No international decision makers today would elect someone over 75 years old as chief executive. The lone exception is the Catholic Church’s Cardinals in their desperate struggle to salvage the world’s oldest absolute monarchy. Its patriarchical positions have provided the Cardinals and their predecessors with a lifetime of unaccountable power and wealth for almost 1700 years. That is about to end, with or without Pope Francis’ help.

The overall situation has been profoundly described in understandable terms by Fr. Hans Kung in his new edition of “Can We Save the Catholic Church ?”, accessible at: http://amzn.com/B00CR42LNG

Bishops normally retire at 75 years old. Indeed, Thomas Aquinas, who passed on holding a hierarchical position and even criticized absolute monarchs, retired at 49 years old! Pope Francis will be eighty in a few years, but evidentally couldn’t resist taking the top spot, likely an imprudent choice at best.

Francis’ apparently lifelong pattern of being ambitiously authoritarian, disguised often by his friendly and presumably well-intentioned style, appears ascendant as he ages rapidly. Ex-Pope Benedict has shown that this ambition can be hazardous to one’s health.

Francis’ basic choice upon election was either (1) to announce promptly a specific and transparent offensive reform strategy and pursue it expeditiously or (2) to continue his two predecessors’ flawed and secretive defensive strategy, enhanced with tighter hierarchical discipline, softer public relations’ tactics and a better executed geo-political policy. He so far has mainly chosen the defensive strategy, imprudently and unfortunately.

Given his age and the hierarchy’s escalating scandals, especially in Latin America, he will likely fail. That is, unless he promptly faces the multiple challenges more effectively and honestly than he has so far. In a world of Internet linked democracies with women having voting rights, authoritarian patriarchs are doomed to fail, including Francis and any papal patriarch who may succeed him in a few years.

Pope Francis for whatever reason has now freely accepted, against the odds as a near octogenerian, the responsibility to make needed major changes amidst ceaseless chaotic crises. He did not have to accept. Now he must face the tough consequences and fair criticism. He has already exhibited a firm control of his subordinates and a real time awareness of key developments. At this point, however, Francis’ papal authoritarian management style will likely be no more successful than Benedict’s “benign neglect” management style was. The problem is strategy, not style.

How has Francis fared since March in the key reform areas of (1) leadership accountability, (2) doctrinal updating and (3) financial controls? Has he so far done much of what most Catholics want and hope for or mainly just what most Cardinals wanted when they elected him? Most of the People of God want different things than most Cardinals push for clearly from most indications.

Catholics for centuries, and still today, no longer had any say in electing or evaluating their leadership, as they originally did in the Church the Apostles left behind. The hierarchy, however, still need significant financial, moral and political support from the People of God, over a billion Catholics. And as a result of the child abuse and financial crises and related legal fallout, Catholics may soon have a real say in elections, regardless of the hierarchy’s continuing efforts under Francis to try to avoid this.

To assess this, one must separate the papal myths and spin from the harsh realities and real world consequences. Public relations smokescreens amidst continuing papal secrecy necessitate looking much more closely at Francis’ actions than his words. Ongoing revelations of long hidden Vatican sexual and financial scandals also necessitate a much more intensive and honest analysis.

Many Catholics now realize sadly that they have, in effect, been conned by some trusted Vatican leaders for a very long time. This seems to be continuing to a disturbing extent. As discussed below, some of Francis’ key decisions so far do not match his appealing words.

Most Catholics, including me, were weaned on clerical myths to believe a pope blindly and to avoid evaluating his human decisions as closely as they would evaluate other leaders. That is rapidly changing because too many are suffering needlessly because of papal policies and practices. We really wish the new pope well, but have a separate duty to support the victims, too often helpless children and forgotten women.

(1) Leadership Reform

At a bare minimum, any real leadership reform necessarily by definition means the billion plus non-clerical Catholics among the People of God get some real say on important Church matters. Notwithstanding that, Pope Francis recently announced his biggest “change order” to date. A year from now, he will convene a Synod of Bishops to start on October 5, 2014, a month before the key US Senate elections that could determine the US Supreme Court’s majority for decades.

The agenda will be “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family”. The moderator will be Italian Archbishop Baldiserri. He was most recently Secretary of the committees of bishops and of cardinals. For decades before, he was a Vatican diplomat with no significant pastoral experience. No lay Catholics and certainly no women will apparently participate actively, although they may be able to send e-mails, etc. Send an e-mail, Mom, you know the pope will read them all. Really!

Ominously, a few years ago, Francis had moderated in Spain a discussion panel at a papal conference on the family, along with Boston’s Cardinal Law and American conservative Carl Anderson. Law’s selection, especially after the 2002 Boston child abuse scandals, to speak about families was obscene. Similarly, Anderson had earlier worked in key positions for conservatives like US President Reagan and Sen. Jesse Helms, men whose legacies have lead to a deepening impoverishment of many US families and income redistribution favoring the very wealthy that are still ongoing.

Growing poverty and unplanned children contribute to many of the hardships endured worldwide, as too many parents know well. Financially secure and childless Cardinals and well paid and influential neo-conservatives feeding off the Cardinals’ largess and influence may not notice this as much.

Carl Anderson apparently remains a member of the papal committee on the family. He also continues as a long time active director of the infamous Vatican Bank that has been materially mismanaged on his watch. And he continues to be active in US conservative politics, including working with the plutocratic forces that fund anti-contraception and anti-gay marriage campaigns that function as “Christian covers” for efforts to get more tax cuts for billionaires.

So, after an over-hyped and under-performing recent meeting of the Council of eight Cardinals that failed even to address meaningfully any accountability of bishops for protecting child predator priests, the Vatican’s Achilles’ heel, a year from now over 150 childless senior celibate males will meet to review the rules on making love, getting married and having children. Is this a bad dream or just another Vatican scheme? The Cardinals’ Council seems mainly to have enhanced Francis consolidation of power under an unaccountable new pope at the expense of a frequently disgraced Curia. Hardly a harbinger of any sharing of power with the rest of the People of God.

Of course, all of the men who likely will be attending next year’s Synod were selected as bishops on their pledge to oppose contraception and gay marriage. Is there any doubt how they will likely come out a few weeks before US elections that predictably could determine the composition of the US Supreme Court for many years to come? Francis has now subtly planned to delay for 18 months showing his real hand on key changes–no likely change on many of the issues that really matter to most Catholics. But controlling the US Supreme Court evidently matters more to hierarchs worried stiff about bankruptcy and imprisonment

As suggested above, Francis had a choice. He could address now after six months effective changes that would seriously curtail child abuse by making bishops accountable, such as removing criminal Bishop Finn. Or he could try to fight on with the disasterous policies of his two predecessors who seemingly never saw a bishop cover-up they didn’t try to hide. He has chosen to fight on, as he did in Argentina in the case of Fr.Grassi, a convicted child abuser.

The continuation of the Vatican’s hardline on protecting offending bishops and even some child abusive priests remains disgraceful. For example, the offending Dominican Republic Nuncio with the alleged attraction to younger boys is now in the safe hand of the Polish authorities. Like the Polish pope, John Paul II, the Polish authorities have a poor record on pursuing offending clerics, especially hierarchical ones. And they are unlikely to let any trial interfere with the fast-tracked canonization of their rare claim to modern fame.

Similarly, in the USA, the bishops in Newark and St. Paul-Minneapolis are in the safe hand of friendly lawyers and even back-up bishops apparently aiming to change the subject.

The regrettable decison of California’s Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, to veto a popularly approved law to extend access to full legal remedies to priest abuse victims, just confirms Francis’ real direction. He had met recently with LA’s Archbishop and appears to have been in regular contact with him. Is it any surprise really then that California bishops were so uniform in their lobbying efforts to press Jerry Brown?

Jerry Brown’s and the California bishops rational is shameful nonsense, and unjust to boot. Many abuse victims are unable for many years to recover sufficiently to pursue their legal rights through no fault of their own. To deny them a full legal remedy because the law fails to apply to victims of other wrongdoers, like teachers who are heavily monitored already, is patently unfair. The priests’ victims still retained the difficult burden of proof for older claims, not the dioceses. Most of the evidence is likely in chancery vaults anyways and readily accessible and provable.

Jerry Brown likely knew, at least from his youthful days, some of the Jesuits who were covered by the western Jesuit provinces’ recent major child abuse settlement. Jerry seems to know little more about how precious children are that his former Jesuit confreres who likely lobbied him heavily. Hopefully, the California legislature will override his veto promptly in the interests of justice. And don’t expect Francis to tell his California bishops to call off their California lobbyists anytime soon.

The fundamental injustice of California’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto decision has now been thoroughly analysed at: http://verdict.justia.com/2013/10/17/gov-jerry-browns-recent-veto-child-abuse-legislation-tells-us-civil-rights-movement-children

The biggest obstacle for Francis is not Jerry Brown, rather it is US President Obama, leader of the most powerful nation, a constitutional lawyer and a devoted parent. He favors broad access to contraception for responsible couples and civil rights for gay couples. Ex-pope Benedict failed last year to help defeat President Obama, but the ex-pope had no special edge over the Latino vote. Francis has that edge obviously.

Contraception lowers the Catholic birth rate, which reduces hierarchical political power and economic wealth. Peter’s Pence adds up, with over a billion Catholics worldwide. Fewer Catholics also means fewer Catholic voters to try to offer to needy politicians in exchange for subsidies and protection.

In several critical states, the US Senate elections will likely turn on a small percentage of the eligible voters. If Francis can deliver a small increase in turnout of conservative Catholics, especially traditional Latinos, that could give right-wing candidates enough additional votes to secure a bare majority in the US Senate. That would be enough to control the confirmation votes needed to install new Justices on the US Supreme Court.

Even if President Obama or Hillary Clinton choose the nominations for the four (at least) openings expected soon on the nine person US Supreme Court, the US Senate can block these nominations as it earlier blocked Robert Bork when Carl Anderson’s former bosses nominated and unsuccessfully pressed for him earlier. This strategy worked before.

If Francis succeeds in this plan, he can probably expect for many years a conservative US Supreme Court majority that will continue to protect US bishops from financial liability and potentially even criminal prosecution, as the Court recently did, in effect, for the St. Louis Archdiocese of former Cardinals Burke, Rigali and Dolan and of criminal Bishop Finn. Francis obviously does not want to risk waiting to face Hillary Clinton’s potential US Supreme Court appointments after 2016. As a mother, she has a different perspective than Francis on the unique value of children and has already taken on the Vatican on access to contraception at the earlier Beijing UN conference.

A succinct and brief overview of the current US political situation that Pope Francis is seeking to influence by standard culture warrior “wedge issue” tactics is accessible at: http://verdict.justia.com/2013/10/03/the-republican-war-against-women

On October 30, US Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, on the PBS Newshour stated: … {W}e have an excellent chance of taking the Senate in 2014. Obamacare … is going to be, in my view, the largest and most significant issue in the 2014 elections …” The US Bishops will soon meet to elect a new leadership and to set its political agenda under the new pope. Francis has just met with his US Nuncio and the current US leader, Cardinal Dolan. This national Bishops’ meeting should indicate Francis’ US political stategy very clearly.

So far, a key item for the US Bishops appears to be doubling down on their unrelenting opposition to Obamacare’s free contraception insurance coverage. This is despite the unqualified support this insurance coverage has recently received from Sr. Carol Keehan, the head of the US Catholic Health Association, by far the most important US Catholic voice on national health care legislation. The contraception insurance subject is a critical indicator of Francis’ positions in that it involves important issues for the poor, as well as children and women, and the role of US nuns in the political process. This meeting should reveal how closely Francis’ deeds will match his words. It will also indicate how directly involved in supporting a particular US political party’s election efforts Francis wants to get.

An unexpected snag has recently arisen for the pope’s political plan to avoid as best he can the child abuse scandal at least until after next year’s Synod. Not yet quite of Joan of Arc’s or Catherine of Siena’s stature, but nevertheless a brave and determined former church official from St. Paul, Minnesota, Jennifer Haselberger, stands in the pope’s way. Her challenge to her bishop, an anti-gay marriage crusader, has coincidentally and suddenly even brought the priest brother of President Obama’s Chief of Staff center stage. After mainly avoiding the Catholic priest child abuse scandal until now, President Obama will likely have to take a public position on it very soon, well before Francis’ Synod is held.

The former St. Paul Archdiocesan Chancellor for Canonical Matters, Jennifer Haselberger, a well educated and respected canon lawyer, is publicly taking on her bishop and the papal inquisition, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), that masquerades as child protectors. A senior St. Paul police commander has now taken the extraordinary step of publicly appealing to victims of priest abuse to contact her office confidentially. The scandals there may just be beginning.

Childless celibate men too often fail to understand or value children, as is sadly but increasingly becoming too clear. They appear, though, to understand well and to fear greatly Federal prosecutors. They must also fear Jennifer. I would if I were in their legal shoes.

Jennifer’s amazing and disturbing story, with documentary support, including proposed correspondence with the Vatican’s purported child protection department under Cardinal Levada, is being reported on extensively and continuously by journalists at the respected Minnesota Public Radio organization. Other journalists will soon catch up as well.

For comprehensive coverage by the respected Minneapolis Public Radio staff of the essential details, please click on the link at:

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/catholic-church/

Commonweal Magazine’s Grant Gallicho has fully reviewed this in a hard-hitting article availabel at the link:

http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/archdiocese-wobegon

For the current perspective of the reliable Associated Press, which follows the Catholic hierarchy’s cover-up efforts worldwide, please click on the link at:

http://abcnews.go.com/Health.wireStory/clergy-abuse-scandal-reaches-Minnesota-archdiocese-20553313

This pathetic story reveals clearly that the Vatican’s “Zero Tolerance” policy that Francis still touts is in practice more like a “Zero Competence” or “Zero Morality” policy. Will Pope Francis please step up and remove this obscenity. He must stop kissing a few babies and begin protecting millions of children transparently. A Synod a year from now of 150 men who contributed to creating the current mess is too late and in all likelihood will be too little. Nice try though.

Pope Francis should now take bold action to show he will meet head on the Vatican’s biggest challenge–making bishops accountable for protecting priest chid abusers. As a first step, Francis should appoint Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P., as “child abuse czar”. No cleric in the world knows more about curtailing priest abuse than Fr. Doyle, and none are more respected than this canon lawyer. Helpfully, Fr. Doyle has also earlier been a Dominican confrere in DC of the CDF’s new Secretary, Archbishop DiNoia, O.P.

The aforementioned articles indicate a very unflattering picture of the priest brother of President Obama’s Chief of Staff. Hopefully, his brother is giving the President better advice than he gave his bishop.

Among many other important issues, the article raises for me as a lawyer serious questions of potential violations of several Federal and state laws relating to child protection and to the suppression of evidence. These matters must now be investigated fully both by Federal and state prosecutors, without any favoritism or political interference. I expect the President and his Chief of Staff will fully agree with this. I hope so. There are already enough scandals and crises for him to deal with already.

(2) Doctrinal Updating

Despite some tantalizing interviews, the chances for changes in Vatican approaches to contraception, gay marriage and women priests appear to be very slim.

(3) Financial Controls

Pressured by European banking regulators to try to get the Vatican Bank under control, the Vatican has been forced, in effect, to adopt some new controls that have been standard fare at other banks for many years. It apparently took a shutdown for several months earlier this year of the credit card facility at the lucrative St. Peter’s Divine Disneyland to get the Vatican to act finally. The Vatican had been promising, apparently insincerly, financial reforms for decades.

Nevertheless, the Vatican Bank appears still to have a fundamental flaw. It is overseen directly and/or indirectly by low paid and unaccountable clerics, in most case with little financial expertise and a tendency to act secretly. The temptation for these clerics to evade financial regulations remains to a significant and unacceptable degree.

If Francis is really serious here, he should declare the Vatican Bank will be sold expeditiously in an orderly process. It has value which the Vatican can realize in an orderly disposition.

Sales of banks are by now routine international financial transactions. Commercial banks in Rome would likely be pleased to bid for its attractive deposit base and even likely be willing to hire many of the non-clerical employees. I suspect many of these low paid lay employees would be joyful at this prospect.

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For background on some major existing matters already open between President Obama and Pope Francis that could be adversely affected by negative implications of the St. Paul Archdiocesean scandals, please click on to my earlier remarks, “Pope Francis, President Obama and Children” , accessible at:  http://wp.me/P2YEZ3-Qt

For background on the extremely important matter of control of the US Supreme court, which seems to be on the top of Francis’ political agenda, please click on to my earlier remarks, accessible at: http://wp.me/P2YEZ3-S8 .

For the details of evidence of Francis’ pattern of ambitious authoritarianism, especially as Jesuit provincial in Argentina, please see Paul Vallely’s excellent, balanced and well-researched short new biography, “Pope Francis: Untying the Knots”, accessible at: http://amzn.com/1472903706

Paul Vallely is a longtime respected journalist at UK”s Independent and has served as a consultant to UK Catholic bishops.

For some background on the long tradition of the unChristian authoritarian approach, please see the excellent discussion in Fr. Emmett Coyne’s recent “The Theology of Fear”, accessible at: http://www.amzn.com/1468015648

Fr. Coyne is about Francis’ age and has over 50 years of intensive pastoral experience, often in the service of the poor. Despite currently being bedridden temporarily after an accidental fall and leg injury, Fr. Coyne continues to blog actively, prophetically and daily on behalf of the true Gospel message.

For the larger recent context, as well as some pointed advice for Pope Francis, see Hans Kung’s unique new final memoirs volume, “Experienced Humanity”, (in German, “Erlebte Menschlichheit”), accessible at, with review translations via Google Translate, : http://www.amazon.de/dp/3492056016

Reportedly, Jesuit Pope Francis has acknowledged by a handwritten note receipt of Hans Kungs’ new reform book, “Can We Save the Catholic Church?”. Hans Kung was educated at the prestigious Gregorian by Jesuits and was close to the Jesuits’ foremost modern theologian, Karl Rahner. With Hans Kung, Karl Rahner was one of the the 100+ victims of the prior two popes’ ruthless inquisition of independent alternative Church scholarly voices. The clear policy was if you cannot refute the truth of theological challenges that undercut the absolute papal monarchy, try to suppress it ruthlessly.

Hopefully, Francis will learn more from the memoirs than Hans Kung’s former colleague and Vatican II collaborator, ex-Pope Benedict did, as he now sits marginalized as the “Prisoner of the Vatican’s Convent”, accompanied by his close personal Archbishop, George Ganswein, in a puzzling arrangement.

Despite failing eyesight, 85 year old Hans Kung continues to be a prodigious scholar. In all likelihood, he will continue as one until his last breathe.