What Protestants think of Pope Francis

As our pastor approached the end of his recent sermon series, “Jesus, the Pope and a Protestant Walk into a Bar,” he felt obliged to balance all the praise he’d given Pope Francis with at least a short list of his disagreements with the pontiff. So Paul Rock asked several friends, including me, to tell him not what we love about Francis, which is a lot, but what bothers us about his first year in office.
I’ll share with you what I said to Paul while acknowledging that it’s not up to us Protestants to tell Catholics how to behave, what to believe or how to organize their ecclesial life. We have enough trouble doing that for ourselves, after all. So here (minus the obvious and consistent Protestant complaint that we still aren’t welcome to receive Communion in Catholic churches) was my list.
First: So far, Francis hasn’t repudiated or softened the Vatican statement issued when Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That document, Dominus Iesus, says the Catholic church is the only true church and that others “are not Churches in the proper sense.”
We Protestants (and other non-Catholics) find that position galling, but as I told Paul, if Francis were to suggest that it’s time to rethink the thrust of that document, some Catholics would attack him even more than they already are. Still, indicating flexibility about those views certainly would make him many non-Catholic friends.
Second: So far, although he suggested he’s in no position to judge someone who might be gay, he’s done nothing we know of to repeal of Section 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are “objectively disordered.”
There is, of course, still some debate even among scientists about the causes of homosexuality, but there’s now almost no doubt — save among some people who distort the Bible — that being gay is not a choice. The church should be in the forefront of welcoming all people into the embrace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — and “all” is a pretty inclusive term. Calling someone’s sexual orientation “objectively disordered” fails that test.
Third: So far, the hope that women one day might be ordained as priests is still a pipe dream. But as I told Paul, let’s be fair: One man cannot change the slow-changing church overnight. What I think Francis might do on this issue, however, is to speak out on the question, still debated by Catholics, of whether Pope John Paul II infallibly declared that women will never be priests. If Francis were to come down on the side of those who believe John Paul was not speaking ex cathedra and thus was not issuing an infallible (and presumably irreversible) teaching about this, it would give women great hope. And, of course, it would result in further attacks on Francis from people who wish never to imagine women as priests.
Paul mentioned those three matters in the final sermon in his series but did not say anything about my final point to him, which was this:
Francis hasn’t done what I suggested he do in this open letter to him in an NCR column I wrote in the fall: remove Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., because he was convicted in court of failure to report to government authorities a priest suspected of child sex abuse. Francis could make many friends around the world and lots in Kansas City if he did that — along with making a few more enemies.
Even though we Protestants have no right to tell Catholics what to believe or how to operate, it’s kind of fun to think about.
In turn, I wonder what areas of disagreement Catholics might offer to and about us Protestants in the spirit of ecumenical honesty and love.

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  1. It’s a pity that Bill did not acknowledge that many Catholics find “Dominus Jesus” just as galling as non-Catholics.

  2. Many Catholics are more than a little uncertain regarding the concerns that Bill raises . Apart from the practical measures he mentions (and I know little of the specific persons mentioned) there is a real problem with the bigger issues. Good manners not to mention Christian charity should indicate that we should speak with the utmost respect of fellow Christians but how to respond to the more substantive issues? Infallibility and the inevitable Magisterium are hugely limiting factors. Thank God I’m not pope but perhaps the Holy Spirit will find a way to reconcile the apparent contradictions. “My thoughts are not your thoughts”.

  3. To be fair, Pope Francis has already responded to point three: “And, as far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: “No”. John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That door is closed”. He is trying to get away from the view some people have of the priesthood, who view it primarily in terms of power. To speak of women being “disenfranchised” or “excluded” because they cannot be priests is the other side of the coin of clericalism which seeks to clericalism the laity(both male and female). It was the same with the rumour of female cardinals, Pope Francis shot that clericalistic notion down as soon as he heard about it.

  4. The Eucharistic Exclusivity is easy one to answer: I cannot make love to another man’s wife. It’s just not right. I’m not married. It would be adultery. Likewise, if you aren’t mystically married to the Lord JESUS in his Catholic Church, then you have no business receiving the Holy Eucharist which is the Body and Blood of Christ. For a non-Catholic to receive Him is a lie. Only those who are in communion with CHRIST can receive Him in this particular, special way. There is an easy option: become Catholic. We still think that people need to become Catholic, right???
    The other wish-list elements have been dealt with ad nauseum. But to pop at one would be pedophilia. Surely we’d have no issue saying that was objectively disordered and the actions intrinsically evil? Sodomy is in the same category: the abuse of persons and the sexual faculty.
    Protestants ought not to stick their little noses in and tell us Catholics how to be. In any case, it’s not up to us, but rather the Lord of the Universe, JESUS CHRIST. This is about respect. Protestants ought to have a very profound respect for the beliefs and faith of the Catholics. I’m just not sensing that level of respect in the above article, especially in these times of equality, tolerance, and diversity. Aren’t Catholics to receive the same measure as the goose and the gander?

  5. Firstly, regarding the remark ‘not churches in the proper sense’. I write as Catholic priest, an ecumenist, someone who has worked with fellow Christian pastors for our common mission. What is the protestant church? A protestant Church? A denomination? A local fellowship? A grouping of like-believing Christians (such as the Evangelical Alliance)? There are big ecclesiological questions to be addressed here, and no easy answers (on either the Catholic or Protestant side).
    Secondly, is there a united Protestant opinion on homosexuality, its cause, the ability of gay Christians to participate fully in the life of the Church, the permissibility of gay marriage? If so, where can it be found? Before pointing the finger at another denomination, are we proud of the position held in our own (if indeed there is a generally held opinion)?
    Thirdly, is there united opinion amongst Protestants, Anglicans, evangelicals and other groupings over the permissibility of the exercise of power/ministerial authority by women? If so, where can this opinion be found? The Catholic Church, along with all Christian Churches, is seeking a way forward on this vital issue, but cannot and should not be blamed more than any other for not seeing an obvious, clear way forward in accordance with its tradition. It is no better, nor any worse, than any other. And why the issue of the Bishop of Kansas (surely a worthy issue) was segued into this particular focus of conversation, I do not see the link.
    I rejoice that Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox can all ask each other questions, and offer opinions, not adversarially, but in a spirit of honest and open dialogue. Thank you ACP for giving the forum.

  6. #4 Shaun
    Oh dear! I fear I find far greater Christian respect for Catholics and Catholicism in Bill Tammeus’s piece than I find in your piece responding to it. How on earth could you know that no Protestant is capable of mystical communion with Christ? Where is the Catholic teaching that says this?
    For me to be properly Catholic is to be welcoming to all who come in respect for the Catholic belief in the real presence of Christ in communion. Exclusionary Catholic chauvinism is a tautology – a contradiction of what Catholicism is centrally about. Include me out of your small sect, please.

  7. Mary O Vallely says:

    On the contrary, Shaun @4, I find Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder, a tolerant, loving Christian and I regularly read his pieces in the NCR with an openness to learning from him as I do from other Christians and indeed non-Christians. It’s a sad fact but Christ followers do not have a monopoly on love, charity, tolerance and understanding and we’re each still a work in progress. I have to agree with all Bill says here.
    I also find a certain hint of triumphalism in SOME younger Catholics a bit galling too. We had one of our young curates, an absolute dote of a man, extremely personable and full of joy 🙂 tell us at mass on St Patrick’s day that we should be proud to be Catholics. I squirmed a bit especially living here in the North. Would have preferred if he’d used the word ‘blessed’, to be honest.
    Shaun, it’s always good to see your honest reflections on this site but I do not get the sense at all in Bill’s article that he is in any way disrespectful. We’ll agree to differ on this.

  8. Shaun@4, you mention the need for “respect …..especially in these times of equality, tolerance and diversity”. Could I, Shaun, with respect, suggest to you that you now re-read your post @4.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Very many Catholics and Catholic theologians agree entirely with Blll Tammaeus about the theological stinkers bequeathed us by the John Paul II-Benedict XVI documents on non-Catholics, gays, and women. It is those documents that lack Christian respect.

  10. Apologies, I actually wrote my post before I’d read the piece (I blame the internet!). I know I shouldn’t but there you are. It turned out that my response was a little un-measured. But the overall points would still stand.

    Sean @6 I didn’t say Protestants were incapable of meaningful communion with Christ, but the full communion that is really incarnated by Holy Communion is for those in full communion, ie. Catholics in a state of grace.

    I don’t know Bill Tammeus at all, but I did see afterwards there were some caveats which he inserted, which was good.

    Ed @5: The issue of women priests in the RCC has been definitively decided by the Church. It’s useless to pretend that the door is open or to argue about whether or not it’s an infallible position, which the Church has confirmed it is. Pope Francis recently admitted the door was closed, so it looks like even he knows the score on that one! I don’t think it’s helpful to keep talking about something that can’t change in the hope it will, rather more useful would be a careful examination on why this is so.

    Mary @8, it depends what the priest meant by proud; pride without faith is useless. But pride in being loved by God in His Catholic Church is a good thing, especially if it leads to joy to tell others the good news and show them our joyful lives. Thanks for your kind comments there at the end. I do try to be polite yet stand up for my faith on this site. I am also glad to be given the opportunity to speak as long as it is done with respect for truth and persons! I know things were a bit rocky at the start, as much my fault as anyone elses.

    Paddy @9, in LIGHT OF THE WORLD, Pope Benedict speaks about this issue of women priests, and he said basically that the Church should be allowed to hold its own position on the non-admissibility of women to priesthood, and that it is intolerant of the world/other Christians, even Catholics, to demand change. This is a really good point and I would encourage folks to read that book.

  11. Shaun writes these sort of views because that is what he has been taught and what he sees practiced in the catholic Church. He didn’t make this up himself nor are these kind of views exclusive to himself. They are easily recognisable. Perhaps it’s a mark of how much of what the catholic church does is not soundly based. And its perhaps a mark also of how conformism and ritual and avoidance of real issues are what prevail now in the church.

  12. Gosh John that’s something to say. You make me sound like some unthinking sheep! I was taught hardly anything in school, only the very basics at home. My true Catholic education came from the internet when I was at uni. Sites like Catholic Answers answered many of my questions. I learned a lot from a careful reading of the internet over many years now. I accept the Church teachings and I wish we’d all just start singing and living and loving from the same song sheet instead of campaigning for various issues of supposed equality. I’m really disgusted at the antics of some cardinals, particularly those closest to the Pope. It’s really sad. Francis has already said that looking for women cardinals is missing the point. I don’t want to avoid anything. It seems the bishops and priests have had their heads in the sand for a long time though. Time to dust off that Catechism and open the Bible and start living and loving the faith. Let’s all aim to improve ourselves. We need to stop being clericalist and we also need to stop protesting. I think we do need changes but no to unchangeable doctrines which are true, but a change of heart, mind, attitude.

  13. Shaun, one of the best explanations, that I have read, of how the “church” arrived at it’s so called “definitive” position on the question of the ordination of women was in Angela Hanley’s address to the ACP on 2/6/2011. ( You will find it on this site).
    You can only conclude from the evidence there that rather than the “church” reaching a certain position, it really was one man, Karol Wojtyla, who reached that position. Or, perhaps, one man and a small coterie of his closest allies. For me that does not equate with “the church”. Given the nature of the Wojtyla pontificate, no one would dare utter a word of dissent. Then, of course, eventually that silence on the part of our bishops was taken to mean assent and bingo!! we now have the infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium to support Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

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