If I Were to Have a Chat with Pope Francis

Pope Francis (Photo by Korean Cultural Information Service/Jeon Han/Wikimedia Commons)

Pope Francis (Photo by Korean Cultural Information Service/Jeon Han/Wikimedia Commons)

His Holiness is coming to town.

Everybody will be jostling to see him, even just to get a glimpse of the hemline of his cassock.

After all, this is Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, whose utterances have signified a refreshing and breathtaking change in tone from his predecessors.

Since he was elected pope, he has made it clear that he wants the Church to be much more compassionate, inclusive, merciful, nurturing and loving than what it is now. This has singularly stirred the hearts and minds of the faithful and non-faithful, as well as antagonized and piqued conservatives and fundamentalists in the Church.

This is the pope who, after he was elected, formed a council of eight cardinals from all over the world to lead reforms in the governance of the Church. Considered a significant move, this is the most important step in the history of Catholicism in 10 centuries, according to news media organizations.

This is also the pope who warned the members of his church that they were so focused on contraceptives, gay marriages and abortion that they were missing out on their “pastoral mission” and that such obsessions could topple down the Church “like a house of cards.”

And this is the same pope who said, “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”

But Pope Francis, so far, has not changed the teachings of the Church. He told a group of Catholic doctors that “playing with life” through methods such as abortion and euthanasia is a “sin against the Creator, a sin against God.” He emphasized that “human life is always sacred, valuable and inviolable.”

And on the inadmissibility of women into the priesthood, for Pope Francis, the Church has long decided on this and “the door is closed”.

Just the same, Pope Francis stuns and fascinates.

I wouldn’t mind being trapped with him in an elevator for hours. Then I would have the opportunity to talk with him about many things – his vision for the Catholic Church; what his strategies are to carry this out and how he would deal with the backlash and the resistance he would encounter.

I would also like to ask him about his childhood: What games did he play; did he enjoy going to school; what books inspired him; did he play any musical instrument; was he ever bullied and was he always forgiving?

And I might even ask him if he ever fell in love before he joined the priesthood.

Pape Francis at the Vatican (Photo by Edgar Jimenez/Wikimedia COmmons)

Pape Francis at the Vatican (Photo by Edgar Jimenez/Wikimedia COmmons)

So if I ever have this chance, I’d want to share with him my observations and ask him what he thinks about them.

1. Your Holiness, many observers point out that religion – and in this country, Catholicism -- is one of the forces that set back a people’s development and progress.

Members of the clergy constantly and strenuously preach that women and men, in the face of poverty, injustice and violence including that which takes place in the home, have to be patient and accepting of their conditions. This is God’s will and such suffering is part of God’s plan; so they must persevere, bearing in mind only that God loves them because in the end, God will always provide.

Do you think such teachings lead to dependence and helplessness? Do you think they quash any aspirations for a life that rises above subsistence and pauperism?

2. Your Holiness, what would you advise members of the clergy who display their partisanship, support politicians and accept gifts like SUVs from them? Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who wanted the church leaders on her side, focused on natural family planning methods and gave SUVs to some bishops.

3. Also, what are the ethics that govern receiving funds and support from the wife of a dictator who ruthlessly plundered a country, murdered many of its citizens and imprisoned and tortured those who opposed them? The Ateneo Scholarship Foundation hosted Imelda Marcos because she donated millions to this Foundation through an event she had organized,

4. Your Holiness, it took this country about 14 years to pass the Reproductive Health law (RH). During all these years, the Catholic Church and its groups objected to its passage because they believe that it promotes abortion and its passage would open the gates to legislation on divorce and same-sex marriage.

I was struck by the intolerance, obstinacy and meanness that members of the clergy energetically displayed, especially during the final phase of its passage in 2011 and 2012. They shamed RH advocates in church, criticized pro-RH legislators in public and urged churchgoers to reject political leaders who supported the RH law.

Hardly two weeks after the passage of the law, representatives of Church groups filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the law. After 16 months, the Supreme Court ruled that the RH law was after all constitutional, except for some provisions.

And Church groups are once again planning -- through legal means -- to hinder the RH law from being implemented.

What advice would you give these Church groups that are hell bent on preventing the implementation of the RH law, your Holiness?

Your Holiness, many observers point out that religion – and in this country, Catholicism — is one of the forces that set back a people’s development and progress.

5. Do you have guidelines for the clergy when they prepare their homilies? And what to you is an ideal homily?

A priest declared from the pulpit that a child conceived out of wedlock is bound for hell; and baptism as well as marriage would not -- and could not -- redeem that child.

Do ideas such as these have a basis in the Church’s teachings? Would priests who give such homilies learn from your example when, in September this year, you married 20 couples? Some had been living together -- what traditionalists and fundamentalists would call “living in sin” -- and some already had children.

6. Your Holiness, do you have any message for our 2.2 million overseas contract workers in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UAE, Qatar, Hong Kong and other countries? They work in these countries, not by choice but because they have to. You can imagine what they have to go through – the separations, the risks they are exposed to and their vulnerabilities.

Your Holiness, as of now, I have no more questions for you.

I do not believe in the members of the clergy, but I like you. Since you assumed the papacy, almost every word you say, every move you do has become like infusions of fresh, fragrant herbs. Exhilarating. Phenomenally inspiring. I know that your visit will leave a waft of that refreshing fragrance that your words and acts exude. And I hope that our religious and political leaders will get suffused with it.

Marilen Danguilan

Marilen Danguilan

Marilen J. Danguilan, a medical doctor, is the author of Making Choices in Good Faith: A Challenge to the Catholic Church’s Teachings on Sexuality and Contraception and Women in Brackets: A Chronicle of Vatican Power and Control.  

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