Watching Faith Come Alive

Something is happening in Rome. It’s news. True news.


Eyes are on the world of Catholicism, as they always have been, but now in a different way. We are less critical and—what is this unsettling feeling? Could it be envy?


All Protestants have roots in Catholicism, but we have an odd love/hate relationship—a team rivalry that continues with fading memory of how it began.


Excommunication was once a real part of our history. It was dreaded punishment. It meant being ostracized by most of society. Today, we remain separate by choice. We are severely fragmented even as we play with concepts of “full communion.” Nevertheless, differences that were deal-breakers centuries ago are no big deal today. We are less separated by doctrine than we are by the need to hang on to our little pockets of power and wealth.


Our early differences with the Roman church were real. Blood was spilled. Prison doors were locked. Dissenters fled Europe in droves.


Here we are today, living peacefully with people who within our lifetimes were perceived as “the others.” We are occasionally haunted by a nagging distrust. “What does loyalty to the Pope mean?” we once asked of those running for office. And yet, both secular and religious leaders are drawn to Rome, seeking photo opportunities with the pope, an odd source of validation.


We’ve been watching as outsiders for a long time—more curious than envious.


But suddenly things are different. We, born of the Reformation, are watching a reformer.


We see a leader who cares less about power, maybe because he knows he is secure. Nevertheless, we sense his motivations are sincere. He leads by example. Bit by bit, and with amazing rapidity considering the track record of his predecessors, he is filling in the ruts, correcting the course.


We’ve watched him break down the system that collected offerings from the faithful to build palaces for clergy. He demanded transparency and professionalism from those who manage the business side of church. He sent them back to school! He is holding leaders accountable for looking the other way while crimes were committed. Heads are rolling— bloodless but decisive. He makes it look easy.


Last week, came the welcome news that the imposed five-year oversight (Lutherans would call it involuntary synodical administration) of the American nuns was ending two years early. It was an embarrassment that it was ever imposed—just as it is in our denomination. Why do church leaders do this? Because they can.


Rarely is it admitted that power, wrongfully used, is a mistake. Decades or centuries of cover-ups are preferred to simple apologies. But here we have a leader pulling the plug on bullying. He could have let the disgrace continue for two more years. What’s two years? It would save face for those imposing control. They could release the reins with positively spun news releases. But this pope called a halt to it. Enough!


Still, it couldn’t have been easy for the sisters. We know from experience how condescension feels. There is something to admire in this, too. The sisters have humbly turned a humiliating debacle into a teaching moment.


Now we Protestants stand on the sidelines and cheer a pope who shows leadership we wish we could see within our own ranks.


This unsettling feeling? It’s not envy. It is hope.