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Vanderbilt professor speaks on Pope
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Pope Francis, whose pastoral career was devoted to serving the poorest and weakest in his spiritual care, has opened the door to the possibility of married priests in the Roman Catholic Church, Vanderbilt professor and papal scholar Dr. Bruce T. Morrill said Thursday while addressing the Rotary Club of McMinnville.

That’s just one of the historic changes the new pope is contemplating or vigorously pursuing. Driving the Italian Mafia out of the Vatican Bank, reminiscent of Jesus’ expelling the money changers from the temple, is another of the reforms that have brought admiration from millions and strong opposition from others.

The new pontiff entered the electoral conclave in the winter of 2013 as Jorge Mario Begoglio, who became cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998 after serving nearly three decades as a Jesuit priest ministering in the hopelessly impoverished slums of his city.

When he was elected the 266th pope, he greeted the cheering masses from the balcony of the papal apartments and humbly asked for the prayers of the faithful as he assumed leadership of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Francis’ “simplicity of lifestyle” and humility should not be confused with weakness,  Morrill, who is Malloy Chair professor of Catholic Studies in Vanderbilt’s Divinity School, emphasized in his talk.

“The guy’s got guts and he’s not blinking,” said Morrill, who began teaching at Vanderbilt after serving 15 years on the faculty at Boston College. Morrill serves as working priest in Nashville churches and in a Lipscomb University and Church of Christ-led inmate ministry at the state’s Riverbend Maximum Security Prison.

Because of his uncompromising reforms, the Catholic leader “is not winning a lot of friends in the Vatican,” the Vanderbilt academic said.  But at age 79 and breathing with just one working lung, Francis shows no signs of weakness, physical or mental.

Fielding questions from the Rotarians after his talk, Morrill said Francis has announced his openness to proposals for priests who are married and who are raising children. The pope has invited bishops worldwide to initiate discussions within their own jurisdictions on changing or eliminating the traditional rule of celibacy for the priesthood, allowing for local church governance to make that decision according to its particular needs.

“I hope to see some movement on that,” Morrill remarked, with “celibacy as a personal option we may adopt.”  

Anticipating questions about women in the Roman Catholic priesthood, don’t hold your breath, the speaker said.  Pope Francis is not likely to depart from the example of the apostles who surrounded Christ — all of them male.

Morrill expands on these issues and discusses other themes in this week’s FOCUS interview on public radio WCPI 91.3.   The half-hour recorded conversation will be on the air Tuesday at 5 p.m.; Wednesday at 5:05 a.m.; Thursday at 1 p.m.; and Friday at 1:05 a.m.