Perhaps the single biggest piece of news in the Catholic world over the last week, give or take a few days, was Pope Francis’ detailed and extensive interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro which found its way into a series of fifteen Jesuit journals around the world. In the Anglosphere the interview was to be found in Thinking Faith in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and in America magazine in the United States. The Holy Father was both surprisingly frank and incredibly forthright in the discussion of who he is, and the interview gives us a great idea of what he sees his ministry as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church as being about. If the interview could be boiled down to a specific theme, it would be mercy.
One of the reasons that I chose not to discuss the papal interview at Life At 25 until now is because anything that was written here prior to this point would probably have been “lost in the traffic” of all of the other discussion in both the secular press and blogosphere. The discussion in the blogosphere and in the rest of the media has certainly been what I would characterize as animated, including the Catholic blogosphere where there seem to be no shortage of opinions about what people think Pope Francis is doing or is going to do. The secular press has busied itself with its collective fantasies about the Pope “changing” Church teaching, while others think the Holy Father somehow demeaned the pro-life cause.
All of the commotion seems to be over a single paragraph of a much richer thought process:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Does this mean that the Holy Father thinks that abortion or gay marriage should never be addressed? No, because he repeats that Church teaching is clear. Does it mean that these are not the only issues we need to be concerned with? That seems to be what the Holy Father is getting at. If you haven’t read the whole interview, I would encourage you to click on one of the in-text links and read the entire interview. If you do, you will see that the Holy Father is not dismissing Church teaching on any issue, certainly not on abortion or marriage, but he is clearly saying that Jesus wants the Church to be merciful to people. God wants to heal that woman who had an abortion. That gay person who is struggling with their sexuality in light of what they know the Bible says and what the Church teaches about the nature of human sexuality, that person who can feel out in the spiritual cold…well, they have a soul too!
Those of you harboring the mistaken notion that the Holy Father is unwilling to take a stand for Church teaching or Christian morality need look no further than the fact that just days after the interview with the Jesuits was published, Pope Francis excommunicated…yes, excommunicated, an Australian priest who simply refused to accept the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and marriage, and who openly taught that women should be ordained. But what is excommunication? It is not a “casting out,” but a corrective issued in the prayerful hope that the affected person will repent and return to the barque of the Church. It is an attempt, when all else fails, to plead with someone to accept God’s vast ocean of mercy for the repentant.
In addition to reading some of the input the secular media and blogosphere have put forth on the papal interview, I have also read what some commenters in the Catholic blogosphere are saying. [Note: What I am about to say here reflects my personal opinion, and not necessarily the opinion of Bishop Stika, the Diocese of Knoxville, or the clergy of the diocese.] Some are writing ridiculously bizarre things, such as the notion that George Neumayr posited in the normally-respectable political journal The American Spectator that “clergy and laity” should “respectfully reject the liberalism of Pope Francis.” I don’t recall the Holy Father declaring that the Church was officially on the side of either political or ecclesiastical “liberalism” or “conservatism,” simply that he wants a “poor Church” that is with the poor and a friend of the poor (which, I believe, means that he wants the Church to be like Christ, and to be Catholic). Indeed, Neumayr seems to think that the clergy who serve under Francis have the right to act as as a “correcting Paul” to Francis’ “Peter.” No word yet on whether Neumayr is prepared to assume the responsibility of being the Vicar of Christ for himself.
I’ve read others of you in the Catholic blogosphere and in the world of Catholic social media, which I frequent on a daily basis, who have legitimate concerns over whether the Holy Father’s message of mercy might be misinterpreted by a culture which no longer has any belief in sin, as the Catholic blogger Calah Alexander puts it, whose post I found via our own Father Christian Mathis. Others of you seem entirely too worried about who will or will not be appointed to certain dicasteries of the Holy Roman See. Is the Holy Spirit just going to get tired of us and quit guiding us into all truth (cf. John 14:26) and preserving the Church for ages unending because prelate so-and-so was appointed to a certain curial post? I suppose there must have been an exception to all that talk from Jesus about “on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt: 16:18) The early transcribers of the Gospel of Matthew must have forgotten that part.
Rather than concern ourselves with impending liturgical or ecclesiastical disasters which have yet to occur, I pray that those of you who read Life At 25 might join me in a novel project. Pray for and love our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Offer the concerns of your heart up to Christ through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church.
” For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
We need to pray that our hearts and souls might be opened to what the Holy Spirit is trying to share with us through the ministry of Pope Francis.