moral musings

Francis, Sexuality and the Catholic tradition

uneasy lies the head...

uneasy lies the head…

Pope Francis is in the news again. This time around in reaction to a chain of interviews he gave over the course of last month which has just been made public. The Pope is reported to have spoken extensively on moral issues which have always generated much heat, like homosexual relationships, abortion, contraception. The whole moral works.
Specifically, the Pope, the interviews claim, reiterated his call for pastoral prudence in dealing with these moral issues. He had made such calls for pastoral prudence on his flight from the World Youth day in Brazil in July. During the flight the Pope had granted an interview which has generated much furore with the likes of his statements including “…if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.”
And now Pope Francis says categorically “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Headlines in news and blogs and all of media have come out with stuff like “Pope says not to be obsessed with talks on homosexuality and abortion” or something like that. That is surely disturbing for the average conservative. It is liberating for the very liberal. But it is also disquieting for the truly Catholic. It is disquieting because as customary, the media plays its usual role here: namely the distrustful role of moderating views according to its own expectations, according to its sponsors, and according to the popular trends.
The statements of Pope Francis are truly awesome. Yes, maybe the Church has not been used to such blunt utterances in a long while. Yes, maybe there is a hue of novelty here. Yes, there is definitely a spirit of involvement and concern for all the “children of Abraham” in the Pope’s statements and interviews. The only thing one might need to add is: all these above are true, but Pope Francis is essentially, at least of yet, not saying anything contrary to what the Church has always taught. Indeed he adds (when asking that the Church not be overly concerned about these moral issues) “I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
To my understanding Pope Francis is responding generously, graciously but, essentially, courageously to the age-long accusation against the Church’s fixation on sexuality and morality generally. If you wanted to know how old that accusation is, it goes back as far as the accusations against the fixation of the Church Fathers on sexual matters. That is to say as far back as the early history of the Church. For Pope Francis to make these statements as provided in his interviews is nothing short of courageous, keeping in mind his position as the very first and most representative voice of the Church.
It would seem the time is indeed now rife in the Church for a careful consideration of those issues and questions. They will continue to come in, more so now made prominent by the Papa himself. And that is easier said than done. But the truth remains that Francis, as himself made it known, is a true son of the Church, the body of Christ. If you asked me, the touchstone of Pope Francis’ vision is embedded in one part of the said interviews. Namely, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.” In other words, the evergreen and good message which ignited the hearts of the disciples on their way to Emmaus must continue to be preached with a greater emphasis, as the Pope Francis says, on the “…saving love of God… before moral and religious imperatives.” But then, honesty and commitment to the complete truth will warn us never to forget or subtract the Pope’s submission that these messages would indeed eventually draw moral consequences. And those are the consequences that would seem to sometimes wrongly paint the Church as uncaring and unpopular with societal trends. Perhaps typical of the life of her founder who was never known to be particularly celebrated for his opposition to the popular trends of his days.
A complete look at the recent statements of Pope Francis would therefore make one eventually see who we’ve got here: a pastor at heart, calling for a dedicated attention to the sheep. His statements are not a call for a rejection of the Church’s moral horizon, no matter how it is presented to resemble such, but an emphasis on the Church which is a Mother. One of the true sons of that Mother has merely had the courage to face real issues head on.

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3 thoughts on “Francis, Sexuality and the Catholic tradition

  1. I love his rebuke of “legalist” “restorationists”, they will find nothing. First, preach the Gospel of Salvation and Love. Seek God, who is working in everyone; in that search, there is always uncertainty.

    And- “the teaching of the church is clear”.

    He raises the pastoral issue of a woman who has had an abortion and a failed marriage in her past, and now is happily married. “What is the confessor to do?” This is a question which needs answered individually, for each individual sinner, Church member- Francis here leaves it unanswered. He invites us all to wrestle with that question.

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