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The God Squad: From across faiths, a blessing for the pope

March 15, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

The good news is that I did not swear an oath of secrecy. The bad news is that I don't know anything about what went on in the Sistine Chapel and I'm not Catholic. However, my best friend is a priest and I remember tenderly joking with Father Tom Hartman that if he was ever elected pope, he would choose as his pope name Pope John Paul George Ringo.

Seriously, as a Jew I love the Catholic Church, and I offer my joyous blessings with a full heart and hopeful thoughts to the new pontiff, Pope Francis, from Buenos Aires.

My first hope is that the new pope will awaken every morning and read the Bible before he reads the newspapers. People who are not Catholic and not religious and not pro-life are now offering advice to the new pope and the old church. That advice boils down to this: "Give up everything you believe and make what the church thinks is true indistinguishable from what trendy secularists think is true."

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Now, secularists may be right or they may be wrong, but it's not the sacred mission of the church to replace 2,000-year-old beliefs. So what I pray is that Pope Francis loves tradition not because it's old but because it's true. Old practices that are true but unpopular need to be preserved. Old practices that are just old and not true need to be let go. The only way to distinguish between them is to have a firm grasp of eternal truth. This is the hardest task. Therefore, I hope the new pope is a wise man.

I also hope he will be merciless in bringing to justice those priests who abused children. Some of this work has already been done, but the job is not finished, and what has been done came too late to save the good name of the church. This new beginning provides the perfect opportunity to begin again the work of building trust.

I've defended the Catholic Church during this dark time of shame by pointing to the good works of the vast majority of priests. I've reminded people on many occasions that an accusation is not a conviction, and that extreme care needs to be taken so as not to ruin good names with unfounded accusations. Still, I was more than deeply saddened by revelations of child abuse; I was outraged. What I pray for most is that this new pontiff will make the church clean once again.

I also pray that Pope Francis is a man who loves people as much as he loves God. It's easier to love God, but people need it more. I hope above all else that he's a loving man.

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