OPINION – There’s a lot of confusion right now about the path Pope Francis is walking as he tries to herd his flock.
He has taken on a persona of real humility, eschewing the frills and frocks so valued by many of his predecessors.
He seems to enjoy being in touch with the common man and woman. He surprised everybody by riding in a regular-guy subcompact instead of a stately limo or bulletproof Popemobile. He prefers a small apartment to the palatial Vatican.
There’s some personality to him as well. Of course, considering his immediate predecessor had about as much appeal as an angry Rottweiler, that didn’t take much.
There’s a lot of buzz right now about a comment he made recently regarding homosexuality.
“A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?” the pope told reporters. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.”
Immediately, it was reported as a softening of ideology and acceptance.
Others argued that it was a “nonstatement,” that it basically reaffirmed the position of brotherhood the church clings to that roughly translates into “it’s not the sinner, it’s the sin.”
Except there are a couple of things here that signal it as a cryptic message.
For years, Catholicism — at least the band of it that I was raised in — preached that even thinking of something that went against church doctrine was a sin. The other factor to weigh in all of this is that Pope Francis was actually responding to a question about Monsignor Battista Ricca, who he gave a papal appointment, despite his having an alleged gay relationship in his past.
“Who am I to judge?” sounds, quite frankly, like something you’d hear in a bar, a loose variation of, “Who cares?”
And, that’s where the confusion lies.
This pope is a difficult one to figure.
He comes down hard on abortion, which is traditional, comes down hard on birth control, which is traditional, and holds true in speeches and his writings to Catholic doctrine.
But, then he turns around and drops a line like “Who am I to judge?”
This is the part that is truly groundbreaking in the Catholic religion, which holds the pope as being infallible, the final authority on God’s laws.
John Paul II was a deity, a holy man just a few formalities from official sainthood in a church that doesn’t pass the title freely.
Benedict was harsh, unrelenting, and aloof.
Francis is more everyman. There’s no pretense, no pomp, but plenty of circumstance, simply because of the gravity of his position.
Still, he seems more connected to the modern world than any pope of my lifetime, which is why his continued adherence to hardline dogma seems more palatable to many. Toss in the bit of the confusion that surrounds him, such as his latest response regarding homosexuality and his strident calls for social reform, and he appears to be a progressive, at least in a centuries-old church.
But appearances can be deceiving.
Francis, from what I have seen, seems fairly nonconfrontational, wants to discuss rather than argue or dictate, and seems to base a lot of his religious core around the concept of forgiveness.
He doesn’t appear to be a slacker, like Benedict when it comes to issues of contempt and controversy, such as the sex scandals that rocked the church but were ignored. Francis has already said that he has no tolerance for criminal behavior, such as offenses against children, and that forgiveness may be one thing, but it does not absolve criminal charges and penalties.
But he seems to understand the effects of human error, at least in the coinage of the church, and more willing to forgive than condemn.
I had a friend who traveled to Rome once with some Catholic friends of his.
My friend, who is agnostic, said his friends went into the Vatican for confession so they could receive communion during a Vatican mass.
They were shaken when they exited the church, my friend said, because the priest who heard their confession “basically told them they were going to hell,” that they were “beyond redemption.” That harshness is the type of Catholicism a lot of us were raised in, which explains why many have left the church.
It’s not a signal of diminished faith, but one of a lack of faith in church officials who were more intent on exclusion than spirituality.
It’s still too early to determine who he really is and what he’s all about. So far, all we seem to have is a host of apparent contradictions.
But then, who am I to judge?
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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