As unrealistic expectations for change in Catholic Church teaching have been building among liberals, signs are now appearing that the honeymoon with Pope Francis may be ending.
“Losing hope that Pope Francis will bring real change to the Church” read a recent headline, capping an article that decries Francis’ lack of support for American nuns, which the article describes as “the de facto leaders of the country’s liberal Catholics.”
“If the new pope were serious about shifting the Church’s attention, one sign might be his treatment of these women… But a year and a half into his papacy, Pope Francis is looking an awful lot like his predecessors.” These words, cited from a recent essay in Harper’s Magazine called “Francis and the Nuns,” suggest that the revolution feared by some and hoped for by others simply is not happening.
The article went on to observe that stories of continuing problems in the Church “tend to take the air out of any suggestions that Francis is, well, some kind of savior.”
Meanwhile, similar fears of dashed expectations for change are beginning to circulate around the upcoming synod on marriage and the family, set to begin this coming Sunday.
A recent piece observed that “the discussions are raising expectations among the faithful that some change in doctrine is inevitable. If the reforms don’t materialize, or don’t go as far as many want, they worry that the faithful will become disillusioned with the church.”
The disappointments have already begun. As soon as the list of attendees for the upcoming synod were released, the lay reform group “We Are Church Ireland” pronounced themselves “extremely disappointed,” as did Fr. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit Magainze America. Reese, a well-known liberal spokesman, called the list of participants “a disappointment to those hoping for reform of the Curia and for those who hope that the laity will be heard at the synod.”
Likewise, in a recent interview, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, the archbishop of Durban, South Africa, said that his greatest worry for the synod is “unrealistic expectations, one of which is the media-driven false hope that Pope Francis is going to overturn, single-handedly, a most serious section of Church teaching to satisfy the demands of the modern world.”
History sometimes repeats itself, and something similar already occurred back in 1968, when media reports that Pope Paul VI was planning to reverse traditional Catholic teaching on artificial birth control proved false. Paul’s encyclical letter called Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the teaching, and huge numbers of Catholics were disillusioned.
Pope Francis recently praised the courage of Paul VI in standing up to the majority, for which he lost the favor of church liberals. Francis may be set up for a similar fate.