Pope Francis disappoints progressives. He will do so again.

By Fr Thomas Reese SJ, 29 May 2024
Pope Francis speaks during the General Audience in the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday 31 January 2024. Image: Vatican Media


Too many progressives believe that Francis reflects their views on the church. In truth, he is pastoral in his encounters with people but unwilling to change church teaching in any radical way. CBS News journalist Norah O’Donnell aptly quoted an unnamed Vatican observer as saying that Francis has changed the tune but not the words of the song.

Progressive Catholics have always hoped for significant changes in the church. Yes, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council were great, but they were seen as the beginning, not the end of reform. They hoped for married priests, women priests and changes in the church’s teaching on gays, birth control and divorce.

Francis has raised their hopes. While not changing the church’s teaching on divorce, he made it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to go to Communion. He has promoted women to higher and higher places in the church, but ordination is a bridge too far for him.

I think of Francis as a grandmother presiding over Thanksgiving dinner that she hopes will bring the family together and heal wounds. She does not want any fights. “Don’t shout; listen to one another! This is not the time to decide what to do with the family business. We can’t do that until you are willing to respectfully listen to one another.”

Sadly, the pope also sometimes sounds like a grandfather who says things that make his grandchildren cringe. Whether the grandchildren will forgive him or stomp out of the house remains to be seen.

Francis has reopened the windows that were closed by John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI, but the church is still an institution that will not change until there is global consensus for change.

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The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine.

With thanks to Religion News Service (RNS), where this article originally appeared.


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