09:39 PM September 23rd, 2013

By: Juan L. Mercado, September 23rd, 2013 09:39 PM

How will Catholic leaders here react to Pope Francis’ call to move beyond “small-minded rules”? Focus instead on “becoming merciful,” the Pontiff has urged in a La Civilta Cattolica magazine interview.

“Heal the wounds and seek those fallen away,” the 265th successor to Peter the Fisherman stressed. Or the Church’s moral structure will lose “the Gospel’s fragrance…and fall like a house of cards.”

The interview was conducted by editor Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, in the Pope’s spartan private quarters in Casa Santa Marta. Francis had earlier waved away sprawling Apostolic Palace digs.

Time magazine distills Francis’ interview into four themes. First: The Church must have a pastor’s heart. Second: Faith demands putting people over issues, not the other way around. Third: Stop constricting Christ’s message to abortion, gays and contraception. The Gospel’s message is not to be “reduced to some aspects that, although relevant on their own, do not show the heart of  Christ’s message.” Fourth: “We must work harder to develop a profound theology of women.”

“This pope is not shattering traditional doctrine,” veteran Vatican correspondent John Allen writes. He quotes Francis: The “teaching of the church … is clear and I am a son of the church… But it is not necessary to talk about gays, contraceptives, abortions all the time. It is not possible.”

“Instead, this pope is trying to shift the emphasis away from condemnation to mercy and craft the church as a force for tolerance.” Benedict XVI had called for a smaller Church of orthodox followers. Francis says the 1.2-billion-member Church should be the “home for all.”

This is the approach he took as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Latin America, the Christian Science Monitor recalls. Latin American clergy applied Church doctrine “progressively, choosing to focus on the poor in a region deeply divided along class lines.”

Not everyone is pleased. US Bishop Thomas Tobin is “disappointed” that Francis did not address abortion. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has declined comment—for now.

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, however, rushed in where angels fear to tread. The Lipa archbishop boxed in the Pontiff’s open arms, saying he was only “talking about repentant people whom the Church should attend to with God’s mercy.” Arguelles’ exclusions supplanted Francis’ inclusions.

Is mercy to be withheld from those who supported the Reproductive Health Law (RA 10354) now being challenged in the Supreme Court? In the last election campaign, Arguelles urged voters to repudiate those candidates who had backed the RH Law—and was badly trounced.

“We must be a listening Church,” Cardinal Luis Tagle has urged. Filipino mothers are hard put to get family planning services. Daily, 14 to 15 women die at the hands of underground  hilot. In 2010, the “silent screams” from induced abortions numbered 560,000—up from 470,000 in 2000. The Cagayan de Oro archdiocese provides family planning services in 54 parishes. What about Lipa?

“A surprise pope keeps on surprising,” says the New York Times. “Francis is challenging the status quo so determinedly, shaking up the scandal-mired Roman Curia.” Bigger changes could range from revamp to national conferences of bishops or synods. “The Curia should be at the service of the church, the bishops and the pope—not vice versa.”

Ahead is the meeting of the “G8”: Eight cardinals—none of them Italian—will meet in October. Francis has asked them to consider the prickly issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried, aside from Curia reforms. Another panel will recommend changes for the scandal-tarred Vatican Bank. That may include a shutdown… “Francis wants feedback from people who aren’t just telling him what they think he wants to hear.”

The Pope’s interview “hit the Catholic world like a thunderbolt,” the Los Angeles Times notes. “Liberals, conservatives, the devout and the secular find something to like—for widely divergent reasons.”

The liberals and those outside the Church are delighted with his complaint that the Church has been unduly “obsessed” with abortion, contraception, etc. Those who focused on these remarks—roughly 600 to 800 words out of the 12,000-word interview—“missed  the forest for a few trees,” counter the conservatives, who say Francis merely expressed Catholic doctrine.

“The interview revealed the Pope’s thinking on a wide variety of issues, and reflected the Catholic Church’s ability to ‘reboot’ itself to be relevant to contemporary society,” writes Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review Online. “Whatever your politics, be careful what you read into this. Francis is talking to you. He’s talking to me. He’s reminding himself. The news isn’t that he isn’t ‘a right-winger,’ as he tells us. It’s that he’s a pastor. He’s a priest, not a politician.”

“The Pope is right that single-issue Catholics need to rise above their immediate concerns,” the conservative Catholic League’s Bill Donohue writes in his organization’s website. “He did not say we should not address abortion or homosexuality. He said we cannot be absorbed by these issues. Both the Left and the Right should heed his message.”

Does Francis have a grand strategy? John Allen isn’t certain. In any case, “its path is not completely predictable.” Cardinal Bergoglio was known best for his pastoral style. He didn’t hesitate in confronting more liberal Jesuit Argentines.

The 217 cardinals at the March conclave “believed they were electing a conservative,” Allen adds. “I don’t know if they felt they were electing a moderate who would reposition the church ideologically. But that is, in fact, what is happening.”


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