As the Vicar of Christ, he is infallible when it comes to Catholic doctrine. But I have to admit to being one of those who were:
“dismayed that the pope, in his emphasis on the poor, barely mentioned issues like abortion and homosexuality during his visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.” NY Times 3rd October 2015
Why didn’t he speak out strongly against those things? Isn't that what a pope should do?
When I mentioned my concerns to my family, my son shared an interesting view: while those are perhaps big issues in the U.S., Pope Francis probably wants to draw our attention to the global problem of the poor and marginalized.
But shouldn't he nevertheless address the huge threat in the U.S. to marriage and the life of the unborn?
Jesus’s disciples – and all the Jews – expected their Messiah to be a powerful king who would overthrow the oppressive Romans.But what they got was a humble man who ate with sinners.
This provoked 'righteous' indignation:
“When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners? (Mark 2:16).”
He went totally against their preconception of a powerful religious leader.
In the same way, Pope Francis is causing many of us to scratch our heads over his leadership style.
Yet Pope Francis is not, as some claim or hope, going to change Catholic doctrine. At the current synod he has spoken firmly for marriage between a man and a woman.
“Confronting a mass of 270 bishops at St Peter's Basilica in Rome, he reaffirmed the Catholic Church's opposition to gay marriage as he opened a three-week synod focusing on family issues….. He insisted the church cannot be 'swayed by passing fads or popular opinion'.” (Daily Mail 5th October 2015.)
But he is also calling on the Church to show mercy to those who are struggling.
He “stressed that the Church must be more welcoming, charitable, compassionate and merciful to all people, particularly those whose lives have been wounded and who find it difficult to adhere to all of the Church's regulations.” (Daily Mail 5th October 2015.)
Is this not the same response as Jesus, when He heard the Pharisees grumbling about His consorting with sinners?
“And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2: 17).”
Accustomed to sermons about the evil world around us, many of us congratulate ourselves on not being a part of it. Jesus addressed this human tendency:
“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’ (Luke 18:11).”
Pope Francis is walking in Christ’s footsteps and has an urgent message for us:
“We should not simply remain in our own secure world, that of the 99 sheep who never strayed from the fold, but we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep, however far it may have wandered.” (Catholic Herald, 27th March 2013)
He has not changed Catholic doctrine on abortion, which remains a serious sin. But he does want to extend Christ’s mercy to those who have had an abortion and sincerely repent doing so. He is reaching out to those women who, as a result, are outside the Church.
“The order, which temporarily allows all priests to grant forgiveness to women who have elected to have an abortion and profoundly regret the procedure, is part of the church’s jubilee year of mercy, which begins on 8 December and runs until 20 November 2016.” (The Guardian, 1st September 2015)
(Ordinarily a bishop must forgive this sin.)
Is this not an echo of John’s words?
"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17).”
Like Jesus before him, this new pope is reaching out to all sinners, and giving us a chance to ask for mercy, with the opportunity to repent and change our ways before it’s too late.
Pope Francis is not what we’re used to. But we can be certain that he walks with Christ, and must support his efforts.