Mar 14, 2013

Newly elected Pope Francis I speaks to the waiting crowd from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. (Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

I have never been anywhere in the world, working, writing a newspaper column, from distant, sometime dangerous places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Northern Ireland or in neighborhoods closer to home in the poorer precincts of Boston, the Bronx, New Orleans or South Central L.A. where I have not encountered priests, Jesuits and Maryknolls, and nuns, plenty of them too, literally doing God’s work: caring for the least among us.

That, my friends, is the Catholic Church.

And that seems to be what too many at the top – assorted Bishops and Cardinals and the crew that control the Vatican – seem to have forgotten. It is not the Church that is in crisis. It is the hierarchy of the Church because it has grown distant and inaccessible to the faithful who are in fact the Church.

So the next pope’s job definition is rather simple: restore the faith and belief of millions of Catholics who have had theirs squandered in a tsunami of secrecy, clerical arrogance and law-breaking blindness to a sexual abuse scandal and finally admit that too many cardinals and a couple popes apparently figured they could ignore that evil as they enabled, hid and allowed priest-predators to victimize again and again.

Pope Francis’ mission is to re-focus that hierarchy on what Catholicism is all about: forgiveness, compassion, helping the poor, social justice, humility, the victims, and the disenfranchised. He must be willing to open the windows of The Vatican to the life around us, to the reality that the Church, to grow and prosper, must be an inclusive vehicle ministering to all who need it. To people of all color, to gays, to the divorced, to women, to those who feel distant from the faith they acquired at birth and baptism or the faith they found and perhaps lost as they watched and witnessed the official negligence of church leaders who forgot their mission but now due to God’s grace have the opportunity to restore a faith that is universal.