I Dream of Pope Francis by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt was just last week that I received an email from Pope Francis.  He wrote me having seen my interview with Tavis Smiley and said he sympathized with my appeal for a Church that serves the needs of the people.  Pope Francis requested that I come to the Vatican to meet with him to discuss the papacy and his efforts to redirect the Church’s attention.  Of course, I immediately accepted and began to create my agenda for our meeting: women’s ordination, same-sex marriage, reproductive justice, and…my alarm went off.  It was just a dream. Sigh…

Totally disappointed at the realization of its ridiculousness, I wondered why Pope Francis had invaded my dreams.  Could it have been prophetic as my good friend and colleague (jokingly) suggested?  Or perhaps I’m narcissistic enough to fantasize that I have such wisdom to share.   Either way, no other pope has ever occupied my thoughts in such a way.

Whereas Michele Stopera Freyhauf has discussed feeling cautiously optimistic about our new pope, I have begun to feel enthusiastically optimistic.  Am I losing my feminist edge?  As a Catholic woman who has lived through four popes – Pope Francis is number 5 in my lifetime – I have never felt any connection to the papacy.  In fact, I have felt pure anger and disgust at some of what I have seen.  I have wondered, “Where is the mission of Jesus?”  How does all of the glitz and glamour, the oppression, demand for obedience, and of course, the sex abuse cover up compare to the work of Jesus?  I longed for a new Pope John XXIII who commissioned Vatican II and of course, for a Vatican III.

At first introduction to Pope Francis I also shared Michele’s cautious optimism.  A Jesuit Liberation Theologian from Latin America was encouragings and seemed the best possible option given those in the running for the papacy.  Learning of his commitment to the poor was inspiring and although he was not “woman friendly,” as many pointed out, no one thought we would have a pope elected who would ordain women; these kind of ideas were not represented among any of the existing cardinals.   So, do we ignore the positive qualities because of the missing ideologies or embrace those elements that can possibly lead to the changes many of us hope for?

PopeSeeing the differences between Pope Francis and the now Pope Emeritus, my initial and continued reaction is to embrace, and here is why:

  • In his first papal act, rather than following tradition and bestowing a blessing on the crowd outside the Vatican, Pope Francis asked the people to bless him.  This act moved me to tears as it was an acknowledgement of the full humanity of all.
  • His immediate demonstration of humility and concern for those oppressed and disenfranchised demonstrates a true commitment to serve the people of the Church rather than the politics of the Vatican.
  • Upon his inauguration the Pope made clear that he will focus on ecumenical dialogue and welcome persons of all faiths to the table including those who do not identify with particular religious traditions.
  • Pope Francis has supported same-sex unions as recently as 2010.  Although he has maintained the Church’s position on same-sex marriage and adoption by LGBTQ families, he called for a compromise through the support of same-sex unions.
  • By choosing to hold a major ceremony in the chapel of a juvenile prison rather than at the Vatican or a Rome basilica where it has been traditionally held, the Pope was making a strong statement about how he understands the mission of Jesus and who is included in the Church.
  • On Holy Thursday during the ceremony at the juvenile prison, Pope Francis continued his “gleeful abandonment of tradition” and chose to wash the feet 12 inmates, two of whom were women prisoners – one a Serbian Muslim.  Never before has a woman been acknowledged in this ceremony.
  • Pope Francis has stressed the “fundamental” importance of women in the Church noting that they were the first witnesses of Christ and have a special role in spreading the faith.
  • Through his continued challenging of tradition, the Pope has started the processes of releasing the “bondage of fear” that has resulted in silence amongst the Church’s leadership.  With this, the Gospel of Inclusion is being embraced and recognized as a central part of Jesus’ mission.

I appreciate the many concerns that have been shared by feminists about the new pope and my own agenda as a self-identified feminist progressive Catholic has not changed.  That said, this is the first time I have felt that a pope – at least in my lifetime – has offered hope.  Pope Francis recognizes that particular persons and groups feel rejected and oppressed by the Catholic Church.  He also recognizes that much of what the Vatican has represented for many is in direct opposition of the mission of Jesus.

With these recognitions, Pope Francis is looking for compromise – a way to build a bridge – and with this bridge, I believe, a path will be paved for additional change.  As much as we want to see change all at once, this is not how change happens.  Pope Francis is taking us in a direction that I have not seen in my lifetime.  And with this, my faith has been renewed, and I have genuinely felt connected to my Church. Hence, Pope Francis is invading my dreams as no other pope has.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is a Feminist theologian, ethicist, and activist.  She is Director of the Center for Women’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education at Claremont Graduate University, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola Marymount University, and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. Gina has authored multiple articles and the forthcoming book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence.  She is co-editor (with Rosemary Radford Ruether) of the forthcoming anthology, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century and is a contributor to the Rock and Theology project sponsored by the Liturgical Press. Her research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence.  Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.

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30 replies

  1. Gina, I hope you are right. Perhaps the Spirit will get her way in the end, but recent statements about American nuns suggest this will not happen any time soon.

    As you know, since you wrote this, but before it was posted, Pope Francis stated he is not going to change his predecessor’s policy regarding the “discipline” of American nuns.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/pope-francis-us-nuns_n_3085130.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

    “In a statement, Mueller’s office said he told the sisters that he had discussed the matter recently with Francis and that the pope had ‘reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform.’ ”

    “Following Francis’ election, several sisters had expressed hope that a Jesuit pope devoted to the poor and stressing a message of mercy rather than condemnation would take a gentler approach than his predecessor, Benedict XVI.”

    • Hi Carol, Thank you for your comments and for sharing the article. I’m a few days behind in my reading on the Pope and just saw his comments about the nuns which I found incredibly disappointing. Like the quote you mention here – I did anticipate a very different response. Nonetheless, I want to continue to be optimistic – change is a process and I believe that process has begun. Fingers crossed I’m right. :)

      • I too had a dream where Pope Francis came to my dream saying about my four pillar architecture where I have depicted justice, liberty, equality and fratenity symbols. It is the entrance of my instituion where I am the director. He said, ” I should say about the four pillars after the mass”. I have never met Pope Francis earlier, but like wise he wanted to give message to me, about justice.” I am also Jesuit priest. email. rcnyan@gmail.com. Take care with regards.

  2. Gina, what a great dream. Hold on to it! It may not come true with Pope Francis, but perhaps with another Pope. As with all new world leaders, the expectations we put on him – and ourselves – are far too great, too soon. Like Carol, I was very disappointed to read about his decision on the US nuns.

    The Catholic services I’ve attended (I’m Anglican) have shown me that the faithful are two-thirds women, just as they are in my local church. We witness for Christ, in our families, jobs, communities, and the world at large. Why aren’t we held ‘worthy’ to be priests in Catholicism, or Bishops in Anglicanism?

    the church is the last bastion of “jobs for the boys” to the detriment of congregations, and Christ’s message that we are equal before God.

    Still, hold on to your dream, and keep writing, as we must NEVER give up until there is a change of policy. We are the suffragettes of the Christian church!

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Annette! I agree with what you have to say here wholeheartedly! You are right – this is the modern day suffrage movement and we must push forward! I only want to acknowledge that where I once felt no hope at all, I now believe change has begun. That said, still a very long ways to go!

  3. As a progressive feminist Catholic I too felt Michele’s cautious optimism about the new Pope. I want to be hopeful. But I am afraid Carol’s skepticism is warranted. The news about Pope Francis affirming the actions taken with regard to LCWR was deeply disappointing. As was news of the all male advisory panel to clean up the Vatican. I am putting together a list of women I think he should draw on for a complementary female panel since they still seem too fearful of admitting a woman into their inner circles of power. Please send suggestions. I WILL send that list to Pope Francis even if he never appears in my dreams…

    • Dear freecatholic808 – I appreciate your very important comments here and look forward to your list! Can you please post an email address or another form of contact where others can make suggestions? I have several. :) Perhaps this would be a great post for you to submit to Feminism and Religion?

      As I stated in my other comments – we have a long way to go, but I think there is hope that did not exist before, and that is a statement I stand by. I am very disappointed in the Pope’s comments about the US Sisters – it is very problematic. That said, I still think that his other actions are moving us in a direction that may eventually offer the change so many of us hope for.

      Looking forward to your list! A couple of names to add: Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Hunt, Ivone Gebara, and Margaret Farley.

  4. What a lovely piece Gina. I too have found myself dreaming of Pope Francis and, in all honesty, have also found myself including him in my prayers each evening when I ask God to protect and bless my friends and family. I have never prayed for a pope before and have never felt any direct connection with how the Church manifests itself in Rome before. I appreciate that your piece was written before the recent statement from CDF and LCWR. I think that James Martin, SJ has written a balanced piece in America this week, which I read with interest and hope he may be right. Here’s the link if you are interested:

    http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/pope-francis-cdf-and-lcwr

    J.

    • Jamhenry, here is quote from the article you cite:

      “Second, it’s difficult to imagine that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was following this investigation all that closely from his post as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. On the other hand, perhaps he was; but still, probably not in the level of detail that would give him the confidence to undo, or even alter, a process that was currently under way.”

      James Martin, Jesuit, clearly hopes the pope will reconsider. However, if we read the above quote carefully, we can conclude that if the new pope was not following Vatican politics with regard to nuns=women, he probably does not view the “issue” of women’s changing roles in the church to be worth following. If on the other hand he did follow the story closely, then his response shows he does not consider the issue of women’s changing roles in the church to be something he wants to support. He could have done nothing for a time, the something he did does not bode well for women.

      Ahhh, if I were a Chistian, I would not be a Protestant, as I found more to relate to in the Catholic side of my ancestral heritage.

      • I too would be hoping that it’s not a lack of interest in the role of women in the church. From his address during his first audience as pope, his citation of women being the first witnesses, contrary to what gets portrayed, is a hopeful sign that he is indeed interested.

        I am inclined to think that the meeting between LCWR and CDF was arranged long before his appointment and, in all likelihood, an over zealous cleric has taken Francis’ “go ahead and keep the appointment” as being much more than that. Here’s hoping…

      • Apologies Carol. My intro line seems to have disappeared which obviously had a greeting and your name on it.

    • Jamhenry, Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and for the link to this article! Yes, my article was written prior to the news about the Pope’s statement about the US Sisters and I’m so very disappointed about this. But that does not change my thoughts that many – including me – have hope for the first time in a very long time. Remaining optimistic but continuing the call for change I think is a good path! Thank you! :)

  5. Very good article Gina! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story to us. I believe in Pope Francis and I know that he will live up to the people’s expectations. He is a good man a good leader of the Catholic Church. Let’s continue to pray for him. May God bless you!

  6. Good luck with your optimism. Like you, I think a Vatican III would be a very good thing for the Roman church. Get all those old men in skirts out into the real world to see real people, too. The first thing I’d ask Francis to do would be fire Cardinal Law.

  7. Readers might want to see my much less optimistic, far more critical take on this topic: See my article on the new pope and American women religious

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/7036/pope_francis_and_the_american_sisters/

    Time will tell. I think we need to make clear that we will not settle for crumbs. Enough is enough.

    • I agree completely, Mary. Yes, we need to keep making clear that “we will not settle for crumbs.” To those who wonder why we still stay: this is my church and I see no reason to relinquish it to those who have mismanaged it and betrayed its spirit for so long when so many women (and men) have kept what is best about the church alive and well through the work they do and the lives they live. They may treat it like a boys’ club but we should keep reminding them it isn’t.

    • Mary, I am grateful for your comments here! I just finished reading your article and wanted to share a link – so I’m glad you did. I think your statements are so important. YES – Enough is enough!

      But I also think that change never happens overnight. I’m not settling for crumbs, but rather trying to have a realistic vision of what is possible. Wanting all or nothing will not get us to the finish line. But if we can recognize small steps and use those to push the cause forward, real change is possible! That is the point I’m trying to make here.

      I’m not sure the change I want will happen in my life time, but I believe that if I work for justice and use the “crumbs” to create optimism and shift the movement forward, perhaps my daughter will see that change. At least, here is hoping! Thanks, Mary!

      • Thanks, Gina. I understand and appreciate your sentiments. However, I think this is an important moment to insist on more than we have before. We had 35 years of the last two popes with very little positive change for women. And, we have had serious backlash against US nuns that has caused enormous problems. Not to mention that the best and brightest women theologians of a whole generation–RRRuether, Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza, Margaret Farley–were effectively barred from teaching in Catholic higher education. I pass over the scandal of reproductive injustice and will not even enter into the matter of lesbian women. Justice is not a finish line in my view. It is a reality. I want it in my lifetime and for my daughter who is twelve. I think it is the task of each generation to bring justice about in real time. That is why I am stating clearly and firmly my expectations of this pope lest anyone think that I will tolerate anything less without a struggle. Here’s hoping. MEH

      • Mary, Please forgive my use of the word finish line – of course justice should be a reality. I only mean that for me, I focus on particular types of justice as needing to be achieved. I don’t think we disagree here at all – we should certainly continue to insist on justice for women and LGBTQ identified persons in the Church.

        I’m am not suggesting we should simply be happy with a few acknowledgments and sit back and wait for something else to happen. I am only saying (and this is where we likely do disagree) that I’ve had no hope of change within the structure of the Vatican in the past – but with some of Pope Francis’ actions – it has given me a reason to be optimistic. That said, my call for change will not weaken and this is a time where all our voices must continue to speak loudly.

        I am very disappointed about the Pope’s continued support of the statement against the US Sisters. It was a statement that was released after I had written and posted my article – and this is something that would have changed my tone somewhat. That said – I still see progress as a real possibility and that is something I want to embrace.

        Thank you, Mary! I very much appreciate this dialogue!

  8. I think it’s important to be realistic. Pope Francis’ modeling simplicity of lifestyle is most welcome, but I tend to agree more with Mary Hunt’s assessment in the article linked above.

    • Thanks for your comment, Peg! I appreciate your caution – but I do think we have more reason to be hopeful than we have had in a long time. As I state in the post, no one thought we were going to get a Pope that was “woman friendly,” but one that does have a commitment to justice can at least get us on the right path – and that I think is a good thing!

    • I think we need to make a distinction between embrace of poverty — as a spiritual practice — and concern to change the world so there is no more poverty and other forms of oppression. I hope the new pope is not just embracing poverty as a spiritual practice. If so, he will not embrace some of the privileges of his office, but he may not embrace justice as most of us who read this blog define it: working to change all forms of oppression.

      • Good point in a rich discussion, Carol. The same dynamic holds true for asceticism. While a measure of it can be healthy, an overabundance can lead to anti-body ideas and practices. Heaven knows Catholicism has had a enough of those.

  9. Gina, It is encouraging to read of your hope for Pope Francis. For the first time in my life, I am optimistic that the Church may be in for a change. I was raised to believe the Jesuits are the “thinking” branch of the church, and never worthy of being pope-ified. I hope there is a social justice vibe floating around the Vatican these days. We’ll see.

  10. Gina,

    I was so elated when I began to read your post. I thought you really had been invited to speak to Pope Francis. It could happen. Why not dream big?

    An equally important component of achieving greater liberation for women is our ability to imagine ourselves functioning in a system of equality, which is what I think you have done in your dream.

    Who knows, maybe one day the Pope will ask a progressive, feminist theologion over for consultation. If women continue to call attention to injustice and stand behind one another, then some Pope, at some point, will be forced to listen to one of us. I would be thrilled if that happened in our lifetime and if that woman was you.

    May we each learn to support one another, even when our dreams do not exactly align. Oppression takes it toll on individuals in a myriad of ways. We are all coping to the best of our abilities. What is imperitive is that we continue to fight toward greater liberation in all areas and give each other the space to express our unique contributions toward that fight in personalized ways.

    May your dream come true; the Pope could learn a thing or two from you!

    Much love to you Gina,

    Michelle

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