As he begins his fifth year in office, Pope Francis has deservedly received much praise for his pastoral openness, his major encyclicals, his candid remarks and, above all, for reviving the spirit of reform begun under John XXIII and long sidelined.
In the final analysis, though, he disappoints many like me for failing to address the central issue of the priesthood. Francis has boldly attacked the issue of clerical careerism as the root of the sexual abuse crisis, yet he is unwilling to take any action. His Curia remains defensive and, as Marie Collins in her letter today to Cardinal Muller indicates, more concerned with defending and protecting bishops than vulnerable children. Why, she asks, have no bishops been officially sanctioned or removed from office for their negligence in protecting children from pedophilia in the church?
Francis has been unable to reform the Curia or substantially address the clerical abuse crisis despite his honest efforts to do so. Four years should be enough time to see more progress than we have had.
Disturbing, too, were the Pope's off-the-cuff comments this week about seeing no need to change optional celibacy for priests: it has served us well for more than a thousand years, he said. Has it? And is not mandatory celibacy at the heart of the clerical, all-boys' network that runs the church and maintains an atmosphere of suspicion about human sexuality?
Debatable questions, perhaps, but I submit that until Pope Francis does something serious to rehabilitate the Catholic priesthood, which has long been on life support, with thousands of men each year leaving the active ministry to get married or live in an honest relationship, the future of the church, and of his pontificate, remain dubious.