My mother used to say that a man will sit in his living room and talk about how to save the world, while his wife is outside with a hammer and nails, fixing the front steps.
Ten years into the Francis papacy and this is how I feel, as a member of the church, and specifically as a woman in the church. We’ve been hearing these living room lectures for a decade now. We’ve heard about openness and going out to the margins and smelling like the sheep and not judging, and we’ve heard about reform.
How are the front steps? Do people take a look at the Catholic Church and think, “How safe and welcoming!”?
When Pope Francis was elected, I was thrilled. The photos and stories that circulated seized my heart and made me feel like something incredible was about to happen. I saw him riding incognito on a bus, refusing to take advantage of his high office to grab a limousine. I saw him washing the feet of Indigenous women comfortably breastfeeding their babies, and no one was freaking out about modesty or decorum or custody of the eyes. I saw him standing, apparently heavy with distress, at the moment of his election, feeling the unwelcome weight of the duty that had been placed on his head, and I thought this spoke well of him, that he wasn’t grasping for power. And I saw him waving cheerily up at a photographer over his car a few months later, and I thought this spoke well of him, too, that he had chosen to make the most of where he was. He seemed to love everybody. He seemed to see people, especially the unseen, especially the overlooked, the wounded. My hopes were especially high for how he would handle the sexual abuse crisis.
I thought: He is going to do great things. He’s going to challenge us all. This is a man who will listen to us, who will cut through the nonsense, who will do things in a way that makes sense, who won’t be flattered, who will stand up for the little ones. Things are finally going to be different this time. I had tearfully, painfully accepted the fact that Benedict and John Paul II had fumbled the sex abuse issue badly. And it looked like Francis would be different.
It has been 10 years. He has done many great things. But he was perfectly poised to make a difference with the sex abuse crisis, and the world was perfectly poised to applaud him if he did. He has squandered his chance… Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.