A year on, Pope Francis faces challenges meeting reform hopes

Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:45am EDT
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

(Reuters) - In the year since his surprise election, Pope Francis has raised so many hopes of imminent changes in Church teaching that managing all those expectations is going to be a challenge.

The Argentine-born pontiff has caught world attention by suggesting he might ease the Catholic Church's strict rules on divorce, birth control, married or women priests and gay unions.

Off-the-cuff comments such as "who am I to judge?" about gays has contrasted with the more distant style of his predecessors John Paul and Benedict.

But while his words and public appearances have struck a chord with many Catholics, anyone hoping for a quick turnaround on those headline-grabbers is likely to be disappointed, said Boston College theologian Richard Gaillardetz.

"There is a critical mass of Catholics who want change," said Gaillardetz, president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. "In the minds of many people, substantial change has to mean change on what I call the hot button troika - birth control, women's ordination and same-sex marriage.

"This pope has undertaken very substantial change, but it is not necessarily going to focus on specific doctrines," he added.

Instead, say Gaillardetz and others, Francis seeks a deeper shift in the Church to become what he calls a "field hospital" serving the needs of the faithful rather than an inward-looking institution more concerned with its own rules and procedures.

Either way, he seems be facing the religious version of what   Continued...

Pope Francis celebrates mass during Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina Basilica in Rome March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Max Rossi