Dolores Campbell: Pope Francis and the First Four Years

Pope Francis marked the fourth anniversary of his election to the papacy on Monday of this week, and the debate is on as to what he has or has not accomplished in those four years. / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis I (Korean Culture and Information Service, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Aside from this important anniversary for Francis, it would appear that March 2017 arrived at the Vatican like a lion (a cub perhaps, but a lion nevertheless) as witnessed in a recently released report of a meeting Pope Francis held with the leaders of the world’s Catholic male religious orders on 26 November 2016. The pope admitted to these leaders that there is “corruption in the Vatican,” although this couldn’t have been too much of a bombshell to most of those present. Add to that, Pope Francis’ message in an interview with a German newspaper that “elderly married men could be considered as candidates for ordination” and Social Service Sister Simone Campbell’s declaration that “clergy at the Vatican are more preoccupied with power than with confronting issues that affect the faithful, like the abuse scandal” and it would seem that Francis will be making as much news this year as he has since his elevation to the papal throne.

The resignation of Marie Collins from a special Vatican commission set up to investigate the sexual abuse scandal (another March happening) was characterized by Stephanie Kirchgaessner in The Guardian as a “devastating indictment of the church’s handling of the sexual abuse under his watch.” Collins,who was abused as a 13-year-old child by a hospital chaplain in Ireland who went on to abuse other children, said the commission was not given enough resources, was understaffed and, although backed by Pope Francis, faced tremendous cultural resistance within the church as displayed by some members of the commission. The tribunal that was supposed to be set up to hold bishops to account when they ignored reports of abuse never materialized. Collins, a member of the commission since 2014, had had enough of the slow response to the crisis, especially the fact that responding to letters from victims was not going to happen.



The Pope’s statement re the possible ordination of “elderly married men” (no specific ages given, although mention was made of them serving in remote areas so one assumes they would be under 90 or in remarkable physical shape) caused quite a stir. He sees the lack of vocations to the priesthood as an “enormous problem” so the church must consider accepting these elderly married men, although, especially in these remote areas, he admits that “committed women are preserving Sunday as a day of worship by holding services of the Word. But a church without the Eucharist has no strength.” And God knows that ordaining “elderly married men” is preferable to ordaining “committed women.”

Phoebe, who may have been a deacon in of the church at Cenchreae, in Corinth (Source:

Phoebe, who may have been a deacon in of the church at Cenchreae, in Corinth (Source: For All the Saints)

Meanwhile, the commission set up in 2016 to study if women actually served as deaconesses in the early church has yet to report to the pope, but he has suggested that they will meet again in March and he will be awaiting news of their findings. However, he has noted the commission would “study the topic but not open a door.” Francis had indicated that he wasn’t sure exactly what role women deacons (enough of deaconesses) had performed, which is strange, coming from a Jesuit who would have studied church history, but a Syrian professor had enlightened him. Apparently, in addition to helping with baptisms of women and performing other ministries, they would respond to a woman’s accusations of abuse by her husband and “examine her bruises.” I kid you not!

Interestingly enough, the Patriarch of Alexandria who presides over the entire Orthodox church in Africa, decided, in 2016, “to reintroduce women deacons” while, back here in the Diocese of Antigonish, a group of soon-to-be deacons (male of course) was being prepared for ordination. Pope Francis, and here he is unfortunately in agreement with the Curia and other conservative Catholics, stands by St. John Paul ll’s declaration that “Christ only ordained men to priesthood, and the church continues excluding women from priesthood in accordance with God’s plan for the church.” Some Catholics, of course, maintain that if Christ did, in fact, ordain anyone at the Last Supper, women would also have been in attendance and would also have been ordained. Sounds reasonable except to the old guard at the Vatican and, sadly, to the pope as well.


Male power

By Thomas Altfather Good (Original Work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sr. Simone Campbell (Photo by Thomas Altfather Good, Original Work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sr. Simone Campbell, of “Nuns on the Bus” fame, made a statement at a recent conference on women’s contributions to peace that Marie Collins’ resignation from the commission looking into “past Vatican obstruction of child sexual abuse investigation” was just another indication of male power blocking what it doesn’t wish to be discussed openly. “Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being, an ordinary woman or boy who has been abused,” said Campbell,  one of many women religious leaders investigated by a Vatican commission. (What is it with the Vatican and commissions? A place for the cardinals when they’re all dressed up with nowhere to go?) This particular commission was set up by then-Pope-now-saint John Paul ll, who felt religious women were too involved in “social justice issues” rather than in preaching church doctrine. Pope Francis put a stop to the investigation in 2015.

Campbell noted that senior members of the Curia happened to be on a spiritual retreat while the conference honoring women as peacemakers was taking place and wondered aloud if “it were a slap in the face or evidence of how much power we have.” Meanwhile, global Jesuit leader, Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, a Venezuelan, has said that “women’s inclusion in the church’s structure has not yet arrived” which could be considered a piercing glance into the obvious, but he continued, adding that while “Pope Francis acknowledges that women play a fundamental role in passing on the faith [an understatement for sure!], inclusion is stymied in many forms which calls for a new type of theology of the structures of the church that should push it to become the People of God as outlined in Vatican ll.” In other words, do not hold your breath for any imminent changes.



Women’s ordination, of course, is not the most pressing problem facing Francis as he enters his fifth year in the papacy. Top of his list is no doubt reforming the Curia which he has already undertaken, and while he has insisted that the Curia “is at the service of the universal church but not meant to direct the church,” it’s not been easy convincing this influential group that he means business. Francis states clearly that the present “triangle” which puts Church officials at apex and the  faithful well down at the base should, in fact, be completely reversed. There are those who believe Curia reform would be accomplished faster if Francis were willing to sack those conservative cardinals who oppose him at every turn, but that’s not his way.

The pope has been appointing his own cardinals, of course, and that could mean eventually, if he presides long enough, he could very well make some radical changes to the way the Vatican is run. During the two synods on marriage and family, which he called in 2014 and 2015, after first distributing questionnaires to parishioners around the globe, Francis reached out to the bishops especially, calling on them to “listen with humility and to speak candidly, boldly and without fear.” During the course of these synods, some in attendance called for “a faithful adherence to church traditions on marriage, couples in irregular situations” (read: living together sans marriage), but the Pope has called for mercy when dealing with the nitty-gritty of family life as it is today, and modest changes have allowed some divorced and remarried Catholics who have not acquired annulments to receive the Eucharist.


Son of Vatican II

By Goat_Girl [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Cardinal Blase Cupich (Photo by Goat_Girl, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

One of Francis’ recently appointed cardinal archbishops, Blase Cupich of Chicago, has great hopes that Pope Francis, one of the first sons of Vatican ll to become pope, will renew the hope that ensued from the council. Many Catholics are responding to Francis with a sense that he has been formed by Vatican ll and, says Cupich, “that he has a sense of purpose and mission working with those cardinals he has chosen.” Francis seems able to take criticism from any corner, almost welcoming it while paying little heed to it and going about his business of bringing a fresh face of the church to his people.

Francis is reported to keep a statue of a sleeping St. Joseph on a chest of drawers just outside his room, under which he places little notes about problems he “needs St. Joseph to help with. Right now.” The pope says, Joseph “is sleeping on a mountain of notes.” I never thought I would quote Pope Benedict XVI, but he said at some point during his papacy that the church does not grow by proselytizing but by “attraction.”  If that’s possible at all, given that so many have fallen away because of dogmas and doctrines they no longer believe, perhaps Pope Francis is the man for the job. The next synod he has called will take place in 2018 and will focus on youth–possibly, the church of tomorrow.


Dolores Campbell


Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.



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