“Being a Catholic doesn’t mean having to choose between doctrine and charity, between truth and love. It includes both. We are grateful to Pope Francis for reminding us of that vision,” so said Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island following the Pope’s latest audience in which he made clear the teaching of the church regarding abortion. The pope told doctors that they should refuse to perform them “Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord…Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things,” he said.
Yesterday I suggested people misunderstand Pope Francis. They interpret his tactical decision to focus on the pastoral aspects of faith as a desire to undermine or ignore the doctrinal aspects of faith. They are wrong. As Cardinal Burke explained yesterday, “The pope is not condemning his predecessors…what he is saying is ‘We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the boundaries. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what is sin and what’s not. Now let’s move on. Let’s talk about mercy. Let’s talk about love.’”
It is because people are confused, and the Pope misunderstood, that surprise was raised when the Pope spoke out against abortion only moments after he had suggested we cannot only speak about certain moral issues, including abortion. Throughout the media he was instantly accused of making a U-turn, others interpreting it as an Olive Branch thrown to traditionalists- as if the teaching on abortion isn’t equally attributable to all Catholics or as if the Pope doesn’t actually hold these beliefs himself! As I say there is much muddled thought out there. Why? Because people have wrongly concluded that the Pope is a liberal progressive whose desire is to transform the Catholic Church into something more in vogue with secular thinking. An Anglican in Romish clothing.
But look more carefully at Pope Francis and a different picture emerges. That of a shrewd man whose fidelity to the teaching of the Church is every bit as robust as his predecessors. Is it not possible, indeed far more likely, that Pope Francis has zero desire (and no authority) to change church teaching. Nor does he have a desire to downplay certain aspects of it, hence his robust rebuke of abortion yesterday. Because he is neither a liberal or indeed a Conservative. Like a true son of the Church he is simply a mainstream Catholic abiding by the teaching of the church. Which is something we should all be.
Why then his softer approach and flirtation with the world? It is because he is concerned that the secular world has painted us into a corner through its obsessive attention and condemnation concerning the moral boundaries of church teaching and is in danger of losing sight altogether of what the church actually thinks and actually teaches. The ludicrous media vision of a monstrous oppressive institution that stifles freedom and joy has got to be challenged and ultimately destroyed that the truth may be seen. The church is a community of love in which all will find forgiveness, hope and redemption in Jesus. Pope Francis is holding out a hand to the world and inviting them to join him in a discovery of all that is engaging, good and exciting about Catholicism. The tough stuff can be shelved (but not dismissed) and pondered at a later date. As and when there is a healthy re-engagement.
So look again at those intriguing quotes. Yes the Pope suggests atheists can be saved….but not without coming to Jesus note! Yes it is not for him to judge the homosexual…that will be for Jesus too and conversion is the first step! Nothing he has said has drifted even a millimetre from official church teaching but he has emphasised the positive at every turn. That is the evangelistic genius at play. Because his new spin and approach is turning heads and engaging the minds of those who previously dismissed the church. Interesting days then. Can Pope Francis lead souls to salvation or will the dogs bay for his blood when the confusion ends and his fidelity to truth is indisputable? A bit of both is my guess.