If you’re a Catholic hater – and there are many around the world and, yes, even in the United States – the Church founded by Jesus Christ is in a heap of trouble.

The residual legal and social problems stemming from the sex-abuse scandals involving priests continue, as does the effort to avoid any mention of gay priests.

The politicization of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which often takes positions that seemingly fly in the face of traditional Catholic doctrines, has split the laity.

The issues of immigration, illegal aliens, social assistance for the poor and, yes, even support of politicians is causing a fracture in churches across the country.

It used to be so simple. Catholics would argue about divorce, birth control, women priests, the morality of war, capital punishment – even, meat on Friday.

Arguments remain, but the scope has broadened to a degree not imagined.

The impetus to the expansion of the split among Roman Catholic laity, especially in the United States, was the fallout from Vatican Two.

The ostensible purpose of the conclave was to air out the Church and let in light and clarity.

What it did, in reality, was allow individual priests and bishops free rein in how their parishes functioned. It was a disaster.

The changes paralleled the swinging sixties and the mentality “If it feels good, do it.”

What felt good to many priests and lay Catholics who felt hemmed in by those “old fashioned” rules of behavior was a sweeping change in what was religiously “acceptable.”

Birth control? No problem.

Unhappy marriage? Get out.

No-fault civil divorce made it easy, and compliant priests allowed divorced Catholics to stay in the church, receive Communion and even remarry in the Church.

Permissible? Not really, but there was a lot of winking going on.

Young people caught on, and abstinence from sex before marriage became passé. It was accepted that couples would live together before marriage, and they received the sacrament of matrimony despite their “living in sin.”

Priests were so glad to have people who wanted to be married in the Church that they were more than willing to cast a blind eye at those personal situations.

The Latin Mass disappeared, prayers were changed and so were churches.

The priests faced the people, the liturgy lost its beauty and meaning, Catholic churches resembled Quaker meeting halls rather than houses of God.

The music changed, too – traditional hymns disappeared giving way to guitars, drums and dancers.

The most extreme I know of occurred in Santa Monica, Calif., where shirtless men, wearing only pants and suspenders, danced down the aisle during Mass.

No wonder excesses like these drove many devout Catholics out of the churches, especially, when they were lectured by priests that such changes had to be accepted.

I recall a Christmas Eve Mass I attended in the San Francisco area that was so filled with popular music, singing and light shows people were mumbling as they left the church after the service, that if they’d wanted a Broadway show, they’d have gone to New York.

Then there was the Easter Mass, during which a priest, dressed in a rabbit suit, danced down the center aisle. In another Mass, several of the parishioners’ children, who were ballet students, danced in the aisles.

Any wonder the Church lost membership?

Since Vatican Two, there’ve been several popes, and the last two edged the Vatican back toward traditional Catholicism.

And now there is Pope Francis – the first to be pope who was ordained after Vatican Two, the first pope from South America and the first pope who is a Jesuit.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. Historically, the Jesuits have often been at the heart of religious disputes in the Church.

Regardless of the reason, Pope Francis finds himself in some sticky situations.

He’s chosen simplicity – not living in the normal papal apartments, driving in a simple car, not wanting the entourage of protection, meeting with “the people” often and speaking out in ways that have caught him in political controversy.

The most recent being his first apostolic exhortation, Evanagelii Gaudium – “The Joy of the Gospel.”

You’d think it would be an exhortation to live the good life.

Whether it was translation error, emphasis error, an intentional political position paper or the deliberate interpretation to suit leftist politics, Pope Frances is caught in accusations of being a Marxist and an outright communist.

The accusations stem from his words about the negative side of capitalism, the free market, the global economy, greed, corruption and the result that the poor are not helped.

Liberals loved it; he’s Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

The issue became talk radio grist; even Rush Limbaugh raised questions, calling the pope’s statements “pure Marxism.”

Finally Pope Frances responded with an interview in the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, saying “Marxist ideology is wrong” – but he added he knows “Marxists who were good people.”

Really? It sounds like people who talk about Hitler’s atrocities but add that he loved animals and was a vegetarian!

Who is this man’s media adviser?

I’m a Roman Catholic and long ago, I decided that misguided priests and policies will never make me give up my religion, but I will never give a pass to people trying to destroy my Church.

Pope Frances is a kindly man. but don’t let that fool you.

He’s a Jesuit and he’s smart, so it’s not surprising he’s controversial.

How this all plays out remains to be seen.

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