‘Home for all’

The lapsed, the wounded, and those banished to the fringes of the Catholic Church are finding hope in Pope Francis’ words in his wide-ranging interview with the editor in chief of La Civilta Cattolica. “[T]he thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity,” the Argentine says, touching off sparks. That he sees it as “a field hospital after battle” speaks to those who are living lives not pleasing to the institutional Church but yearning to remain in its fold. The faithful are “thrilled” that he envisions the Church as “the home for all.” They are comforted that he is “sending a message of tolerance and maturity.” They deem his remarks “more important than an encyclical.”

Francis refreshes. He flings open doors and windows to let the musty air out. Not for him an exclusionist Church battening down the hatches to keep out those who question or who rail against what is and dare to say what can be—“a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.” He rues that it has “locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” and declares that it has “to find a new balance.” He disdains what it has become: “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

Those long chagrined by the Church’s certain arrogance—in these parts, grade-school children are taught that only Catholics deserve, and can attain, salvation; couples who make an informed choice in planning their families are threatened with damnation—are taking heart in Francis’ call to the Church to “step outside itself and go to those who do not attend mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.” He demonstrates to them that he sees the “holiness” in “the patience of the people of God,” such as “a woman who is raising children and a man who works to bring home the bread,” that he does not think that “‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”

The local Catholic hierarchy and its lay leaders and lawyers, still engaged in ruthless opposition to the Reproductive Health Law, are not singing hosannas to the Pope’s remarks. They say only that there is “no contradiction,” no break in Catholic doctrine, only a need to be mindful of how they “care” for the poor and “those who are distant from the Church.” There is no assurance to the flock of a re-calibrated approach toward those antagonized, isolated, threatened and condemned for acting within their right and conscience in taking full responsibility for their lives and the children they choose to bring into this world—or not. Being put on the defensive for “moral ghettoes,” the local Church appears to be digging in its heels and girding for renewed “obsession.”

Francis, who has early on called for reforms in the Church, names “attitude” as the first reform: “The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.” It’s as if he apprehends the anguish of those who, by dint of their nonconformist lives, are made lepers, outcasts. “The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials,” he says. “The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind.”

Discernment is “essential,” according to Francis. He takes a dim view of those who constantly search for “disciplinarian solutions” and “who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security’.” It is thus not a surprise that he reads Dostoevsky, quotes Puccini’s “Turandot,” listens to Mozart, Bach and Wagner, and loves Fellini’s “La Strada.” A profound intellect marks this man, by his own description “a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

“Essential,” too, is the woman “for the church,” says Francis, as though speaking of the group of nuns whom the Vatican had accused of “corporate dissent” from the Church’s teaching and pursuit of “radical feminist themes”—charges that the nuns deny. Yet, and regrettably, he merely calls for further investigation of the role of women in the Church. When will that role become finally clear? Does he not say that “Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops”?

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