Letters to Pope Francis

LetterstoPopeFrancis-cover-224x359One might start with the premise that this book, written by a former priest and Dominican to the Roman Catholic Church’s new pope, Francis, and about what is wrong with the institutional church, would appeal only to Catholics. One would be wrong, quite simply.

Matthew Fox delves into the rot at the center of the Catholic Church with the precision of a surgeon, and cuts out the cancer with deft sure hands. Yet what he speaks of, with slight alteration can be laid at the doorstep of much of Christendom. If I were more familiar with other faith systems, no doubt his criticisms would also find purchase.

Fox starts with charging that the two previous papacies, that of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were schismatic. He makes this claim since both quite obviously tried to roll back the progress of Vatican II, and as he rightly suggests, “a council takes precedence over papal directives.” In other words, to the degree that both worked to ignore or undue reforms of the Second Vatican Council, their work was illegal and should be ignored.

Fox goes on from there, and he leaves no area of the church’s dirty little secrets left unaired. From the utterly disgusting coverup by church hierarchy of the pedophilia scandal, to the Vatican bank, to the vile treatment of religious women under Benedict, they are all unmasked. Curia members buy “sainthood” and known fascists find canonization while true martyrs of the church such as Oscar Romero are “held up” due to false charges of Marxism.

Matthew Fox who is now deeply involved in his own spiritual enterprise of bringing people to the Cosmic Jesus, urges Pope Francis to return theology to true theologians, replace suspect organizations such as Opus Dei from their powerful positions, stop the war on women, end required celibacy, and the simple end of Catholic obsession with sexual matters. It is a call to recognize the basic intelligence of lay people. It is a recognition that if the Church is losing adherents at an astounding pace, it is largely because the church is failing to be relevant to today’s problems and the needs of its people.

With tenderness but with firmness, Fox employs the Pope’s own words and is relentless in drawing the parallel between today and the Pope’s chosen namesake, Francis of Assisi, who, Fox makes out the case, would dismiss the great wealth of the Vatican, converting it to food for the poor, and would speak out loudly and insistently on issues of income inequality, working conditions for workers, and our rape of the environment.

He offers real solutions, the obvious and those which deal more with the inner workings of the Vatican, a subject that many lay persons are unfamiliar with. Indeed, it is these revelations that so shake the reader. How could such evil and behavior be tolerated in the Church?

This is a call to justice. It is a call to the Pope and the Church to return to its beginnings. It is a call to return to Jesus. Relentlessly, Fox recounts that Jesus was about the poor. He was about justice. He was about speaking truth to power. He indicts the Church as becoming the very things that Jesus gave his life for, and that if we can drop the mantra of individual salvation and return to demands for justice, work for justice, this church and others like it can be saved.

This a call to recognize that religion is the not same thing as faith. Fox sees faith as alive and well, and it is religion that has lost its way. It has become part of the ruling portion of humanity. It no longer serves people. Moreover he makes it quite clear that the only way for religion to continue must come through a recognition that ecumenism is the solution. We must get off this crazy notion that there is only One way to salvation, which each and every (or most) faith traditions claiming that they are that ONE.

This is a disheartening book if you are a Catholic, but refreshing too, as we recognize that the movement to re-vision what it means to be “church” is being led, not by hierarchies within institutional structures, but among common every day people. They are the true leadership and those institutionalized “leaders” had best get on board, or be left behind to burnish their gold and buff their Prada slippers in empty cathedrals everywhere.

Read this. Read it and join the growing legions who seek Jesus and His Way, the one that was intended.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Aug 22, 2013 @ 06:16:22

    Sherry, you are right to suspect that many of the problems that Fox addresses in the RCC realm apply to all of Christendom. While the specific issues may vary, at their root is the same pathology: the politicization and perpetuation of self-serving ideologies with no legitimate theological basis. This tension between sustaining faith and maintaining (or gaining) power has confronted the Church since its humble beginnings. And it is for us, the faithful, to continue to do the work of the Kingdom despite the erroneous ways of those who assume leadership of our flocks.

    I refuse to give up hope that a great renewal is happening in the Body of Christ. Without that, I have no hope for the world at large. Yet even though I’m often discouraged by what appears to be a lack of responsiveness to the Spirit by those in charge, I can also sense a profound longing in the Body for change. And it will happen. Slowly–too slowly for most of us, of course–but surely. Voices like Fox’s (and even our own) continue to rise. A chorus of revival is assembling. God’s will is at work.

    I look forward to reading Fox’s book–and thank you for the recommendation!

    Many blessings,


  2. drtch
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 17:39:30

    I was privileged to catch an interview with Rev. Fox on our local Pacifica outlet in Los Angeles, KPFK-fm, maybe a week ago. Wow, this dude is “clued in” to the issues that have been crying out for attention in Christianity, and particularly in Roman Catholicism for many decades!

    My early life was filled with Church dogma (and for a few years, the unpleasant discipline of Mother Superior). By my teens, I began to rebel against what I experienced as oppressive and something warped (though perhaps not yet identifiable), and by a few years into college and university, I became aware of some very troublesome components in both Roman Catholic and “Fundamen-talist” Christianity…and pretty much said “Goodbye!!”

    But perhaps I will continue from my more recent experience and stance. Ironically, I have come to appreciate some positive elements of the Church over the last twenty years, such some inspiring aspects of the liturgy, as well as cathedral architecture and stained-glass windows, particularly as viewed from a metaphor-ical—not literal–viewpoint. Yet, even now—perhaps more keenly still, in some respects–I am aware of some very problematic sides of this tradition. Perhaps the most salient point is that when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it essentially sold-out. If Jesus/Joshua/Yeshua was a prophet and iconoclast who stood against orthodoxy and empty rite and ritual, how could anyone stomach its shifting over to replace Emperor and Jovian worship? Not to mention Constantine’s hypocrisy in neglecting to become a Christian until the very day of his death.

    Next is the critical fact that Paul’s vision (potently—and very sadly–reinforced by Augustine and Aquinas) was preeminent, as distinguished from that of the Jerusalem Church. This man had never even made the acquaintance of Christ, and his version of the faith, based on what was probably (an already present history of extremism and) a seizure, as he fell from the back of a mule, was profoundly warped. His “vision” was one which insisted on the essential sinfulness of humankind; considered flesh detestable–with human sexuality considered particularly loathsome; was profoundly patriarchal in character; demanded one not question authority, nor one’s station in life, and very highly prized celibacy and the (probably the psychopathological) institution of martyrdom. It was also extremely exclusionary, rather than inclusive. Incidentally, as I learned from a text in the university class in the seventies (taught by a former RC priest), although Paul is generally considered a Jew (and Roman citizen), he spoke Greek and his thinking was profoundly influenced by a Greek point of view…e.g., in how he saw sin as innumerable discreet acts of transgression, while a more Jewish inter-pretation was “all about” the quality of the present relationship with the deity. The former tend to “set us up” as losers…who can never attain perfection. The latter tends to assume a state of grace, and be forgiving of the occasional and inevitable “missing the target.”

    Next is the reality of Christianity’s having borrowed a huge body of material from pagan traditions (such as Mithraism and Attis worship), even as it dismantled those traditions, and burned entire libraries (like that in Alexandria—a terrible crime!!). Did you know that the absolute obsession with the “Blood of Christ” is a direct borrowing from Attis worship, wherein the acolytes stood under a grille as the slaughtered bull was dispatched? Then, we have centuries of crusades and other wars, pogroms and inquisitions, and complicity with tyrannical regimes such as the Nazis and Fascists who were the authors of inhuman xenophobia, incar-ceration and holocaust impacting millions of Jews, homosexuals, Communists, and political dissidents. Then, is the untold anguish visited upon those who could not accept the very twisted tenets which defined acceptable marriage and sexual behavior (or would not countenance a female clergy)….or felt betrayed by the Church’s opposition to “Liberation Theology” along with a refusal to acknowledge giants of the caliber of Bishop Oscar Romero.

    Then, there are all kinds of nutty items…such as the fact that the Cross appears nowhere in Scripture…only a “Stake,” nor does the “Holy Trinity.” And, that the Evangelists couldn’t seem to make up their minds about whether their “rabbi” (teacher) was the Messiah, a prophet, “Suffering Servant,” Savior, or “Son of God” (or “Son of Man”). He never, btw, claimed divinity, himself, but emphasized that we are ALL “Sons of the Living God,” and that the “Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” And, that—as suggested above—he actually never had the name “Jesus.” It was Yahusua, simplified to Yeshua or Joshua..which was traded for a Greek form—Ieosous–which was then converted to a Latin form Ieusus (or Jesus). And, “Christ” is not his last name either, but is really “Christos”/”Christus,” which simply means “anointed,” and was applied to many highly esteemed figures like kings, rabbis and prophets. It does not denote an exclusive status. Finally, at its roots, Christianity is a cult…and, like most cults, it is filled with (to borrow labor organizer and commentator Eric Hoffer’s term) “True Believers,” followers who insist on very loony—LITERAL–dogma, look to the “End-Times”…and will go to great lengths to evangelize anyone and anything which is still moving. ; )


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