Opinion: Pope will not accept rich clergy

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

When Pope Francis was elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church in March, the response was mixed. While many people were excited for the church’s first South American pope, others doubted his figurehead status would bring about any real change in the Vatican. In the months that followed, however, Pope Francis has sought to refocus the values and motives of the church through his words and his actions. In an extensive interview last month with La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal, the pope expressed frustration with the church’s “obsession” with abortion, marriage and contraception, as well as its subsequent lack of emphasis on healing, mercy and helping the poor, saying, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” He continued, “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

The pope’s expectation of clergy to focus less on enforcing church doctrine and more on living a life of prayer, service and frugality has also become increasingly apparent, after the Vatican indefinitely suspended Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Germany last week. According to Al Jazeera America, the German bishop’s suspension from his diocese was the result of an “ostentatious building project, which includes a museum, conference halls, a chapel and private apartments, in the ancient town of Limburg. The project was approved by his predecessor and was initially valued at an estimated $7.5 million, but the final bill ballooned to $42 million, including a $1 million garden.” It was not specified how long the bishop’s suspension would last but that it would “depend on an analysis of the finances of his diocese in Limburg, in western Germany, and the responsibilities for its high costs.”

Though the reports have created a scandal in Germany, the Vatican’s handling of the situation is unexpected, to say the least, and directly coincides with Pope Francis’ aim to create a “poor church for the poor.” Likewise, the Vatican’s first-ever financial report published last month clearly aims to increase transparency within the institution and encourage financial accountability.

The pope has made his modest lifestyle apparent since coming to office in March, refusing to move into “the lavish papal palace in the Vatican, staying instead in the Casa Santa Marta, a residence for visitors.” He has warned that “worldliness is a murderer because it kills souls, kills people, kills the church,” and attributes his concerns of earthly possessions to his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.

Pope Francis is leading the progression of the outdated focus of the Catholic Church through emphasizing our responsibility to help those less fortunate. He believes accepting our neighbors is key but alone is not enough. We can easily lose focus of the concepts of mercy and healing when we live for possessions. His influence in the Vatican’s decision to suspend Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is indicative of this belief, and it is encouraging to witness the leader of the Roman Catholic Church hold the same expectations for his fellow clerics as he does for Catholics worldwide.