The Pope's New Talking Points
Pope Francis' actions so far have shown the public that he is an iconoclast. He drives an old car, lives in an unadorned apartment, does not attend concerts for the powerful clergy, visits prisons, and goes to the slums. He has targeted those in the church who have enjoyed a more comfortable lifestyle by constantly pointing out the opposite -- the poor.
Francis has said he deliberately does not talk about gay marriage, contraception, and abortion. He says the young people know about these things already and he does not intend to highlight these issues during his pontificate.
Instead, he brings up poverty and the poor in many of his speeches and discussions.
In an 11,000-word interview with the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica (transcribed and published in America magazine) Francis explains his motivations. When asked what he meant by the advice he gave to Jesuit journalists as to how to direct their writing, he says to concentrate on three things: "dialogue, discernment and frontier."
In talking about frontier, he mentions "inserting" oneself into the culture around him. He brings up Father Arrupe (superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 19830 who once wrote, "one cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty."
When explaining "discernment," he says Pope John XXIII exemplified this process:
In his own way, John XXIII adopted this attitude with regard to the government of the church, when he repeated the motto, 'See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.' John XXIII saw all things, the maximum dimension, but he chose to correct a few, the minimum dimension.
Thus, Francis chooses to emphasize taking the message of the Gospel to the streets, the prisons, the Bowery, the slums. He apparently sees the political arm of the church as concentrating too much on fighting against gay marriage, contraception, and abortion, so he's turning "a blind eye to much" and correcting "a little."
However, a pontiff with the whole world listening to and parsing his words has tremendous responsibility to stay true to his faith and its doctrine. The danger comes when the surrounding culture twists his words to suit various special interests, thereby watering down the faith.
Many special interest groups have taken the pope's words in isolation since the interview was published on Thursday. The problem is that the words have different meanings for different purposes. For example, gay rights groups across the country have declared the pope has all but accepted homosexual behavior as permissible.
Here's one from the LGBT community in Raleigh, North Carolina:
The LGBT Center of Raleigh, which advocates for the rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered people, lauded the pope's vision as one of greater tolerance.
The center's hope is that Catholic members of our community who have felt pushed aside due to their sexuality will be able to find many more accepting parishes where they are allowed to be who they are and feel embraced by their religious community," the center said in a statement.
The website Frontiers LA.com puts it this way:
Pope Francis must be giving the jitters to all those Religious Right fanatics so accustomed to raising money off their incessant gay bashing. First he had the audacity last July to say, "Who am I to judge?" when asked about homosexuality by reporters aboard a plane returning to Rome.
And now, today, the pope tells the clergy and church followers in an interview that he wants to shift away from moral badgering. "The people of God want pastors," Pope Francis said, "not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials."
This talk about the right wing inside the Catholic Church illustrates how politics has infiltrated the way we look at organized religion. It doesn't help matters when our pope refers to groups in the church that are out of touch with the people on the streets as "'unfruitful bachelor' or...spinster.'" Why does he degrade the whole group by pointing out the sins of a few just as the LGBT does when it attacks conservatives?
If you read the entire interview -- it took me an hour -- you'll see the pope's rhetoric as being similar to liberation theologians' when he talks about a "holy middle class" and says, "We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity."
There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community.
When people give interviews, the readers' hope would be that we would gain an understanding of the person's motivations and ideas. But this dialogue with Pope Francis has only provoked many more questions on why he thinks what he does.
Does the pope think men that have homosexual proclivities should be allowed into the priesthood? Does he think monks and nuns in cloisters, separated from the world, should leave their cells and move into the streets? Does he think wealthy people in the church should hand over all their money to the government so the government can "help" the poor? Does he think by ignoring talk of the evil of abortion that feminists and advocates will stop forcing their agendas into our daily lives?
It appears Pope Francis has taken up John XXIII's method of governing the church, 'See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.' Pope John convened Vatican II and its revolutionary reforms. Does Francis intend to do the same?