Paul Thomas Moore: Like Christ, Pope Francis leads with the mercy card
In My Father’s House l Paul Thomas Moore
It’s my impression that the readership of The Catholic Post tends to skew somewhat toward the traditionally conservative. If you (like me) fit in this category, perhaps you — like me — find some of what the media reports Pope Francis as saying on certain issues to be a little perplexing at first glance . . . if not downright challenging.
It started soon after he became pope in a wide-ranging interview with fellow Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, in which Pope Francis referenced the necessity of the church not becoming “obsessed” with the imposition of “a multitude of doctrines.” He got down to brass tacks by specifying, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and contraceptive methods.”
With that, the secular media had heard all they needed to hear: “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control,” trumpeted the New York Times.
MEDIA SENSATIONALIZE COMMENTS
As someone for whom pro-life has been a blessed part of my walk, I felt a little abandoned. Someone asked what I thought, and I said that maybe to be misunderstood was a cross pro-lifers had to bear, if even by our pope. Then I read the article in full. Two lines after the above quote, Francis said, “The teaching of the church . . . is clear and I am a son of the church.” He wasn’t saying abortion, gay marriage, and contraception were OK — simply signaling a new approach.
In fact, in later years the pope has been quoted as comparing the abortion of unborn children who are sick or disabled with the eugenics program undertaken by the Nazis. “In the last century the entire world was scandalized over what the Nazis were doing to maintain the purity of the race. Today we do the same thing, but with white gloves,” Pope Francis said.
Francis has shown himself willing to risk being misinterpreted by a media that insists on sensationalizing comments he makes in a conversational, pastoral way. There was that famous line he gave to reporters on an airplane about homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?”
I expect many of us were thinking, “Holy Father, you are the pope: if you can’t judge, who can?” At which point I can imagine Francis saying, “My point exactly.”
PEOPLE AS THE FIRST PRINCIPLE
I am conducting a conversation with myself here, imagining both sides, and reporters have noted this is something Pope Francis often does. He is a Jesuit, and Jesuits are prone to discussing matters (much as Christ did, actually), by employing a kind of Socratic dialogue. Christ, too, would often respond to a question with a question.
First and foremost, Francis is a people person. It’s not that he dispenses with principles, just that he considers people to be the first principle. When I hear the press reporting on the latest “controversy” Francis has sparked, I have learned to wait for the other papal shoe to drop.
Similarly, Francis has said, “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of that person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”
That’s one key to his approach. First and foremost, Francis is a people person. It’s not that he dispenses with principles, just that he considers people to be the first principle. When I hear the press reporting on the latest “controversy” Francis has sparked, I have learned to wait for the other papal shoe to drop.
Most recently, he was criticized for comments in which he said that laws criminalizing homosexuality were “unjust” and that “being homosexual is not a crime.” He explained later that he was using “natural and conversational language” with the reporter, and that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. However, he also noted Catholic morality takes into consideration case-by-case human circumstances “which may decrease or eliminate fault.”
That’s another key to Francis’ approach. He engages with reporters similarly to the way a priest engages in the confessional. Confessors dispense correction and direction, but also mercy in the name of Christ. Can you imagine if some of the counsel priests give inside the confessional was reported outside? It might seem like they were condoning everything. That wouldn’t be true, of course, but forgiving everything for the contrite? Yes, that would be totally true.
Francis is here for cradle Catholics who are — or should be — aware of God’s awesome forgiveness, but he is also Vicar of Christ to the world. It’s good that he reminds all of us that Christ always leads with the mercy card.
PAUL THOMAS MOORE is lead coordinator — communications and media relations with Illinois Central College. He and his wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org