Perhaps the most damning sign that Pope Francis’ honeymoon is over was a recent essay published in Harper’s magazine entitled "Francis and the Nuns.”

The essay was written by Mary Gordon, a novelist and longtime observer of Irish Catholics in America.

“At least since the priesthood was first shaken by the sexual-abuse scandal two decades ago, and perhaps even before then, America's nuns have been the de facto leaders of the country's liberal Catholics, especially those more interested in social justice than in holding the Vatican's line on sexual politics,” Gordon wrote.

“Like Francis himself, these women have been reprimanded for failing to give sufficient attention to abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Their choice to focus instead on the needs of the poor has been met with heavy-handed behavior both from Rome and from U.S. bishops.

“If the new pope were serious about shifting the Church's attention, one sign might be his treatment of these women... But a year and a half into his papacy, Pope Francis is looking an awful lot like his predecessors.”

True, as Mollie Wilson O’Reilly noted on Commonweal magazine’s website, Francis’ “silence could be, but need not be, interpreted as agreement with his predecessors.”

Nevertheless, silence is silence. Given all he has done to change the tone around the Catholic Church and given the extraordinary contributions of nuns during a trying time in the church’s history, this does not sound like something Pope Francis should remain silent about for much longer.

Pope Francis has rightly been given credit for what he’s said. This week, the long-anticipated synod planned by the Pope months ago will kick off in Rome.

Not surprisingly, despite the comments above there is a feeling of hope in the air.

Given the dire state of global Catholicism, optimists can be forgiven if they view this meeting of bishops as a kind of Vatican II for the 21st century.

How could hopes not be high for a meeting that is technically known as the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

Vatican watchers are suggesting that major changes may emerge from the synod. Pope Francis, for example, is reportedly considering changing the rules when it comes to divorced men and women receiving Communion.

However, just as Francis has established a more open tone, it must be pointed out that the bad news continues to stream in on the Catholic front.

A woman from Florida was quoted in the Irish Independent newspaper saying that her birth was the result of an affair her mother had with a priest from Ireland. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently noted that, “In and around Rome, the talk is of Pope Francis’ sage acceptance of the 21st century, of his empathy, of his departure from the stern moralizing on matters of the heart.”

Bruni then went on to report on “a gay couple” in Montana “who have been together for more than three decades” and “have been told that they’re no longer really welcome in the Catholic parish where they’ve been worshiping together for 11 years.”

And last month, federal agents raided the home of a Pennsylvania priest who, according to reports, had been known as sexually abusive for years.

Such stories after decades of heinous abuse revelations tend to take the air out of any suggestions that Francis is, well, some kind of savior. At the parish level, from Dublin to the U.S., there is still much work to be done if there is any real hope for reform.

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