To many outsiders, and even to some church-going Catholics, interpreting various statements made by a pope runs the risk of getting it all wrong.
But we’d like to be encouraged by some recent statements made by Pope Francis, even as we recognize the tightrope he must walk between reform and tradition.
It’s common practice among prominent office-holders to say something controversial only to see their spokesmen swiftly “clarify” things to the point of saying the direct opposite.
A case in point occurred in May, when Francis _ only about two months into his tenure as pope _ stated that someone can be an atheist and still go to heaven.
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics,” he said. “Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. … We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: We will meet one another there.”
Well, not so fast. Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica hurriedly issued a statement stressing that “people who know the Catholic Church cannot be saved if they refuse to enter or remain in her.”
In a very short time, Francis has impressed Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his humility and decency. It showed again on Monday in a media conference aboard his plane to Rome after being hailed by huge crowds in Brazil.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said. “The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … They’re our brothers.”
If you care to know how much of a “wow,” consider the words of his immediate predecessor,
Pope Benedict XVI, in 2005 wrote that homosexuality was “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” and an “objective disorder.” Those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” he wrote, should not be priests.
On the other hand, the catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992 during the tenure of another popular pope, John Paul II, said Catholics must treat gays “with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” avoiding “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard.”
While not straying from that policy, Francis also did not stray from the concept that although homosexuals should be accepted, they shouldn’t actually have gay sex.
“Under no circumstances can they be approved,” Francis told the reporters on his plane. … “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.”
While we may disagree with Francis on this and other issues, we admire this pope and his efforts regarding tolerance and reform.