American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, led a new attack on Pope Francis’s reformist agenda when he likened the Roman Catholic Church to a “ship without a rudder.” In an interview with the Spanish Catholic Magazine Vida Nueva, Burke stated that he was not speaking against the Pope personally but only questioning his leadership. Burke’s snide attack doesn’t take into account Pope Francis’ considerable achievements that have made of him a figure of worldwide respect.
Pope Francis took an uncompromising stand against war. Calling the war on Syria “a defeat for humanity,” Pope Francis reiterated his opposition to the war, denouncing at the same time “the commercial wars to sell arms” and demanding that political leaders find a “just solution to the conflict.” During the traditional Angelus ceremony in St. Peter Square Pope Francis stressed that world leaders should choose the way of peace, in what many interpreted as a message to the United States and French presidents.
The Grand Mufti of Damascus thanked Pope Francis for his efforts on behalf of peace in Syria, and invited Muslims to join an invitation from Pope Francis to fast in solidarity and opposition to outside military intervention in the conflict. Pope Francis also appealed to the world leaders at the G20 meeting in Russia, and urged them to abandon the “futile pursuit” of a military solution for the Syrian conflict.
He has confronted head on accusations against sexual abuses committed by priests. On July 7, 2014, in a homily given during a private Mass with six victims of sexual abuse by priests, Pope Francis apologized for the priests and bishops’ misconduct and asked for forgiveness, pledging that Catholic bishops “will be held accountable” for failing to protect children.
As proof of his determination not to allow clerical sexual abuse to continue, Pope Francis removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from his post as Bishop of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Bishop Livieres Plano has been accused of protecting and promoting an Argentine priest named Carlos Urrutigoity who had been called a “serious threat to young people” by Joseph Bambera, the Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
This move followed the arrest of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who faces up to seven years in jail if he is found guilty that he sexually abused children while he was papal nuncio in the Dominican Republic.
Pope Francis has a unique vision of economic justice, and has become a voice for the poor of the world. In his first Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” he unequivocally condemned free market capitalism, dismissed “trickle-down” economics as factually unproven and demanded that the Church and world leaders care for the poor.
He has strongly condemned superfluous expenses by priest and bishops. He stripped of is title German bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst for lavish spending on his residence on the grounds that he “currently cannot exercise his office.” The German bishop had spent more than $41 million renovating his residence and other church buildings.
Pope Francis has refused to live in the “Pope Suite” at the Vatican and has asked to live in a more modest apartment at the Vatican, where sometimes he cooks his own meals. He has said, “This I ask you: Be shepherds, with the ‘odor of the sheep.’ Make it real.” In the same vein, he got rid of the Pope-Mobile and prefers to ride with other cardinals in a minibus or in his own 20-year old Renault car.
Stating that the Church was the “pillar of marriage” Cardinal Burke strongly condemned Pope Francis conciliatory attitude towards gays and lesbians and challenged Pope Francis’s revolutionary statement, “Who am I to judge?” referring to gay people. Burke dismissed the fact that Pope Francis’ open and unprejudiced attitude was attracting back many people who had left the church because of its prejudices against homosexuals and divorced people.
As Burke continues his attacks against Pope Francis (“I would like to be master of the faith, with all my weaknesses, telling the truth that many currently perceive”) today we need the wisdom, courage and broad vision of people like Pope Francis, and heed his message for peace. As he stated during a prayer for peace in St. Peter’s Square, “We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.