If Pope Francis had come along much earlier, many of us could have dropped the 'lapsed' from our self-description and simply called ourselves Catholics again.
What a relief after all these years with a right-wing cold war warrior and then an inquisitorial fanatic. The pope we have now is finally drawing us back into the essentials of faith while relegating obsessive issues like homosexuality and abortion to the sidelines, where they belong. For a long time, Vatican politics, corrupt and self-serving, preferred to hunt down liberal theologians and politically engaged nuns than paedophile priests. Now, it appears we have a pope who is not afraid of real reforms and bringing the church into the 21st century. The latest news is that Francis has suspended Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, otherwise known as the "bishop of bling" in the German press, from his dioceses for spending €31 million (HK$330 million) on a palatial residence and community centre, including €15,000 on his own bath tub and €500,000 on works of art. Francis himself lives in a small apartment rather than opulent palaces pontiffs tended to live in historically.
On the ridiculous doctrine of papal infallibility, it's clear he doesn't think church authority can never be wrong. When he commented on church dogmas, he even said the church could learn truths from other sources such as science. What is infallible is the collective faith of the Catholic community as a whole, and this must evolve as dialogues over time rather than dictated to by the church hierarchy. "All the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief," he recently told the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica. "We should not think that 'thinking with the church' means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church."
He is a progressive, not a conservative. "Tradition and memory must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God," he said. "Those who always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal security, those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists - they have a static view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology."
Wow, this is powerful stuff! True faith is the antidote to ideology. This is a pope many of us can happily follow.