Pope's U.S. Visit Highlights Controversy, Compassion

Sep 17, 2015

Pope Francis has raised eyebrows, cheers, and criticism for what some call his 'radical' teachings--on same-sex couples, climate change, and immigration. As he visits the United States next week, Catholics are hopeful he'll continue to address social injustice while building bridges to the world's larger, non-Catholic population. 

Father Bud Grant, a priest in Davenport and professor at St. Ambrose University, points to the Pope's recent encyclical on climate change as evidence of this trend.

"It's supposed to be educational and instructive, and this one is interesting because he addresses it to quote, 'Everyone on Earth,' unquote."

Grant says Pope Francis is making strides towards re-establishing the Church as a center of compassion and moral authority, but says that's a long journey given the Church's history.

"Not only do we have an institutional system that's very old and very reticent to change, but we have also inflicted upon ourselves the greatest of all evils with the pedophilia scandals and the way that had been treated. And those have rightfully caused people sadness, grief, and anger."

Sister Simone Campbell, a Roman Catholic Nun and Executive Director of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, says Pope Francis is working towards healing, though that change will be incremental.

"He's working hard to lead a change in our Church on this horrible painful issue but it is going to take time. Trickle down doesn't work for economics, and it's a very slow process for the level of change that we're talking about in the Church."

But some doubt whether the Pope's comments signal real change, given that Church doctrine remains the same. Father Grant disagrees, arguing that shifting the Church just one degree now can mean a vastly different destination years down the line.

"It's not just a veneer, it's not just a persona that he is trying to project. It really is him, and it really is the Church."

On this River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Grant, Campbell, and Keith Soko, professor of moral theology at St. Ambrose University, about the changes in press, perception, and participation that Pope Francis is effecting.