The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)

Ron Ferguson


weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas,” he said.

Pope Francis even called for young Catholics to shake up their dioceses, even at the expense of confrontat­ion with their bishops and priests.

If that wasn’t enough, the new Pope had some interestin­g things to say to journalist­s on the plane home.

“When I meet a gay person,” he said, “I have to distinguis­h between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalis­ed. The tendency is not the problem . . . they’re our brothers.”

What is fascinatin­g about this is the contrast with the words and actions of his predecesso­r Pope Benedict XVI, who said that men with homosexual tendencies should not become priests.

The difference in tone is striking. He also hinted that he was prepared to take a softer line on those who divorce and remarry, couples who are then denied communion.

It’s important not to be carried away by this change in mood music, but there is something new and unpredicta­ble in the air. Francis is a warmer man than the cool, intellec- tual Benedict, but he should not be underestim­ated at the intellectu­al level. He is a highly educated Jesuit.

His advocacy of simplicity is not the same as simplemind­edness.

Has he, though, the courage and will to take on the entrenched power base in the Vatican and initiate root-and-branch reform? This remains to be seen. He has, though, declined to live in the papal apartments in the apostolic palace, and has hinted at big problems to be addressed in the Vatican.

My hope is that Pope Francis will turn out to be another John XXIII, and that he will call a new Vatican Council, one that will seriously and openly address the big problems facing the Catholic Church. I hope that he will throw open the windows of the Vatican and let in fresh and invigorati­ng air.

But why should I, as a Presbyteri­an minister, even care about this? The answer is simple. The Reformatio­n began not as a breakaway movement, but as a movement to reform the Catholic Church from within.

As a Protestant, I see Roman Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ, and pray for the day when we have a Catholic Church which is both united and reformed.

In the meantime, we live in more interestin­g times.

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