Pope Francis, here in his Wednesday general audience, recently published a letter to La Repubblica suggesting open dialogue with atheists. (Image Source: Reuters)
To say that Pope Francis is doing amazing things that his two predecessors could not is an understatement. In the first six months of becoming Pope, the former Argentine Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergolio has already taken ostensibly radical strides that his two predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, would not have done. Just today, the Pope published an open letter calling for open dialogue between Christians and atheists in popular Italian newspaper La Repubblica. Pope Francis' humanity may be just the thing to push the Catholic Church forward, and bring it back from its darkest time.
Let us provide a bit of context: In the 1960s, the Catholic Church underwent major reforms as a result of the Second Vatican Council. The most significant of these was allowing church services to be done in a follower's native language, rather than Latin, which barely anyone uses on an everyday basis. But the Second Vatican Council also called for structural reforms from within the Church, to allow it to be more open and transparent.
These reforms were stopped with the ascension of Pope John Paul II, a conservative in the Catholic Church who nonetheless played a role in opening up the Church by being the first Pope that catered to mass media. However, by failing to implement these reforms, as well as his ineffective leadership, Pope John Paul II allowed several scandals, primarily the sex abuse scandals that has become pandemic in the entire Church. John Paul II's line of thinking continued and took an even more reactionary approach under his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict XVI did little to address the issues that came to light due to the sex abuse scandals, and heavily relied on dogma to enforce the nature of the Church. This course of action alienated many followers from the Church, abandoning it in droves to atheism or the likes of Pentecostalism.
Pope Francis, in his first six months, has done much to change that. In regards to atheism, that the Pope addresses them not as failures or enemies, but as people, says many things to suggest that he is willing to make the necessary changes to the Church that will allow it to deal with the crisis created out of the recent sex abuse scandals, and the crisis of faith instigated by Benedict XVI. The notion of "obeying one's conscience," as noted in his letter to La Repubblica, is something that people can work with, because they cannot always follow Church doctrine.
In establishing these things, along with many other acts, such as washing the feet of a female Muslim prisoner, being non-judgemental towards gay people, and making an appearance on Instagram, Pope Francis looks to break from the hardline stance of the Church since Pope John Paul II put on the papal cape. That stance kicked the Catholic Church to the ground. Perhaps, the humanity that Pope Francis has demonstrated will lift it again.