the most-respected professions for Polish boys deciding what to do with their lives.
"Here, it's being a doctor," said Ligenza, 32. "There, it was being a priest."
Mayer counsels youth and adults who are contemplating possible roles within the church. The first and most important trait he seeks is a deep love for God. Beyond that, a potential priest must be willing to give himself to Christ, realize he will forever serve the church and be humble.
"The worst thing we can have is an arrogant priest," Mayer said.
Beyond established religions with large, permanent church buildings are a growing number of unofficial or unsanctioned religious gatherings in parks, strip malls, beaches and schools.
Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of Ohio-based FutureChurch, said people still want to pray and religious leaders still want to lead a congregation, but the Vatican has steadfastly remained traditional and expressed no interest in allowing married or female priests.
"Church is happening, and it will continue to happen," Rose-Milavec said. "The big question is how will the official church respond."
FutureChurch's position is that the Vatican should consider married men and all women for leadership positions, including ordination.
"They could be brought into roles where they aren't just making coffee, but making decisions," Rose-Milavec said of women.
Pope Francis is at least willing to listen. In October, an advisory board of bishops will gather in Rome for a summit titled "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization." There, Catholic leaders could discuss the issues of marriage and women's roles within the Church, although change is not considered imminent.
Fort Myers resident Gerry Mater, 74, said he's not opposed to the Vatican opening the priesthood to a larger group.
"It's the work of the Holy Spirit that will decide that for us," he said.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pope warns of future Roman Catholic priests becoming ‘little monsters’

Making headlines again with some frank talk, a couple months ago Pope Francis took on the clericalism of some priests who are more concerned with their careers then serving people. This was not just about clergy with aspirations to Vatican posts or episcopal positions, but also parish priests set on becoming kings of their own parish fiefdoms.
Though widely reported, this is an article from the New York Daily News.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has said men studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood should be properly trained or the Church could risk "creating little monsters" more concerned with their careers than serving people.

In comments made in November but only published on Friday, Francis also said priests should leave their comfort zone and get out among people on the margins of society, otherwise they may turn into "abstract ideologists".

The Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica published an exclusive text of the comments, made in a three-hour, closed-door meeting the Argentinian-born pontiff had in late November with heads of orders of priests from around the world.

"Formation (of future priests) is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mould the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps," he said.

Since his election in 2013 as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, Francis has been prodding priests, nuns and bishops to think less about their careers in the Church and to listen more to the needs of ordinary Catholics, especially the poor.

Taking over an institution reeling from child sex abuse, financial and other scandals and losing members to other religions, Francis has tried to refocus on the basic Christian teachings of compassion, simplicity and humility.

His conversation with the members of the Union of Superiors General is important because they will transmit his wishes directly to priests in their religious orders around the world.

Francis said men should not enter the priesthood to seek a comfortable life or to rise up the clerical career ladder. 

"The ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape or hiding place in face of an 'external' difficult and complex world," he told them.

He made a brief, indirect reference to the sexual abuse crisis, saying a man who has been asked to leave one seminary should not be admitted to another easily.

Francis said priests had to have "real contact with the poor" and other marginalized members of society.

"This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people," he told them.

"If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy."

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has set a new tone in the Vatican, rejecting the lush papal residence his predecessors used and opting for a small suite in a Vatican guest house, where he eats in the common dining hall.

Civilta Cattolica is the same periodical that ran a landmark interview with Francis in September in which he said the Church must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality and become more merciful.

Francis, known as the "slum bishop" in Argentina because of his work among the poor, said reaching out to marginalized people was "the most concrete way of imitating Jesus".
His own first visits after moving to the Vatican were to a jail for juveniles and to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa to pay tribute to impoverished immigrants who have died trying to get to Europe.

Francis has said several times since his election that he feels the Vatican is too self-centered and needs to change.

A committee of eight cardinals from around the world that he has appointed to advise him on how to reform the central Vatican administration, know as the Curia, is due to submit its recommendation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Et Cum Spiritu Tuo!

This Advent we are coming upon the second anniversary of the “new”, more traditional English liturgy/missal that was foisted upon the American Church. If the U.S. bishops had been less inclined to bend over backwards to ingratiate themselves to the way the Vatican winds were blowing at that time, this “much ado about nothing” debacle would never have happened. At weddings and funerals, there is still a discordant cacophony to the invitation “The Lord be with You”, where less regular Catholics and visiting Protestants still respond “And also with you.” The more regular Sunday Catholic attendees have been trained to respond “And with your Spirit”. They make this response, not because it makes sense, but because they had been admonished to.

A similar “new” liturgy/missal had been slated for implementation in Germany. But now, with the current direction of the winds of Rome (for pastoral wisdom) German bishops have rejected changing the liturgy to placate some Vatican commission at the expense of clarity and “the language of the people”. A German publication declared that there would be no new translation this Advent, nor will it be coming about in the foreseeable future.” An article on the matter was recently published in the NCR. Full text can be found at 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The real test of Francis' reform...

The National Catholic Reporter started a series of articles examining Pope Francis' recent interviews. You can find this and the other following articles published  on

Pope Francis shows courage: not only in his brave appearance in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but also by entering into an open dialogue with critical nonbelievers. He has written an open letter to leading Italian intellectual Eugenio Scalfari, founder and longtime editor in chief of the major liberal Roman daily newspaper La Repubblica. These are not papal instructions, but a friendly exchange of arguments on equal levels.

Among the 12 questions from Scalfari printed in La Repubblica Sept. 11, the fourth seems to me of particular importance for a church leadership ready for reforms: Jesus perceived his kingdom not to be of this world -- "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" -- but the Catholic church especially, writes Scalfari, all too often submits to the temptations of worldly power and represses the spiritual dimension of the church in favor of worldliness.
Scalfari's question: "Does Pope Francis represent after all the priority of a poor and pastoral church over an institutional and worldly church?"
Let's focus on the facts:
  • From the beginning, Francis has dispensed with papal pomp and glory and engaged in direct contact with people.
  • In his words and gestures, he has not presented himself as the spiritual lord of lords, but rather as the "servant of the servants of God" (Gregory the Great).
  • Facing numerous financial scandals and the avarice of church leaders, he has initiated decisive reforms of the Vatican bank and the papal state and called for transparent financial politics.
  • By establishing a commission of eight cardinals from the different continents, he has underlined the need for curial reforms and collegiality with the bishops.
But he has not yet passed the decisive test of his will to reform. It is understandable and pleasing that a Latin American bishop puts the poor in the favelas of the great metropolises first. But the pope of the Catholic church cannot lose sight the fact that other groups of people in other countries suffer from other kinds of "poverty," and also yearn for the improvement of their situation. And these are people whom the pope can support even more directly than he can those in the favelas, for whom state organizations and society in general are primarily responsible.

The synoptic Gospels have developed a broader notion of poverty. In the Gospel of Luke, the beatitude of the poor refers without a doubt to the really poor, poor in a material sense. But in Matthew's Gospel, this beatitude refers to the "poor in spirit," the spiritually poor, who, as beggars before God, are aware of their spiritual poverty. Thus, in line with the other beatitudes, it includes not just the poor and hungry, but also those who cry, who are left out, marginalized, neglected, excluded, exploited, desperate. Jesus calls both the miserable and lost ones in a situation of extreme affliction (Luke) and those in a situation of inner distress (Matthew), all those who are weary and burdened, including those burdened by guilt.

Thus the number of poor who need support multiplies many times over. Support in particular from the pope, who can help more than others, due to his office. Support from him as the representative of the ecclesiastical institution and tradition means more than just comforting and encouraging words; it means deeds of mercy and charity. Offhand, three large groups of people come to mind who are "poor" in the Catholic church.

First, the divorced. From many countries and counted in the millions, many are excluded from the sacraments of the church for their whole life because they have remarried. Today's greater social mobility, flexibility and liberality as well as a noticeably longer life expectancy make greater demands on partners in a lifelong relationship. Certainly, the pope will emphatically uphold the necessary indissolubility of marriage even under these aggravating conditions. But this commandment will not be understood as an apodictic condemnation of those who fail and cannot expect forgiveness.
Rather, this commandment expresses a goal that demands lifelong faithfulness, as it is lived by innumerous couples already, but cannot be guaranteed. The mercy that Francis calls for would allow the church to admit divorced and remarried persons to the sacraments if they seriously wish it.

Second, women who are ostracized in the church because of the ecclesiastical position regarding contraception, artificial insemination and also abortion, and often find themselves in a situation of spiritual distress. There are millions of them in the whole world. Only a tiny minority of Catholic women obey the papal prohibition to practice "artificial" contraception, and many with a good conscience use artificial insemination. Abortion should not be banalized or even be used as a means of birth control. But women who for serious reasons decided to have an abortion, often experiencing great moral conflict, deserve understanding and mercy.

Third, priests who had to leave the priesthood because they married. Across the continents, they number in the tens of thousands. Many suitable young men do not even become priests in the first place because of the commandment of celibacy. Without doubt, voluntary celibacy of priests will continue to have its place in the Catholic church. But the legal commandment that church officials remain unmarried contradicts the freedom guaranteed in the New Testament, the ecumenic tradition of the first millennium and modern human rights. The abolition of mandatory celibacy would represent the most effective means against the catastrophic shortage of priests noticeable everywhere and the related collapse of pastoral care. Should the church maintain mandatory celibacy, there is no thinking of the desirable ordination of women into the priesthood.

All these reforms are urgent and should first be discussed in the summit of eight cardinals, which is to meet Oct. 1-2. Francis faces important decisions here. He has already shown great sensitivity and empathy with the hardships of people, and proved considerable courage in various situations. These qualities enable him to make the necessary and forward-looking decisions regarding these issues, some of which have been a problem for centuries.

In his interview, published Sept. 20 in Jesuit journals worldwide, including La Civiltà Cattolica and America, Francis recognizes the importance of questions such as contraception, homosexuality and abortion. But he refuses to put these questions too much at the center of the church's mission. He rightly calls for a "new balance" between these moral issues and the essential impulses of the Gospel itself. But this balance can only be reached when reforms that were postponed again and again are realized, so that these fundamentally secondary moral issues will not rob the proclamation of the Gospel of its "freshness and attractiveness." This will be the great challenge for Francis.

[Fr. Hans Küng, Swiss citizen, is professor emeritus of ecumenical theology at Tübingen University in Germany. He is the honorary president of the Global Ethic Foundation ( [1]).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Francis: Church should be "a home for all."

Wonder how Conservative spinmeisters are going to try and spin this one?  Pope Francis was critical of Ecclesial “purists” when he said “This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people." A New York Times article follows...

New York Times

September 19, 2013

Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

Pope Francis, in the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic church had grown “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.
In remarkably blunt language, Francis sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a “home for all” and not a “small chapel” focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings.
“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” the pope told the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal whose content is routinely approved by the Vatican. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
The interview was conducted in Italian during three meetings in August in the pope’s spartan quarters in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse, and translated into English by a team of translators. Francis has chosen to live at Casa Santa Marta rather than in what he said were more isolated quarters at the Apostolic Palace, home to many of his predecessors.
The interview was released simultaneously on Thursday morning by 16 Jesuit journals around the world, and includes the pope’s lengthy reflections on his identity as a Jesuit. Pope Francis personally reviewed the transcript in Italian, said the Rev. James Martin, an editor-at-large of America, the Jesuit magazine in New York. America and La Civiltà Cattolica together had asked Francis to grant the interview, which America is publishing in its magazine and as an e-book.
“Some of the things in it really surprised me,” Father Martin said. “He seems even more of a free-thinker than I thought — creative, experimental, willing to live on the margins, push boundaries back a little bit.”
The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, often appeared to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. These teachings are “clear” to him as “a son of the church,” he said, but they have to be taught in a larger context. “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”
From the outset of his papacy in March, Francis has chosen to use the global spotlight to focus instead on the church’s mandate to serve the poor and marginalized. He has washed the feet of juvenile prisoners, visited a center for refugees and hugged disabled pilgrims at his audiences.
His pastoral presence and humble gestures have made him wildly popular, according to recent surveys. But there has been a low rumble of discontent from some Catholic advocacy groups, and even from some bishops, who have taken note of his silence on abortion and gay marriage. Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., told his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis” because he had not spoken about abortion. “Many people have noticed that,” the bishop was quoted as saying.
The interview is the first time Francis has explained the reasoning behind both his actions and omissions. He also expanded on the comments he made about homosexuality in July, on an airplane returning to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, where he had celebrated World Youth Day. In a remark then that produced headlines worldwide, the new pope said, “Who am I to judge?” At the time, some questioned whether he was referring only to gays in the priesthood, but in this interview he made clear that he had been speaking of gays and lesbians in general.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he told Father Spadaro. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
The interview also serves to present the pope as a human being, who loves Mozart and Dostoevsky and his grandmother, and whose favorite film is Fellini’s “La Strada.”
The 12,000-word interview ranges widely, and may confirm what many Catholics already suspected: that the chameleon-like Francis bears little resemblance to those on the church’s theological or political right wing. He said some people had assumed he was an “ultraconservative” because of his reputation when he served as the superior of his Jesuit province in Argentina. He pointed out that he was made superior at the “crazy” young age of 36, and that his leadership style was too authoritarian.
“But I have never been a right-winger,” he said. “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
Now, Francis said, he prefers a more consultative leadership style. He has appointed an advisory group of eight cardinals, a step he said was recommended by the cardinals at the consistory that elected him. They were demanding reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, he said, adding that from the eight, “I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.”
The pope said he has found it “amazing” to see complaints about “lack of orthodoxy” flowing into the Vatican offices in Rome from conservative Catholics around the world. They ask the Vatican to investigate or discipline their priests, bishops or nuns. Such complaints, he said, “are better dealt with locally,” or else the Vatican offices risk becoming “institutions of censorship.”
Asked what it means for him to “think with the church,” a phrase used by the Jesuit founder St. Ignatius, Francis said that it did not mean “thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”
He said he thinks of the church “as the people of God, pastors and people together.”
“The church is the totality of God’s people,” he added, a notion popularized after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which Francis praised for making the Gospel relevant to modern life, an approach he called “absolutely irreversible.”
And while he agreed with the decision of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, to allow the broader use of the traditional Latin-language Tridentine Mass, he said that the more traditional Mass risked becoming an ideology and that he was worried about its “exploitation.” Those who seek a broad revival of the Tridentine Mass have been among Francis’s harshest critics, and those remarks are not likely to comfort them.
In contrast to Benedict, who sometimes envisioned a smaller but purer church — a “faithful fragment” — Francis envisions the church as a big tent.
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he said. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

When does our hope for Francis become denial?

While some are hopeful, not everyone is enamored with the new pope. Some are among the established conservative, and others are among the “liberal” crowd who question any changes as perhaps style – not substance. This is picked up on by Jamie Manson in an NCR article.

When does our hope for Francis become denial?

Jamie Manson
Jul. 31, 2013 Grace on the Margins

Full disclosure: I do not feel excited or hopeful about what Pope Francis said about women and gay priests [1] during his epic press conference on the way home to Rome.

Now, wait. Before you click me off as a hater or an incorrigible pessimist or an angry feminist lesbian or another choice label, please understand this: I don't dislike Pope Francis.

I think he has an authentic warmth. I appreciate his desire to be among the people. I laugh at some of his jokes, and there are themes in his sermons that genuinely move me. I share his desire to break down clericalism and the injustices of capitalism, and I believe wholeheartedly in his vision of ecological justice.

More substantively than even all of this, I share with him a deep passion for the poor and marginalized. Like Francis, I, too, have my most vivid encounters with Jesus among those who are homeless, mentally ill, incarcerated or suffering with addictions.

But Francis and I part ways on the topics of women's equality and the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in the church. The pope's statements on the plane only reinforced the depth of my disagreement with him.

An excessive amount of commentary has been launched into cyberspace since the news of the pope's comments on women and gay priests hit the Internet, so I'll attempt to give the short, bullet-point version of why I do not share in the hope or excitement of some of my colleagues and friends.

• In terms of his much-touted use of the word "gay," I believe he used it not so much as a sign of respect but because the word was being used in the context of the rumored "gay lobby." Few people still know what this mysterious lobby inside the Curia is or what precisely they are advocating for (clearly it isn't LGBT rights), but Francis was again clear he was not pleased with this lobby, saying he needed to distinguish whether a person was gay or part of the gay lobby.

• After Francis delivered his now-legendary "Who am I to judge?" line, he immediately reaffirmed the teaching of the catechism. He may not have used the "intrinsically disordered" phrase, but he did make it clear that "the tendency isn't the problem." Obviously, same-sex acts and same-sex marriage still are the problem. The real question I think he was asking was, "Who am I do judge a celibate gay person who seeks the Lord and is of goodwill?"

• While his words about a new approach to divorced and remarried Catholics were encouraging, they were couched in his mentioning that a new "pastoral care of marriage" was being developed. My sense is the main thrust of initiative will be to make the boldest Roman Catholic declaration yet that marriage is between one man and one woman. Remember that just two years ago, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he called same-sex marriage an "anthropological setback," and on the plane, he affirmed the church's opposition to marriage equality.

• Pope Francis' words about women were spirit-breaking. The idea that we need a "deeper theology of women" is remarkable only because, for the past half-century, Catholic women theologians, many of them women religious, have been developing, writing and teaching a profound theology of women. Just because the hierarchy has not cared to read it doesn't mean it doesn't already exist. I shudder to think whom Francis would ask to formulate this "deeper theology."

• As a woman who has discerned a calling to the priesthood for more than 20 years, Francis' hiding behind John Paul II's theology and claiming that the "door is closed" on the ordination issue was profoundly painful. Hearing these words, I felt the same kind of humiliation I would have experienced if a door had literally been slammed in my face.

• Francis got some positive attention for saying women are more important than priests and bishops, even if they have no chance of being ordained. In essence, he said even though women will never have ecclesial decision-making power or the opportunity to exercise sacramental ministry, they are so much more special than the men who get to run and lead the church.

This last point raises an important question about the laity's response to Pope Francis: Who among progressive Catholics of the last two decades would have ever abided by such patronizing rhetoric? In previous papacies, this kind of a statement about women would have raised the ire of all progressive Catholics.

Francis locked the deadbolt on John Paul II's closed door to women, and he reaffirmed the church's woefully inadequate teaching on gays and lesbians as well as its ban on marriage equality. Yet we still hear that many progressive Catholics "cannot get enough" of the new pope.

I have even heard Catholic women who have been fierce fighters for the full inclusion of women in the church claim that they still feel hope and are excited about this pope and his proposed deeper theology of women.

Yes, Pope Francis is a warm pope of the people with a deep passion for many marginalized communities. But he is still advocating some very unjust, harmful doctrinal positions. So why do Catholics, especially many progressive Catholics, continue to give him a pass?

Francis is changing the tone in the hope that the church will be perceived in a better light, but there is little evidence to suggest he will or wants to make doctrinal changes on women's equality, same-sex relationships or contraception, and his response to the issue of clergy sex abuse has been underwhelming at best.

Have we gotten to the point where our desire to realize the church of our dreams and our insistence that Francis will be the man to make our dreams come true is clouding our perception of what Francis is really saying?

Recently, when I criticized the pope's words about the existence of a gay lobby, a friend chastised me, saying I had already decided I didn't like the pope, so there was nothing he could do that would please me.

I took the comment to heart, and I continue to use it as a litmus test for my own reactions to Francis. But I also turned the tables on my friend. Couldn't it also be argued that there are progressive Catholics who have decided they like this pope so much that they have practically given him immunity from any criticism?

Are we truly listening to the full context of what Francis is saying, or are we just hearing what our hearts most deeply want to hear? It is important to be people of hope, but at what point does being hopeful and optimistic slip into avoidance and denial of what this man truly believes?

I realize Catholics are starving for inspiring, authentic pastoral leadership, but honesty and solidarity demand that we speak out against unjust, spiritually harmful words, even if they are coming from a charismatic figure in whom we desperately want to believe and trust.

I want to be hopeful that Francis might have a transformation. Personally, my heart has a deep investment in it: I would love to be able to return to active Catholic ministry again, and I want all of the exceptional women and LGBT Catholics who have the ability to spiritually lead and inspire to be able to answer God's calling.

I want to believe real reforms are in the imminent future. Again, my heart is invested in this: I would love to have the opportunity to marry my partner in the church of my childhood, the church with the "sacramental view of the world" and the finest social justice teachings on the books. I want all LGBT couples to have the chance to marry in the church with which their hearts identify.

But there was nothing Francis said on that plane that leads me to think we are any closer to either of these possibilities. I remain hopeful justice will come someday, but I think it is important to accept the reality that the residual effects of a patriarchal, homophobic, clerical formation can still dwell within a man who is otherwise committed to justice and deeply pastoral.

For many progressive Catholics, the Benedict years were painful and divisive. But the upside of having a pope that was less pastoral and more rigidly orthodox was that it helped some Catholics break out of some of the trappings of our tradition: the passivity, the clericalism, the adulation of the papacy. Laypeople began to embrace the idea that God has infused all of God's people with deep sacramental power.

Since our new pope is so likeable and so obviously committed to justice for many marginalized groups, it appears that even some of the most liberal Catholics are gradually being lulled back into an odd, filial submission to Francis. Hearing so many English-speaking folk refer to him as "Papa" suggests this pope may even be fulfilling the need for a benevolent, spiritual father. I'm not sure how healthy this is spiritually or how helpful it is for the future of badly needed reforms in our church.

The response to the papal plane ride has set up an interesting challenging. How do we remain people of hope with a deep admiration for much of what the pope says and does while also not losing our prophetic edge in fighting for true justice for women, LGBT people, sexual abuse survivors and those suffering from lack of access to contraception?

If we cannot be honest about what this pope believes, and if we refuse to criticize him when criticism is justified, we could run the risk of giving the Vatican public relations machine exactly what it wants: a return to the days when the pope was an object of affection, adulation and unequivocal goodwill -- no questions asked.

[Jamie L. Manson is NCR books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her NCR columns have won numerous awards, most recently second prize for Commentary of the Year from Religion Newswriters.]