Friday, March 15, 2013

An Open Letter to Pope Francis

I congratulate and commend you on your rise to the papal see. I rejoice with much of the world that the Roman Church is now led by a man from Latin America. With others I am encouraged to hear of your humility and rejection of the trappings of riches in your ministry as cardinal in Argentina. I pray that Francis of Assisi truly will be your pattern for ministry, with his passion for the Gospel and care for the poor.

Many of us heard very disturbing news reports concerning the papal curia and the power struggles present there. It seems that not only are there local conspiracies to retain power, money and immunity from gross sexual sin, but the Vatican itself has been home to such wickedness. I know that Benedict seems free from accusation of sin in this, but that he was unable to overthrow the power of the curia and cleanse the Roman Church from the top down. On a local level, the world has seen that diocese after diocese has protected sexual predators from criminal justice and these men have often gone on to assault more children. This is a very great evil that will not escape judgement from our King, Jesus Christ. I pray that you will be committed to confronting evil and casting it from your midst, not simply minimizing the damage to reputation and coffers.

As well, I strongly urge you to cleanse the Roman Church of the cult of Mary. As a pastor from Latin America, you have seen yourself how Mary has become far more than an object of reverence, but an object of worship. No amount of subtle theologizing can justify this. While all Christians should revere Mary as the mother of our Savior, she is not our “co-redemptrix,” object of worship or receiver of our prayers. Latin America and parts of Europe have become bastions of goddess-worship. God is not pleased with this. While it is attractive to the uneducated and superstitious, it incurs God’s wrath and destroys the opportunity for unity in the universal Church.

If you actually care for the poor, you will also reform the Roman Church’s system of merit and indulgences. How sad that five hundred years after Martin Luther exposed the evil of this system (which at the time was also propping up a corrupt curia), you continue to sell indulgences with the promise that “excess merit” from Mary and the saints can be delivered to suffering souls in your imaginary purgatory. There is nothing biblical about this, and it plunders the poor and superstitious. Salvation is a gracious gift, which saves a person completely and does not consign her to purgatory, because Christ “has perfected for all time those of us who are being sanctified.” Your theologians have already admitted that Trent misunderstood or misrepresented Dr. Luther. He never said that salvation can be apart from good works, but that good works are not the basis for our salvation. Can we not agree that Christ’s work is the basis for our salvation? Can we not agree that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to fully pardon our sins, even the sins committed after baptism which we all commit? Can we not turn people from fear of hell to a joy in good works?

If you do these things, your church will be transformed. Bring sin into the light, the true light of the true Gospel. Live as Francis with a concern only for the poor and the Gospel.


The Rev. Travis D. Hutchinson
Teaching Elder, Presbyterian Church in America