Pope Francis faces serious tests of his leadership
AUSTRALIA, The Australian, TESS LIVINGSTONE THE AUSTRALIAN APRIL 04, 2015
Leading up to Easter, initiatives on opposite sides of the world underlined the value of effective church leadership.
In Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher announced 100,000 Catholic school students and their teachers would pause at noon each school day to pray the Angelus, an ancient prayer recalling the events of the Annunciation, when Mary, visited by the angel Gabriel, said yes to becoming the mother of God.
As well as teaching children how to pray, the Angelus is a lesson in the Christian faith. For centuries it has been heralded by a bell, as depicted in Jean-Francois Millet’s famous painting in the Musee d’Orsay.
It was a chance, Fisher said, to pause briefly in “a wonderful act of solidarity and communion ... as we reflect upon and celebrate the great mystery of God becoming one of us in the presence of Jesus”.
In Brisbane, Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge, a leading scripture scholar, master of 10 languages and a dynamic speaker, is playing to his strengths, delivering nine monthly lectures on Living Biblically in a Secular World. Unexpectedly, the first was so packed, with 430 attendees, mainly young people, that it generated its own exodus, from the designated room to the cathedral next door. Ninety minutes felt like 30.
In Rome, Pope Francis also has been proactive, welcoming 150 homeless people for an exclusive tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. He chatted with them and provided lunch. Similar thoughtful acts, such as the showers for the homeless near the Vatican, during the past two years have sent the Pope’s popularity soaring.
A few cracks and controversies are appearing, however. Francis is under fire from the Left and the Right over an episcopal appointment that would have produced deafening protests had it been made by Benedict XVI.
A fortnight ago, angry Catholics protested inside the cathedral at Osorno, a town of 150,000 in southern Chile, when Juan Barros, 58, was installed as bishop. Thirty priests, 1300 parishioners and 51 members of Chile’s 120-member congress had written to the Pope urging him to quash the appointment, but to no avail.
This is a tricky test case for Francis’s “zero tolerance’’ of child abuse by priests, a crime he has described as akin to “celebrating a black mass’’ and betraying “the Lord’s body’’.
Barros’s critics accuse him of witnessing and covering up the abuse of boys by one of his former mentors, the now notorious Father Fernando Karadima, in the 1980s and 90s. In 2011, the Vatican barred Karadima from saying mass in public and sentenced him to a life of “prayer and penance’’ after an investigation.
Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires in neighbouring Argentina, would have been familiar with the controversy.
Recently, two of Karadima’s victims told CNN that Barros was in the room when they were abused, a claim the bishop denies emphatically: “I never had knowledge or imagined the serious abuses that this priest (Karadima) committed with his victims.’’
He is entitled to his good name and, arguably, career advancement. But a problem for the Pope was revealed this week when three of his hand-picked advisers on sex abuse, including two female psychiatrists, expressed “concern and incredulity’’ over the appointment. Yet again, they say, victims’ have been swept aside.