I am especially thrilled with his deep concern for the poor — which, of course, was Jesus' deepest concern, seen most clearly in Matthew 25 in The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. This is a parable about judgment, and there Jesus teaches that we will be judged on the basis of how we treated the hungry, the poor, those in need of clothing, strangers, prisoners, and those who need water. Jesus says nothing about dogma and doctrine or one's personal religious beliefs.
What struck me also is the age of the pope, 76, and the age of the cardinals. The pope even pointed this out himself, but he said that he hoped that the wisdom of the cardinals would trump their age.
Lastly, when was the last time you remember a pope, after his election, carrying his own bags and paying his own hotel bill? And then getting on a bus, his habitual means of transportation.
I studied with Jesuits in Cambridge, and with Roman Catholic priests in Chicago, such as David Tracy. Being an Anglican, I discovered that our traditions are very similar in many respects theologically, and both are rich in music and liturgy.
Since Vatican II, when the Bible was truly opened up for scholarship, the Roman Catholic Church has produced some of the world's greatest biblical scholars, such as Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer. So I am a friendly critic.
Where I believe the Roman Catholic Church needs true reformation — and this was what the Protestant Reformation was about in the 16th century — is giving the lay people power over who becomes a parish priest, a diocesan bishop and a pope. Luther taught "the priesthood of all believers," which is the cornerstone of the Protestant traditions.
For us Anglicans (the Episcopal Church is the Anglican branch in America), the process of becoming a deacon, priest and bishop is mostly in the hands of the laity. Clergy play a role, but the primary power lies with the laity. Lay people select parish priests, with the diocesan bishop's help. The laity and clergy elect diocesan bishops and both together elect the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Seminarians emerge from our congregations.
In other words, the process works from bottom up, not top down as with the Roman Empire, whose polity influenced the Roman Catholic Church historically.
The great advantage of this way of selecting clergy is that there are checks and balances on the behavior of clergy.
The Episcopal Church has had its share of sex scandals, but I would argue that they are dealt with more openly than in the Roman Catholic Church, due to its hierarchy. The United States military, another top-down organization, has experienced sexual abuse and cover-ups of rape, which is going to be examined by Congress in the near future due to a general overturning a rape conviction by a jury recently.
I believe that, in all denominations, the laity should have the greatest power, not the clergy. This also applies to finances. The Vatican not only has to deal with sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, but also the corrupt finances in Rome.
I think in all denominations clergy should not be involved at all in finances, except to provide priorities, such as helping the poor. But to have clergy involved in hands-on financial considerations is a conflict of interest. The laity give most of the money in all churches. They pay the clergy salaries. So to have clergy putting their hands into parish money is dangerous. Same with bishops on a diocesan level.
Clergy should be pastors, preachers, worship leaders, teachers, etc., — not CEOs of budgets. Churches have plenty of men and women far more qualified to handle the finances. I hope Pope Francis relies on the laity to clean up the financial mess in the Vatican, not clergy.
To sum up, the laity in the Roman Catholic Church and in all denominations should decide who goes into the ministry, who serves as congregational and diocesan leaders, and how the money is handled and spent. Moreover, decisions such as the ordination of women and gay people, gay marriage, celibacy, the use of birth control, positions on abortion, etc., should be primarily made by the laity.
Jesus was a man of the people, not a tool of the priests, who had a hand in his execution because he threatened their power.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist