The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 22, 2013

PAPAL WISDOM GOES BEYOND DOCTRINE

WHY IT MATTERS: The pope's desire to move from single issue politics to overall mission should give us all pause to reflect on our purpose.


The Mankato Free Press

---- — In today’s seemingly irreconcilable world of polarity, divisiveness and deaf ears, a powerful leader has said enough.

Will we listen?

Over the raucous screeching of talk show hosts, in a moment that drowns out singularly-focused, lock-step legislators and smothering the self-righteous din of coffee klatches where over simplicity solves complex social problems, a rational voice says stop.

In an admonition from which we all could learn, Pope Francis this week said the Catholic Church had become so focused on digging in its heels on social issues it was overshadowing its mission which could bring down the church “like a house of cards.”

In the first extensive interview since becoming pope, Francis told a group of Jesuit journals that while he embraces traditional church teachings, he’s “not a right-winger.”

“This church … is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he said. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

The pope’s message comes amid rumblings within some Catholic advocacy groups and bishops who have noticed his unwillingness to talk about abortion or gay marriage. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island reportedly told his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis” for not speaking out on abortion.

The pope has answered saying in essence we’re bigger than that. Our mission, our duty is bigger than single divisive issues. He said the first thing the church needs is an adjustment of “attitude.”

The interview follows a comment that produced headlines on homosexuality when he said “who am I to judge.” In the most recent interview, Francis went further in his thinking saying “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

Now superimpose that rationale on our political scene in which some elected officials are willing to symbolically burn down the house rather than capitulate on “principle.” These few but influential lawmakers see their mission not one of representation for all people but to wage a singular crusade for a select few.

Francis said pastors “must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue … the people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”

Here we differ with the pope. We do not think bureaucrats or government officials are beyond saving.

The pope’s advice should be taken seriously not just by Catholics but by everyone.

In today’s world where compromise is considered capitulation or greeted with suspicion, we need an acceptance that a middle ground is reasonable, rationale and even progressive.

Where disagreement tends to rip apart families and communities, we need mutual respect for a person’s individuality of thought.

At a time when we all face an uncertain future, we need leaders who can take the good of all sides and forge a reasonable answer rather than blindly champion a single cause.

Not just religious leaders, but all leaders whether in global seats of power or just around the coffee table.

Other view on this topic:

“I’m giddy. Pope Francis is saying what every faithful lay Catholic knows: To be effective in the modern world, the Church must refocus on what Christ actually taught us: to proclaim God’s love and good news for the poor, the vulnerable and the forgotten,”

James Salt

Director of Catholics United