A heady stew of wishful thinking, ignorance, and sheer malice by the mainstream press has left the impression that Pope Francis has suddenly rejected Church teaching on abortion, divorce, contraception and same-sex marriage. Sorry, liberals and secularists, but that ain’t so.
What he did say in an extended interview is genuinely revolutionary and far more interesting — that the Church’s conversation with the world has to be radically reshaped. Or, to put it another way, there cannot even be a conversation unless and until the Church says yes before it says no.
This, remember, is the Pope. As Catholics, we believe that he is the direct successor to St. Peter, given the keys to the kingdom by Jesus Christ while He was here, physically, on Earth amongst us. He’s not infallible when he gives opinions, or interviews — that only occurs on those rare occasions that he speaks on matters of faith and morals ex cathedra or “from the throne” — but his views are still profoundly significant for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
So what are we to say, what to conclude? The Pope is, he reminds us in the interview, a loving, faithful son of the Church. As such, he will not and cannot change fundamental teachings on life, sexuality and morality. What he can do, and has done, is to remind us that the Church is primarily about Jesus, love, understanding, grace and forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be given unless it’s requested; it takes, as it were, two to play the game.
What Francis has urged, though, is a new painting. Black and white is vital, but the true picture can only be understood through a whole variety of colors. So this is a Pope of nuance and backstory, of delicacy and empathy of delivery. Truth needs to be sung rather than shouted, and he is telling the world — and particularly those who have left the Church and those who hide behind its rules instead of being liberated by them — that while we cannot compromise on truth, we must not compromise on love.
On the gay issue, for example, we are all so much more than our sexuality, and are all supremely and superbly loved by God who is our creator. Marriage is absolute, but to dislike or even hate someone because they are gay is not only wrong, it is anti-Catholic.
Francis is clearly explaining that no gay person will give any attention to a Church that appears to close doors rather than greet newcomers. They may reject the message, but at least encourage them to hear it.
That is the papal message, and while the details are indeed difficult, the overall plot is simple and clear.
Similarly with divorce; the Church remains clear on marriage, but has to reach out to and understand those within marriage who do not stay together.
And again with abortion. We know what the Church believes, says the Pope, but need to communicate the Gospel of life in a more effective manner.
There are conservative Catholics who feel betrayed by all this, but they have got it wrong. Let me give you an example. Recently, Francis telephoned a single mom who had kept her baby and told her she was brave for doing so. Some right-wing Catholics condemned him, said it was wrong to call “brave” what was merely natural and right. What nonsense! Of course, it was brave. It was ethical, moral and, yes, right, but also brave.
Francis sees the human within the theological, the person within the religious, the living, breathing, confused, confusing man or woman within the moral law.
This will be a more inclusive papacy leading to a more inclusive Church, and the larger the party the more challenging it is to get along with and agree with everyone. But the largest parties are the most fun, and also make the most noise.
Welcome to the Blog! I am a Salesian of Don Bosco and was ordained to the priesthood on August 26, 2000. I hope this site is a place of interest for you where you will find ideas and information on the Catholic faith and on Salesianity.