‘Teflon pontiff’?


Spurn that request for loose coins from beggars trolling Saint Peter’s Square in Rome. They snap back with a new retort: “Cosa direbbe Papa Francesco?” What would Pope Francis say?

These mendicants “have clued in that something has changed,” writes John Allen of National Catholic Reporter. “A revolution is going on, even if some of its content has yet to arrive. Change is here.”

Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso pinpointed signs of upheaval. It’s recent cover story on the new pontiff, bannered the query: “Ce la farà?” “Can he pull it off?” No need to explain what “it” meant. Everyone seems to know that Francis is trying to engineer a Catholic “glasnost.”

(The word means “a process of justice in governance, conducted with transparency.” In the late 1980s, Soviet Union Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev elevated  glasnost  into policy. Linked to “perestroika” or restructuring, Gorbachev used that double-blade to curb embedded corruption in the Kremlin and communist party.)

Francis’ lifestyle—from lodging in spare Casa Santa Marta quarters to spurning limousines—has rippled out. Cardinals are shedding titles and crimson-laced vestments. Work patterns in Vatican institutions, from the change-resistant Curia to the troubled Vatican Bank, have radically altered. His approval ratings resemble that of Nelson Mandela’s.

Francis as a “Teflon pope.” Nothing bad sticks. When scandals erupt, no one blames him. All see it “as additional proof of why he’s needed,” Allen wrote.

Francis works the phone, bypassing usual gatekeepers. He ensures no one has a monopoly on his ear. There is no éminence grise, like Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz under John Paul II or Archbishop Georg Gänswein under Benedict XVI. Some thought Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella was “emerging as a man of influence—then, of course, Francis left  Fisichella standing at the altar at a Vatican concert June 22…. Trying to figure out who’s up and who’s down misses the point. The novelty is that the game, as it has long been understood and played, is finished,” Allen said.

Allen also noted: In March, if anyone wanted to influence Vatican’s financial operations, he’d ring an Italian cardinal. There are 21 of them. Today, a lay economist from Malta would answer the phone. Joseph F.X. Zahra is one of 21 people, now in three commissions, drafting reforms. Most are lay people. Only three are Italians.

“This Latin American outsider is determined to break the Italian monopoly on governance of the church,” Allen said. “Francis is giving rise to a ‘new culture of accountability.’” That  means somebody actually gets fired. He accepted the resignation of two Vatican Bank officials. And he did not shield Msgr. Nunzio Scarano of the Vatican Bank from a $30-million laundering charge.

Francis seeks to enhance the role of the layman—not just in ceremonial ways, but in the nuts and bolts of reforming and governing the Church. And he is repositioning the Church in the political center, after a lengthy period where it drifted to the right.

More radical changes will be clamped on after the commissions report. That’s later this year. Some Vatican watchers fixate on questions like: Who’ll be named as the next cardinal secretary of state? But the only issue most people have about a pope is: Does he inspire?

“For now, the answer seems to be yes,” Allen added. Given the  scandals and controversy the Church “weathered over the past decade, if that’s not a revolution, it’s hard to know what one would look like.”

Francis will visit the Philippines in January 2016 when he attends the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. Will he see the impact of the upheaval he triggered here?

Eight out of 10 Filipinos are baptized Catholics. “Many are poorly educated in their faith,” Jesuit theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo told a University of Santo Tomas symposium. Only 6 percent of young Filipinos receive “significant religious instruction.” Filipino youth “are not turning away,” Arevalo said. “They are simply not being reached.”

“Split-level Christianity,” however, is widespread. “That’s coexistence, within one person, of two or more behavior systems that conflict with each other,” psychologist Fr. Jaime Bulatao explained. Leaders trot without fail to hear Mass on Sunday. From Monday to Saturday, they wheel and deal in scams like there was no tomorrow.

New Church leaders are emerging in the Philippines. “The authority of establishment must give way to the authority of witness,” insist Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. How? Not by magisterial pronouncements but in ministering to the poorest.

“The Church must not pretend to have easy answers,” Tagle said. “Instead, it must be an attentive and listening Church—less preoccupied by her power, prestige and position in society.”

“The Philippines has shown the gospel can be preached to empty stomachs,” the CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) president-elect, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said. “But only if the stomach of the preacher is as empty as his parishioners’…. Evangelization continues to be impaired by the arrogance of its messengers…”

Will a “humble, prayerful, listening Church” now hear the silent screams from an estimated 560,000 abortions yearly? Couples are still blocked from receiving family planning services. Does this end muttered threats, by some bishops, to excommunicate those who support the Reproductive Health Law?

In the 2013 elections, the bishops of Bacolod and Lipa boycotted “Team Patay” candidates who supported the RH Law. They were trashed decisively. If they persist, cosa direbbe  Papa Francesco?

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  • Mang Teban

    Juan L. Mercado:
    Abortions are murders of the unborn. Contraception stops conception or the beginning of human life to exist.

    Contraception is akin to abortion if you examine closely what it does.

    God is the Author of Life. Can you rebut this?
    God breathes life into every union of the sperm cell and egg cell which is called conception. Not only does a distinct, individual, and biological person is created by God at the instance of the union of the female and male cells, God gives it a soul.
    Does the RH law proponents even know that there is a soul within the human’s physical body?

    Since only God creates life, neither the woman nor the man knows exactly and precisely the moment that their sexual intercourse bore fruit.

    Neither the most intelligent scientist can detect the time that God has chosen to create a human being.
    Fertilization is being peddled to be the start of life. Does this mean God defers the creation of human life until some days?
    God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
    Why should the Almighty God wait for fertilization to say “Ah, I created Juan.”?
    On the union of the sperm and egg, life has began and it is irreversible unless it is aborted. Abortions, Mr. Mercado, will not stop with the RH law. You are gullible to believe that.

    Thus, condoms and pills ‘ABORT’ God’s plan. Man, through the Enemy of God, invented artificial methods to stop conception. The word “contraception” is anti-God, therefore. So, why should Mr. Mercado and the pro-RH gang think that it is within the domain of God to permit the RH law, a.k.a. Contraception law, to prosper? It will prosper under human laws, perhaps. But it shall be uprooted in the eyes of God. “Every plant that my Father did not plant shall be uprooted” says Jesus. (John 15:13)

    So, please, Mr. Mercado, I hope that you won’t use the Pope again as a shield for you to advance a cause that you know fully well is against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    • tarikan

      With due respect Mang Teban, it concludes that we go down to the level of the rabbits. Procreation is expected every time we have sexual intercourse. I think rhythm (favored by the CBCP) is also a sort of contraception…it prevents conception by way of having sex on infertile days because the sole purpose (if I read you right) of sex is procreation. Can’t we enjoy sex anymore without the fear of having extra mouths to feed? Come on man!

      • Mang Teban

        Have you heard of infertile periods of the female gender? God designed that a husband and his wife can enjoy unhampered sex during the wife’s infertile periods. You surely understand that – no fear of pregnancy. God is much wiser than humans. That is what makes humans who insist to know better than God promotes contraception which is really unnecessary. Your sarcasm does not do you any good.

        Come on tarikan!
        Rabbits are not humans, sheesh.
        Rhythm method is one of the Natural Family Planning methods discovered by people (not the priests) which are recommended by the Catholic Church for married Catholic spouses.

      • panhase

        But Mang Teban, rhythm method is not really reliable, many women do not have regular menstruation. And besides still it would prevent conception, the only difference being that some people would call it natural and call the other methods unnatural. But what is really unnatural, are not all things derived from nature itself? Isn´t it so that all things we do have on earth are somehow natural because we can´t create something out of nothing? So we do use all the time things invented by men out of other things which have been there before.
        If we would argue that we should not use something what was not created before or what was not created by God, then we have to argue also we should not fly because if God wanted us to fly he would have equipped us with wings. And so on and so on like electricity, cars, computers. We should not go to hospitals etc.. Why are all these things and contraceptives are in this world but only the contraceptives are bad?

      • Mang Teban

        Rhythm method and the other Natural Family Planning NFP) methods do not claim to be 100% effective because it depends entirely on the individual’s implementation of the methods. Also, you need a professional doctor to teach you about NFP and not do it without proper guidance. Thus, you have heard of married couples practicing the rhythm method who wish to space births but are caught with a pregnancy that they did not expect. There are other NFP methods that may work for you and your spouse other than rhythm method.

        But, the artificial methods have more failures than the natural family planning methods. For instance, a missed pill for a day can spell disaster or a defective condom can bring the couple to suspicion that one of them is “cheating” the other. Sometimes, the man asks the most unfair question to the woman – “Akin ba yang dinadala mo?”

        About your discourse on natural things on earth, let me say that God made us stewards of the world’s ‘goods’ or resources. But, how has man been since? We have massive weapons of destruction. Is this God’s own making? Is this God’s fault? God moves man to “create” things from Nature for good purposes. Do not think that the highly-regarded inventors in science and technology did it on their own initiative and talents. It is really not seen easily by man what God does and sometimes man claims victory without the “aid of God”. True. There is an entity called Devil that overpowers man to “create” things for evil purposes. But, some will dismiss it as hearsay or a tale. Well, the Devil must be working well on them as well. The Devil makes out to move farther away from God. That is why we need to seek God first before we set out to do what we have planned..all things that we do for a good purpose will be blessed abundantly beyond our wildest dreams.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        the couples who use it in america are called parents only 2 percent of catholic women in the west use the rest the pill

      • Mang Teban

        Should I even care of your rattling of stats in the West? Boy, you have this knack to impress with your data out of nowhere. Unfaithful married individuals are also both parents and adulterers.

        Do you have children? If you don’t have, you are simply involved with someone, either as a married individual or keeping a paramour. But, definitely, if you have children, biologically yours or acknowledged by you as yours, you are a PARENT. A parent is completed when he or she has biological children or acknowledges children as his or hers. Without children, you are a childless adult. Of course, there is nothing wrong with these differences in civil status. You should not, however, make the impression that couples who use NFP are “parents” and the rest? Making out with a satisfying sex life? Happily married couples faithful to each other have a much more satisfying sex lives than the pretenders keeping secret sexual affairs thinking that they are “happy” living with a guilt…really?

  • JustWords811

    beautiful, very informative, and touching commentary. congrats, Mr Mercado. i shared this in Facebook also.

  • 444mangyan888

    I have a strong feeling that this Pope will also serve as a prelude to the papacy of Cardinal Chito. Not that i am a pinoy or a big fan, but for his and Christ’s ways to continue, their being of the same breed will assure that the Catholic church will stay along that line.

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