By Tara Grigson
When Pope Francis I announced, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods … it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” there was an almost audible sigh of relief across a very large part of the globe.
Liberal Catholics were excited that they could finally share their views with their more conservative Catholic friends. Nonpartisan Catholics were excited to be part of a church that had taken a progressive stance on these issues. People with no ties to the Catholic church at all were excited that this religion, the largest school of Christian thought, and the second largest religion in the world, was proclaiming acceptance of homosexuality and reproductive rights.
This is a bit of a misconception, though.
Although most of the world thinks that something has changed within Catholic doctrine, at least in modern history, it has always been exactly the same.
The Catholic Church has never approved of abortion or contraception, and has always been absolutely fine with homosexuality, as long as no actual sex is involved. This has not changed.
What has changed is the world’s understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about these issues.
In much the same way that the Catholic Church has always taught the same things about homosexuality and reproductive rights, it has also always taught the same things about forgiveness and about mercy.
Any Catholic person who would judge or condemn another person based on his or her lifestyle missed an important memo.
As Pope Francis I put it, “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.”
It makes sense to be excited about Pope Francis’ statements on homosexuality, specifically in comparison to Benedict XVI’s comments, which were certainly a little less welcoming.
It makes even more sense to be excited about a lot of the other things he has said and a lot of the things he has done.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” which is his birth name.
He responded, “I am a sinner.” This goes hand-in-hand with his comments concerning the lifestyle that a servant of the Church should have.
He chose to live in St. Martha’s House, an apartment building intended for guests of Vatican City as opposed to the ornate Papal Apartments, saying that “I chose to live here, in Room 201, because…the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace…is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people.”
Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest, which likely contributes to his interest in serving others.
The Society of Jesus’ theological basis is to attempt, in all situations, to do what Jesus would have done, based on His teachings.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Pope Francis is committed not to the fame or extremely comfortable lifestyle that could come with his being pope but to the people.
Upon hearing about a pregnant woman who had refused to get an abortion, despite her boyfriend’s pleas, Pope Francis phoned her. Then he offered to baptize the baby.
He recently attended World Youth Day in Brazil.
Over 3.5 million people made the pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro, giving them the opportunity to hear Pope Francis’ homily live. The thesis: “…what is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid and serve.”
Pope Francis’ interest in reaching out to youth is apparent, not only in his attendance of World Youth Day but especially in his Twitter account.
Pope Francis became the first pope to have a Twitter on Mar. 17, 2012. His handle is @Pontifex, and he generally tweets several times a week. On Oct. 7 he posted, “Mercy is the true power that can save humanity and the world from sin and evil.”
What is revolutionary about Pope Francis’ leadership of the Church is not his stance on homosexuality or reproductive rights. It is not his outreach to young people.
Rather it is his firm, all-encompassing belief in mercy. He has not changed Catholic doctrine. The Bible and the Catechism remain the same as before his papacy. He has just reminded people of the Church’s roots.
Religion is not ever about being better than other people nor is it not about living a better life than other people.
Religion is certainly not about judging other people. Religious belief should always be rooted in compassion for others: in serving with mercy the people who need your help.
Pope Francis did not invent Catholic mercy, he just made it famous.