Sunday, 22 December 2013

Challenge for the Pope is whether his teachings result in real social justice inside and outside the Church

The papacy of Pope Francis has brought a breath of fresh air to the Catholic Church.

His message has been one of social justice, not only about embracing the poor but asking why in a world of such abundance so many live in poverty.

It is these fundamentals of his message that many, particularly in the media world, choose to ignore.

Instead of embracing the message of social justice and its ramifications, many have chosen instead to idolise the man himself.

Maybe in the inane modern world of celebrity this was inevitable but it is also to misunderstand the message that the Pope is trying to convey. It is not all about charity but justice.

Christmas is a time when charity comes to the fore. People reach out and give to the homeless, foodbanks and other charities. However, charity as an end in itself has little merit.

Giving to a homeless charity at Christmas, whilst ignoring the homeless for the rest of the year could almost amount to self-indulgence.

It was Pope John XXIII who said that charity can never be a substitute for justice – this appears to be a mantra that Pope Francis also embraces.

Simply adopting a charitable response to social problems that can easily be resolved if the political will exists is simply putting a band aid on the problem. At best a salver of conscience, at worst willful collusion in the causes of the injustice in the first place.

So a campaigner for justice cannot accept a situation of growing homelessness, much of it caused by deliberate government policies being implemented to cut benefits.

Similarly, nor can they accept in a country of 88 billionaires that 500,000 people have to go to food banks.

In the coming year, it must also be hoped that more is heard from Pope Francis on the need to attain equality as well as address poverty.

The Pope has made a bold start in tackling Vatican corruption, consulting the laity and in setting up the commission on child abuse. However, the basic structures of the Church need to change.

A Church based on social justice cannot go on discriminating against women in the way that it presently does.

If it is serious about child abuse then the structures that allowed that abuse to occur in the first place need to change.

The position of priest needs to be reviewed and reformed, from qualifications to practice. Structural change will be the mettle test of whether the Catholic Church really is changing.

The Pope has made a great start at a rhetorical and reforming level; the challenge though will be how far these changes can be made reality.

How far pursuit of the social teachings means demanding justice, not just charity and also whether that demand for justice will extend to the structures of the Church itself.

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