Pope Francis isn’t changing course on Church teaching

| July 31, 2013 | 3 Comments
Pope Francis listens to a question from a journalist on his flight heading back to Rome July 29. The pope answered questions from 21 journalists over a period of 80 minutes on his return from Brazil. CNS photo / pool via Reuters

Pope Francis listens to a question from a journalist on his flight heading back to Rome July 29. The pope answered questions from 21 journalists over a period of 80 minutes on his return from Brazil. CNS photo / pool via Reuters

After a World Youth Day in which Pope Francis made headlines for his message to millions of young people about Christ’s love for them, the importance of staying close to the Church and the need to live a Gospel-centered life, the pope was making news again on his flight back home — this time, for what he had to say on a number of hot-button topics, including homosexuality, divorce and the role of women in the Church.

If you read the headlines about his remarks in the secular media, you might think Pope Francis was ready to change the Church’s teaching on a number of issues related to faith and morals: “Pope signals major reversal on gay priests,” (Huffington Post); “Behind the pope’s surprising shift,” (The New York Times); “Pope’s comments stir hope for change among Minn. Catholics,” (StarTribune).

Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. What is apparent after reading what the pope actually said is that many media outlets, whose understanding of Catholicism is often superficial at best, are simply getting it wrong or failing to provide the full context of Church teaching on which Pope Francis is basing his remarks.

Nothing new

The transcript of the pope’s comments regarding homosexuality show that, while he was responding to a question about a “gay lobby” that some have alleged exists at the Vatican, his answer did not specifically reference gay priests. These were the pope’s words: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and they must be integrated into society.”

This is not new, nor does it signal changes on the horizon. While the catechism states that homosexual acts are immoral and calls those with homosexual inclinations to chastity, it also states that they “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

What this means, and what the pope was reiterating in a less formal way, is that gay and lesbian people are our brothers and sisters in Christ to whom we must show the same love and mercy we would show anyone else. Ultimate judgment about the state of their souls — and our souls, for that matter — is left to God alone. None of what the pope said, however, amounts to a reassessment or revision of what has been long-standing Church teaching.

While on the plane, Pope Francis also fielded questions about divorce and the role of women in the Church. There weren’t any bombshells there either.

On a question regarding divorced Catholics and the sacraments, the pope made it clear that divorced Catholics can receive the sacraments, but that problems begin when they remarry civilly without having their first union annulled, according to a report about the exchange from Catholic News Service. At the same time, he spoke about the need to reform the annulment process and develop a comprehensive pastoral program for the family.

Addressing the role of women, the pope repeated the Church’s teaching that it is not able to ordain women. But he also said it needs to do a better job of explaining the importance of women in the life of the Church.

All are invited

Some say that, at the very least, Pope Francis is choosing to emphasize a different pastoral approach on certain issues. What’s certain is that every pope must respond to the particular circumstances that exist in the Church and the world during his ministry.

Clearly, Pope Francis is a missionary pope with a heart for the new evangelization who wants to invite everyone into a deeper friendship with Christ and his Church — particularly those who feel they are on the margins of society.

To do that, he has since the beginning of his pontificate in March stressed themes of hospitality, simplicity, care for the poor, mercy and forgiveness at a time when many people are turning away from religion and casting their lot with the false idols of modern society, including wealth, power, pleasure and unhealthy individualism.

His invitation, similar to the invitation extended by the archdiocese’s Rediscover: initiative, is to “come and see” how a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church — a journey that will inevitably include both joys and challenges — can bring real meaning, real happiness, real peace and a real sense of belonging to one’s life.

Pope Francis isn’t changing course on any teachings, despite what some media pundits may think. But he is reaching out far and wide to make sure no one is left off the invitation list.

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Category: Editorials

  • Rich Rivers

    Sadly, too often in journalism (and much more so in politics) it seems to be a case of the tail wagging the dog. The question, “What is the truth?” appears to get lost behind the questions, “What will get the public’s attention?” and “What ideological slant does my organization hold?” There is a name for editing someone’s remarks with an ideological chainsaw: it is called “slander.” When I read the “‘Who Am I To Judge?'” headline of the Star Tribune the day after the plane interview, I was thinking they could just as easily have written a second column by further tweaking their disingenuous editing. The headline would read something like: “‘Who Am I…?’ — Pope Francis’ Question Prompts Suspicions of Alzheimer’s Disease”

  • Jay

    The Holy Father’s inteview in America makes your column here look silly. He is charting a new direction for the Church. He criticizes the obsession of many in the American hierarchy with contraception, gay marriage, and abortion. He refers to “small-minded rules” and says that mery triumphs dogma. What a breath of fresh air, he is. The question is whether the American hierarchy will follow his lead or passively disobey him. I am betting that there are a lot of archbishops who were dreaming of becoming Cardinals right now realizing that will never happen.

  • Katalina

    The pope has since backpedaled as far as interviews go. The one he gave to an atheist writer was recently taken down off the Vatican website. While his words are being taken out of context by the MSM he is not the best of good speakers as the Pope who ruled before him. The problem is I think he has a view of the Church similar to Pope Paul VI and was also considered a progressive. This we do know for sure even if he is not changing course. He is a Jesuit and they always are forward thinking and for that reason he has close advisors who are progressive. Also he can’t tolerate traditional minded Catholics even though he called one he still said this in his Joy of the Gospel.