Several times, Pope Francis has said things that have really shocked a number of North American Catholics. Yet if we put the comments in the context of Catholicism in other countries, often we’ll be shocked by the situation in those countries, not by the pope.
Pope Francis is Argentinian and, save a few years of study in Europe, he’s spent his entire life in the Latin American Church. In many respects, the Church in Latin America is in a very different position from the North American Church, both internally and with respect to regional cultural perspectives.
I spent three years studying in Rome in a college where the majority of the religious brothers were from Latin America, and I began to realize how different some of our cultural and ecclesial assumptions are.
I remember talking to a priest from Brazil, for instance, about how in the U.S. many religious communities do philosophy before novitiate. He was shocked because he was certain that most taking philosophy, for those communities, would be cheating the system to get a free education. In the U.S., I don’t think this is an issue, because there are easier ways to get a college degree than faking a religious vocation for four years.