A New Catholic Century?

Pope Francis has, in some ways, been a welcome change from previous pontiffs, and seems genuinely concerned about the plight of the world’s poor, a demographic growing ever larger as Big Business drives a global economy that exploits the working class in what the Pope has called ‘idolatry of money over man.’

Yet in other ways, he continues to support a decaying, archaic, and inequitable bias toward roughly half the human race – women.

The new pope has criticized the Catholic Church for an obsession with ‘small-minded rules’ driving the faithful away, urging clerics to be more generally merciful and welcoming rather than concentrating on divisive issues as abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

But that hasn’t stopped him from cracking down on a group of American nuns who were doing just that – ‘undermining’ the Catholic teachings by focusing ‘too much’ on social justice instead of... well... abortion, homosexuality and contraception.

While with his right hand he’s busy smacking errant nuns back into line, with his left he’s also promoting those in the Church who are busily stamping out ‘feminine machismo,’ such as Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Worse, Mueller isn’t just concerned with cowing disobedient nuns, he’s consistently obstructed lobbying that would have the Vatican and other church hierarchy held accountable for paedophile priests rather than protecting them via the usual practice of shuffling them around from parish to parish whenever complaints arise and sweeping it all under the carpet.

Nor has Pope Francis shown much tolerance for anyone in the Church expressing the unorthodox views supporting women priests and gays, as dissident priest Greg Reynolds in Melbourne, Australia recently discovered. While child molesting priests are, occasionally if it becomes too big a scandal to hide, defrocked, Father Reynolds was not only laicised, but actually excommunicated – on direct orders from the Vatican, not at the request of his archbishop. Father Reynolds's heinous transgression is that he’s the founder of Inclusive Catholics, which promotes a more merciful and welcoming church rather than focusing on divisive issues as abortion, gay marriage and contraception... wait, who said that’s what Catholic priests should be doing? Oh, yeah. That would be Pope Francis. Riiiiiight.

It’s extremely rare, but Father Reynolds isn’t the first Australian Catholic to be excommunicated, and for all the wrong reasons; Sister Mary MacKillop was excommunicated by her local bishop in 1871 after she blew the whistle on a priest in Adelaide who had been sexually molesting children. The paedophile cleric was speedily packed off to another parish in Ireland – where he continued on as a priest – while his friends plotted revenge against MacKillop, managing to get her excommunicated and tossed out on the street penniless. She was later canonized in 2010 as a Catholic saint. Go figure.

So when Pope Francis says, ‘The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. ... We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman,’ I have to wonder exactly what sort of ‘role’ women and their ‘feminine genius’ he envisions. I rather doubt it’s quite the same as the one Sister Teresa Forcades envisions.

This outspoken leftwing intellectual Spanish nun from Catalonia is also a medical doctor specializing in internal medicine, a graduate of Harvard University and Cambridge University, with a dual PhD in public health and theology, as well as being an immensely popular guest on television talk shows, with a huge following on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

She has no interest in running for political office, but has founded a movement, Proces Constituent, and co-authored the ‘Manifest for the Convening of a Constituent Process in Catalonia’ with economist Arcadi Oliveres, promoting Catalonian independence and heading an anti-capitalist movement that so far, 50,000 Catalonians – and here’s the kicker, most of them non-believers – have signed up.

She’s campaigning for the government takeover of all banks and measures to curb financial speculation, fairer wages and pensions, shorter working hours and payments to parents who stay at home and an end to job cuts, a genuine ‘participatory democracy’ with steps to curb political corruption, decent housing for all, and an end to all foreclosures, and a reversal of public spending cuts, and renationalisation of all public services.

She’s a champion of ‘green’ economic policies and the nationalisation of energy companies, wants public media placed under democratic control, including the internet, want a free and independent Catalonia to leave Nato and to abolish its armed forces, and an end to xenophobia and a repeal of immigration laws. She admires Gandhi, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.

It doesn’t get much more progressively leftwing than that.

She’s adamant that everything she does is from a deep Christian faith and devotion, yet she’s one of the strongest critics of the Catholic Church and the men who control it. Sister Teresa believes women priests should be welcomed by the Catholic Church and that gay people should be allowed to serve openly in the church in every capacity. She’s criticized Pope Francis, saying he should be judged on how religious women are treated by the Vatican. She has been outspoken about a woman’s right to control her own body, including the right to decide over abortion.

The three dozen nuns at the monastery of Saint Benet, atop the mountain of Montserrat, love her unconditionally, and regard her as a ‘gift from God,’ who is paving the way for a feminist future in the Catholic Church. She acts as an ambassador between their Benedictine life of quiet prayer and the chaotic political and secular world. Wherever she goes to speak, she packs in the crowds, riveting them with radical ideas that not only alarm many Spanish mainstream politicians, but has made the Vatican very uneasy, bishops unsympathetic to her radical stances on everything from women in the priesthood and abortion to – what is probably nearer and dearer to their celibate hearts – banking and capitalism.

If the Catholic Church is to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, and ever does evolve from its antiquated authoritarian, misogynistic, and hypocritical views to a Church truly devoted to human welfare and compassion, it won’t be because of popes like Francis, no matter how ‘progressive’ he seems compared to his predecessors. It will be feminist geniuses like Sister Teresa Forcades that drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I don’t have to be a Catholic, or even religious, to wish her every success.


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