I was watching the NBC Evening News a couple of nights ago as it covered the arrival of Pope Francis I. The allegedly objective reporter referred to the Pope not as “The Pope” or as “Pope Francis,” but as “The Holy Father” and “His Holiness.” Is NBC now CBS–The Catholic Broadcasting System? Would any imam or even the Dalai Lama be shown such reverential deference? Of course, Francis does look cuddly compared to his predecessor, Grand Inquisitor Benedict XVI. J. Edgar Hoover would have looked cuddly next to Benedict. In the midst of the effusive adulation of Francis as “news” reporters vie to outdo each other in the generation of encomia, it is probably boorish to note that the Pope’s celebrated progressiveness only extends so far. Apparently, transgender people still merit censure:
Francis may be personally a very nice man. He certainly seems to be. When he talks about the poor and downtrodden, he exudes genuine warmth and empathy. Clearly and for obvious reasons, the Catholic Church would love for Francis to be the face of the Church. But even if Francis is the face, the body grew over 2000 years, and no pope, however charismatic, can perform a whole-body makeover.
But hasn’t the Church addressed its violent and oppressive past? Didn’t it apologize to Galileo (350 years after the event)? Hasn’t it apologized for the Holy Inquisition? Yes, they have apologized. Kind of. But apologies are easy. Apologies are cheap. In his outstanding book God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, Cullen Murphy reports the remarks of historian Carlo Ginzburg at a Vatican-sponsored conclave of scholars in the year 2000. Ginzburg addressed remarks made by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the opening of the archives of the Inquisition:
“What I didn’t hear the pope say today, and what I haven’t heard anybody in this discussion say, is that the Catholic Church is ashamed of what it did. Not sorry. Sorry is easy. I want to hear the Catholic Church–I want to hear the pope–say that he is ashamed.”
Francis needs to say what John Paul would not–that he is ashamed of the Church’s sins.