A former Catholic’s views on the world’s most notable religious leader

I was seated in Grand Valley State University’s history department office, reluctantly making some schedule changes, as the white smoke rose above the agreeable Camerlengo, and as world news sources began rapidly reporting details on the newly appointed pope of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis.
Mar 26, 2013


A secretary and a couple of professors standing near me were discussing the archaic nature of the Vatican hierarchy, and the lack of a progressive pope in recent (or ancient) history. As they read over a Time news article, heads together at the secretary’s desk, I pulled the same document up on my iPhone and read along.

There seem to be elements of hope, triumph and change symbolized in this transference of power. But, in much the same way, there is controversy melted in with those feelings of a fresh beginning. It is of equal importance a question of the past as it is of the future.

This new man’s long legacy of work in his native Argentina exists already, and will trail behind him throughout his papacy — either egregiously, promisingly or, as I expect, both.

It has now been nearly two weeks since the cardinals came to their rapid consensus; one of many historical landmarks in this election, it was the fastest decision they have ever made in conclave. In the days following, skimming the Opinion page of my CNN app, I have found titles ranging from “Pope Francis, humble and authentic” to “Pope: Conservative who sides with poor” to “Humble pope has complicated past.”

Immediately, a drafty and thin understanding of the man’s life and work has risen to set Catholics and non-Catholics alike into a state of due skepticism.

Firstly, it is important to note that Pope Benedict XVI resigned this year due to a lack of confidence in his ability to execute the responsibilities of office, in his words, “for the good of the church.” It was the first time a pope has stepped down, the office normally held for life.

Next, this efficiently elected new pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is the first New World, Latin American Pope, as well as the first Jesuit to lead the Vatican.

Pope Francis studied chemistry and became a priest at the age of 33. He has lived what many describe as a “humble, simple life," using public transportation as opposed to a private chauffer, and cooking his own meals in a small apartment. These traits represent a pope with the moral character Catholics hope can bring real reform to a church in a state of shambles.

Pope Francis is a traditional-, conservative-minded man who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, but has championed the impoverished throughout his career. He is from the New World, but is now tasked with taking on some much newer, modern issues of a changing global public whose views are not necessarily aligned with those of the church, whose tradition of faith has opened new vistas of tolerance and acceptance.

Catholics, an increasingly diverse group, look on as the pope begins work.

There is the question of whether he can take on the Vatican bureaucracy, which is staunch in its divisions and wrought with recent scandal. There is the responsibility the new pope has to restore the sense of moral authority the Catholic Church holds over the world.

But there are more questions than these, questions for the people.

My question is whether a new pope means new change. I am curious to see whether the Vatican has the flexibility and fluidity to shift with the demands and desires of a new world of Catholics — who are no longer subjects of a traditional hierarchy, but live modern lives, and seek modern leadership and resolutions.

Those decisions do not impact me directly. I was baptized and raised Catholic. I used to attend church and Catechism during my elementary school years on a regular basis. But I have not seen the inside of a church in many years.

Still, the possibility of change for Catholics has great meaning to me. They are an abundant membership of my community. They are members of my family.

I would love nothing more than to see Catholic authority shift its ways toward a more accepting and nuanced approach in response to its changing constituency, and serve its people rather than dictate its moral tendencies.

Progressivism may not be a sustainable model for the Catholic Church, but changing its long-withheld stances toward contraceptives (90 percent of Catholics in the U.S. use them, 82 percent find them permissible) and readdressing its position on homosexuality would likely be welcomed by many members of the Catholic community around the world. The church can make great efforts in its already forward-looking views of economic regulation, immigration and the reduction of poverty.

The pope is a beacon for not only what is and has been since the church’s foundation, but what can and should be for future generations of faithful Catholics, and the secular watchful who in earnest try to see the church’s virtues and potential.

— By Alexander Sinn, GVSU student and Tribune community columnist



It's not difficult to understand why young Master Sinn is a "former Catholic;" clearly, from this piece of pretentious tripe, he is way too intellectual and advanced to believe in a religion whose earthly representatives are "archaic," "staunch in its divisions," and "wrought with recent scandal."

From the article, it appears that young Master Sinn, though no longer a believer, is very concerned about the institution that he abandoned; that the Church has lost its moral authority, most likely because it chooses to remain opposed to Sandra Fluck and her contraceptives, Obamacare, and homosexuality, not to mention it's not fully formed position on socialism, amnesty, and wealth redistibution. He knows these issues are important to vast numbers of Catholics from apps on his iPhone, putting him immediately in touch with the theologians at Time and CNN... Maybe young Master Sinn will rejoin the Church when it finally comes around to his progressive philosophy - how lucky for the Church.

I will wait with bated breath for the Tribune to make a young former Muslim a Community Columnist, and publish his or her (unlikely) views on the Progressivism of Islam - its views on homosexuality, women's rights, truth telling, and embrace of competing religions. Unfortunately, I'll be on the other side of the sod before that ever happens.


Ahh...The Sadhu (i.e. Vladtheimposter) has dropped his pearls of wisdom....

In your attempt to attain moksha, you have somehow managed to transcend good manners, not to mention the facts. First of all, you assume Mr. Sinn is young - perhaps because he uses an iPhone, plus apps? - and thus couldn't possibly have any worthwhile opinions or philosophies ("pretentious tripe").

Surely you aren't making the assumption ("no longer a believer") that Mr. Sinn, because he no longer attends church, is not a spiritual person or does not believe in God. That would be a gross generalization if I ever heard one, and I'm sure you don't mean to be gross.

Oh, the dreaded Obamacare - let's put it right up there with pedophilia, shall we?. You had better quick go tell the Catholic Bishops and Sisters who have written letters of support for the ACA and the other social programs that offer what they refer to as "The Circle of Protection" for our indigent children, poor, and disabled (you know, all those programs on the cutting block of the good Catholic, Paul Ryan's 2013 GOP budget) to get back to doing what they do best - listening to the confessions of us sinners, perhaps?

And homosexuality - how awkward for the Church, how icky! Surely Mr. Sinn is wrong-headed, not to mention naive, to state, "I would love nothing more than to see Catholic authority shift its ways toward a more accepting and nuanced approach in response to its changing constituency, and serve its people rather than dictate its moral tendencies". We can't have our religious leaders leaning in that direction, accepting of all Children of God?

And finally, you misspelled Ms. Flukes name (accidentally dropped the "e"-an oversight, I'm sure, never to be repeated, now that you know.

And please do not bate your breath too long - I, for one, would miss you too much should you prematurely find yourself on the other side of the sod.


I don't know about attaining monkeysh*t, I just know that I dislike my local paper using a Grand Valley student to inform me about the new Pope and his concerns about his former religion, all the while pushing his progressive philosophy as a juxtaposition to the Catholic Church. Like you, it appears he believes that the Catholic Church should be like a politician, pandering to the current winds of ill-informed social mores.

As far as Obamacare being analogous to pedophilia, both cause undeniable harm to "the chilluns" - one immediate and obviously physical and psychological, the other more long term - living in debt with a lower standard of living and health care worse than that enjoyed by their parents and grandparents.

With respect to the position of the Church vis-avis Obamacare, I refer you to http://blog.heritage.org/2013/02....

I have an inkling of how difficult it must be for learned, superior, and worldly progressives to accept that some citizens and some institutions adhere to philosophies and practices that predate Woodstock, Bill Clinton, and our current executive savior. I try to take that understanding into account, although admittedly, as you well know, I fail.

(I inadvertently spelled Ms. Fluke's name phonetically (probably because it seemed appropriate).

Enough of this - LEDA tonight - so much to do, so little time.


This was actually not the first time a pope has stepped down.


Why go to a "Former Catholic" for views on the Pope? It makes No sense whatsoever! Of course it's assumed that the Church must embrace the liberal social views that highlight society's moral decay. Really?

The Trib should have asked the Priests from our local Parishes to give their opinion on the new Pope.


As soon as I saw this headline, I just knew the story was going to impugn the Catholic religion. And I was correct in assuming it would contain the words "progressive," "tolerant," blah, blah, blah. I, too, grew up Catholic, but there was a period of decades where I didn't set foot inside a church. I've returned recently, though, and I've come to appreciate my religion because it is not the Church of What's Happening Now. I, for one, am weary of all these "progressive" positions that I'm told I must accept, and it's refreshing that the Catholic Church is unyielding in some of its core principles instead of succumbing to the beliefs of some vocal and visible fringe groups.
This young man is intelligent and a fine writer, but it seems he's being overly influenced by his peers and mentors in academia.


-"I would love nothing more than to see Catholic authority shift its ways toward a more accepting and nuanced approach in response to its changing constituency, and serve its people rather than dictate its moral tendencies." The Church was not created for man nor to cater to his viewpoints on right/wrong. The Church was created for Christ, to follow Him, to worship Him, to be His hands and feet and reach out to those who are in need. If you want an organization to serve you, your viewpoints, and to relax regarding you or anyone else's "moral tendencies" then, the Church is still obviously not the place for you. The Catholic Church has a line of authority which begins with Christ and ends with you and me. Not the other way around.


Looks like a fair, straight forward opinion..scout. However put your helmet and pads on if you are chosen to take the barrage of hits here.


The Bible is their model for living. It is not changeable with culture, you believe and trust or do not believe and trust. We do not change to suit you because then we would both be unbelievers.


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