Beall: The Pope's new priorities


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I consider myself a skeptic when it comes to organized religion, so when Pope Francis decided to only accept what has been called “modest accommodations” in Rome and to ride in a used Ford Focus instead of the BMWs or Mercedes of his predecessors, I wasn’t impressed.

And even after he explained his decision saying, “It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.” I chalked it up as just another carefully orchestrated public-relations move by the Vatican.

But in recent weeks, the pope has begun to focus on changing church-wide attitudes, and I am starting to believe this “progressive” pope actually wants to create a more down-to-earth church — to bring the Catholic Church into this century.

He believes that the church is too obsessed with abortion, birth control, and homosexuality. He has stated that it is not his place to judge gays — this is a 360-degree turn from Pope Benedict, who is quoted as saying homosexuality is a “intrinsic moral evil.”

He has invited homeless individuals to dine with him. He has been more accepting of atheists, Muslims, and individuals of other faiths. During Maundy Thursday service in March, he washed the feet of two women and several Muslims, apparently something that has never happened before and something that shocked many Catholics.

He has personally called individuals who have sent him letters, including a young woman who had been raped and was asking him for help. He has even condemned modern capitalism for putting profits above human suffering and has become an advocate for the poor, stating that poverty and income inequality are violations of human rights.

Pope Francis is absolutely correct when he says that churches are too obsessed with sex and bedroom morality. In a time when many religions are struggling to connect with younger generations, he is doing what many religious conservatives can’t — changing his church’s message with the times.

Most churches today are struggling with getting young people to come to church; they don’t understand why, and their attempts at winning over young people are more alienating than appealing. Religious conservatives don’t understand that the reason a large number of 20- to 30-year-olds have left religions is because of the archaic social messages they are spreading.

Only a more modern take on social issues will win back young people. Superficial tactics such as tolerating people who wear jeans to church, having “rock” music during service, and pastors/priests trying to be cool will not work and is insulting to our intelligence. Making the medium more casual doesn’t change the messages that churches are sending.

Too many churches are obsessed with people’s sex lives, abortion, birth control, and stopping gays from marrying, while ignoring poverty, racism, and violence in society — problems that should concern any moral person.

Whether the pope’s softening on social issues is a calculated move or not, what is going on in the Vatican is good for the whole world, and other religious leaders should take note.

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