Pope’s compassion opens way to second look at church teaching
Interview emphasises mercy, not legalism
Pope Francis washing the foot of a prisoner at a youth prison in Rome in March – “with his utterly refreshing candour and openness, and his blunt description of himself as a ‘sinner’, he is allowing people to see Catholicism in a new light.” PHOTOGRAPH: REUTERS/OSSERVATORE ROMANO
Bishop Frank Caggiano, recently appointed bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is from Brooklyn. He is a regular visitor to Ireland, and to this Irishwoman he has always looked and sounded as if he could moonlight as an actor in a Mafia movie, if only his eyes were not so kind.
Bishop Caggiano spoke presciently about Pope Francis days before the media frenzy surrounding the exclusive interview printed in 16 Jesuit journals.
Speaking about the contemporary phenomenon of indifference to Christianity, Bishop Caggiano suggested there were two “moments” that help to overcome apathy. The first is a “wow” moment, when “people are invited, and sometimes forced to take a second look”, a moment that means the person who is indifferent is “at least minimally engaged”.
The second is “for for someone on the local level to be able to engage the person personally, so the healing process may begin”.
Bishop Caggiano said “Pope Francis is creating that first step across the whole church, in every venue and walk of life, among believers and nonbelievers, which is remarkable”. However, the bishop pointed out, “what most people in
leadership don’t realise is that he’s creating a window that will not last forever”.
If local church communities do not step up to the challenge, and provide spaces where people can experience for themselves the joy and challenge that the Pope embodies, then his example will be in vain.
I think Bishop Caggiano is right. Pope Francis, with his utterly refreshing candour and openness, and his blunt description of himself as a “sinner”, is allowing people to see Catholicism in a new light. He is allowing people to see the breadth and depth of Christian belief, that extends far, far beyond a few hot-button issues.
He has a profound compassion that allows people to take a second look at church teaching, even regarding these same hot-button issues.
In the interview Francis says: “During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says.”
Change in style
But the way that he is saying it emphasises mercy, not legalism. For too long, gay people felt condemned in the core of their being. Francis is saying that they are people first, as deserving of care and respect as any other child of God.
People are naturally contrasting the change in style from Benedict’s papacy. The irony is, of course, that Pope Francis would not be Pope if it were not for the radical step taken by his predecessor.