Oh dear! Pope Francis has delivered a lengthy interview and immediately the internet is flooded with wrongful interpretation from all sides of the theological spectrum. To be honest this confusion is becoming a recurring theme of this pontificate caused, in part, because this is a Pope who says a great deal of things ‘off the cuff’ and the more we say the more open we are to misinterpretation. But that is a price to be paid for the breath of fresh air he is also bringing to the church as he moves the media away from their obsession about Catholic moral teaching to a fresh consideration about other aspects of faith.
The full interview that has caused a stir can be read here. What Pope Francis is actually saying, if you take the time to read it thoughtfully and carefully, is that it is difficult to transmit the Gospel of Christ to our broken world if all we talk about are abortion, homosexuality and the other red button issues that so attract the attention of the press. The danger is that the world starts viewing the Church only in terms of an ultraconservative organisation hell bent on keeping rules in a cold and calculated manner totally disjointed from life.
What the Church must do therefore, GIVEN THAT THE TEACHING IS NOT GOING TO CHANGE AND GIVEN THAT NOBODY IS UNDER ANY ILLUSION AS TO WHAT THAT TEACHING IS, is make a renewed emphasis on preaching about what has been lost and forgotten. Namely grace, compassion, love and the freedom that is found in a healthy relationship with Christ. I agree with this sentiment entirely.
Unfortunately though, in a dull and predictable manner that proves the need for reform and renewal, both ultra conservatives and uber liberal voices from within the Church have not attempted to listen to what the Pope is actually saying but, egged on by the media who spin stories to suit their own agenda, have jumped to conclusions befitting their own agendas. The traddies tearing at their hair as if the Pope is abandoning Church teaching and the liberals leaping for joy having reached the same conclusion. Problem is that they are both wrong in that conclusion. Nowhere does the Pope suggest Church teaching is going to change he only suggests a shift in tactic and emphasis. Indeed he deliberately points out that as a “Son of the Church” he stands up for its teaching.
Let us today prayerfully read the text afresh and dare to learn from it. It is time to stop projecting our own fears and hopes onto him and start actually dealing with the real man. And his message here is clear. It is easy to focus on topics that do not threaten us, loudly speaking out on prolife issues because this is easier than embracing a life of poverty, being firm on matters sexual because this is easier than sacrificing time to Jesus in prayer.
The Pope is not asking us to drop our defence of life or the teaching of the Church (bad luck those liberals hoping for a permissive future) but demanding we stop merely talking the talk but actually dirty our hands and walk the walk (bad luck those traddies whose hearts are too hard). It is the abiding message of Pope Francis. In the words of the Saint whose name he chose, “We must preach the Gospel but only use words if we have to.” And that was the message of this interview being so misrepresented today. Only the witness of lives lived in grace are going to convert the world. The time for simple rhetoric is over…if it ever began?