“That man is somebody's preacher!” – Willie Lee Dyer, my late mother
This pope does not stop.
Almost from Day 1 of his election as the Bishop of Rome, the preeminent episcopal see of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has conducted a revolutionary refocus of what his church is supposed to be about.
He has called out, castigated and warned all those so-called “conservative” Catholics that they too must get with program—the Jesus program. The program that directly addresses the condition, the always deplorable condition, the needs of “the least of these”— the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the hungry, the homeless, and yes, the imprisoned, but most especially, the just plain poor.
Pope Francis' latest exhortation, however, is directed not at the laity, but to his fellow priests. To do this work, as leaders of the worldwide Catholic flock, they must first purify themselves, both spiritually and physically. Otherwise, he says, they can and often do become "little monsters."
The purification process begins at the beginning—when prospective priests are still in seminary. This calls for a serious culling of those men who are simply not cut out to be priests—those men whose Jesus spirit has, for whatever reason, been compromised.
In practical terms, no longer, for example, will men be accepted to study for or allowed to remain in the priesthood who have been implicated in sexual abuse or who have had other, similar problems. The protection of the Catholic faithful, the congregants, the church itself is what is important, what is indeed paramount—not the individual careers (or even feelings) of particular men who would be (or are) priests.
This Revolutionary Gospel Preacher made these observations back on Nov. 29 during a closed-door meeting of 120 superiors of religious orders who had gathered at the Vatican for their regular assembly. It was only this past Friday, however, that the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica released a report of the three-hour, informal question-and-answer session. The Vatican itself has not provided a transcript of the meeting.
The journal quoted this first Jesuit pope as ordering the superiors to "wake up the world" with their ministries, again, particularly as to the always shameful condition of the world's poor.
"Truly to understand reality we need to move away from the central position of calmness and peacefulness and direct ourselves to the peripheral areas," he said.
But again, Pope Francis emphasized to the superiors that the failure of the church begins in the failings of seminary training, or "formation." He accused many would-be priests of overlooking their “mistakes,” and just "gritting their teeth...following the rules [and] smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told, 'Good, you have finished formation.'"
"This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism, which is one of the worst evils," Francis told the paper. It is the result of cronyism and careerism among the men of the cloth.
But the pope did not just criticize. He pointed to the way out and up: The training of priests, he said, must be a "work of art, not a police action."
"We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goosebumps."
Finally, to bring the point home, in his remarks to the superiors Francis spoke again of the "huge problem" of accepting into the seminary someone who has already been asked to leave another religious institute, and he cited Pope Benedict XVI's zero-tolerance stance on priests who commit sexual abuse.
"I am not speaking about people who recognize that they are sinners: We are all sinners, but we are all not corrupt," Francis said. "Sinners are accepted, but not people who are corrupt."
Again, as my mother used to say about particularly insightful, spiritual and moving ministers, “This is somebody's preacher.”