Two years of change at the Catholic Church

This Friday, 13 March, marks the second anniversary of the inauguration of Pope Francis. During his term, the culture of the Catholic Church has been perceived as becoming more open and responsive. People of the Catholic faith have also seen a positive shift in the public image of their Church.

The hopes aroused by the Argentinian pope in different parts of the world are included as one of the topics in the recently released Catholic issue of, an online magazine focusing on Finnish academic theology.

In an article published in the issue, Academy Professor Elina Vuola from the Faculty of Theology discusses the attitudes of Church leadership towards Latin American liberation theology, sexual ethics and women's position in the Church.

The Last Come First

One of the key points of the Latin American style of liberation theology is positioning the poor at the forefront of all church activities.

 “It seems like the Vatican has assumed a new perspective on liberation theology – at least they seem more pragmatic towards it,” estimates Vuola.

Sexual ethics and the position of women in the Church are much more controversial issues.

According to Vuola, Pope Francis does not consider liberation theology a question of dogma. Instead, he sees it in positive, practical terms – as could be expected of a Jesuit hailing from Latin America.

“Jesuits typically combine spirituality with social justice, a tendency that is apparent in the work of Pope Francis. Critical self-evaluation and dialogue are also central Jesuit methods.”

Vuola points out that these traits seem more pronounced in comparison to the previous popes who were very different.

Church Authority in Crisis

Previously the Vatican viewed liberation theology from a perspective of communism versus capitalism, claims Michael J. Garanzini, president of Loyola University Chicago and a Jesuit, whom Vuola interviews in her article. Pope Francis, however, interprets liberation theology through the opposites of power and powerlessness, of wealth and poverty.

Garanzini argues, however, that Pope Francis cannot be thought of as a liberation theologian.

According to Garanzini, the Catholic Church has spiritually returned to the time of the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, a period between 1962 and 1965 during which the Church embraced openness and re-evaluated its role in society and the world.

While the situation and challenges are different now, Garanzini states that the smug hierarchy of the Church has failed to win the hearts of Catholics. This is also apparent in the Church's reactions to the recent child abuse scandals. The Church has lost a great deal of its moral authority, claims Garanzini.

He indicates that the Pope does not seem particularly interested in maintaining the hierarchy between the upper echelons and the grass roots, or between Europe and the Global South.

Poor Women are Silenced

“If we understand liberation theology in the broadest sense, it also includes global feminist theology and black theology,” explains Vuola.

“These are also issues in which the Pope has presented himself as being open to dialogue and respectful of human diversity. This is, however, another area in which comparison with his predecessors may lend an unnecessarily profound impression upon the statements and gestures of Pope Francis.”

“He is similar to his predecessors in his inability to understand the lethal combination of poverty and gender – and how it relates to Catholic sexual ethics,” Vuola criticises.

Read the Catholic issue of (in Finnish)