Cardinal Timothy Dolan is certainly right when he says that Pope Francis “wants to shake us [Catholics] up.” But is he doing more harm than good?
Among his most quoted recent statements are:
“I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”
And, “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
And, explaining how someone once asked him if he “approved” of homosexuality, Pope Francis noted, “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. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.”
What are we to make of this? Here’s my assessment (as a non-Catholic) of the positive vs. the negative.
Positive. Jesus often said controversial things that were easily misunderstood, and Pope Francis is following in his footsteps. There is nothing wrong with that, and it actually stimulates thoughtful discussion.
Negative. Moral ambiguity helps no one, and as Paul taught, “if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8)
Positive. The Pope is putting first things first, making clear that the mission of the church is not to oppose abortion and homosexuality but rather to bring the gospel to those in need.
Negative. If the church doesn’t stand for the sanctity of life – defending the rights of the most defenseless of all – and if it doesn’t uphold marriage and sexuality as God intended it, who will?
Positive. The Pope is opening the door wide to atheists and gays and lesbians, not condemning them but offering them grace.
Negative. It is one thing to open the door; it is another thing to say, “Once you walk through our non-condemning door, if you really want to follow Jesus, you will radically change.” This is similar to Jesus telling the woman caught in adultery that he didn’t condemn her before telling her, “Go and sin no more.” (See John 8:1-11.)
Positive. The Pope is right in saying that, “The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”
Negative. Many people believe that he is placing opposition to abortion and homosexual practice in the category of “small things” and “small-minded rules.”