Our Holy Father has a knack for keeping the Church in the headlines. I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to keep matters of faith in the larger public conversation. The latest published interview with the Pope has received similar attention to past interviews, except unlike interviews with Benedict XVI, this one is freely available to all in its entirety. Reaction all around has been varied, and I’ve noticed that any over-excitement about the content tends to be due to a misreading of it, mostly due to the prejudiced narratives that have been formed around Pope Francis. There are challenges to change herein, but none more than the constant call to help the Lord draw all people to Himself.
Take this quote, for instance: “We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”
One of the popular slogans of dissent is “We are Church” as if the people of God know better than the Magisterium, and such a quote from the Pope out of context might lead one so inclined to wish this as a repudiation of the hierarchical delivery of Church teaching. Out of what context? The Pope continues: “We must be very careful not to think that this infallibilitas of all the faithful…is a form of populism. No; it is the experience of ‘holy mother the hierarchical church,’ …pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people.” He continues to emphasize the importance of the “Holy middle class”, the everyday experience of the devotee who lives the faith without agenda. This can’t be taken to affirm any movement to revolutionize the Church in her doctrines or discipline.
Another widely misinterpreted quote is, “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…The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things.”
Lest this discourage Catholic activists in the pro-life movement, or encourage pro-abortion Catholics, the Pope issued a very clear condemnation of abortion the very next day. It is true that the Catholic Church is not a minister primarily of morality, but of salvation. Front and center of every church is the crucified Christ, not a fetus. The context in which Catholic morality and activism is rooted is our affirmation for the dignity of every member of God’s family, that is worthy of God’s love and salvation, and thus our struggle for social justice at every level proceeds from this as a consequence, not as the starting point. As Benedict XVI reminded us, “[e]ach of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
It’s not that the interview changes nothing, we should accept the challenge contained in the substance of the interview to broaden our openness to inviting others into the Church’s fold. To withhold the love and truth of the faith from anyone due to their presuppositions or lifestyles comes from a pessimism about God’s grace. “God is in every person’s life…Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.” The Holy Father goes on to talk about those working on the frontiers. There is a challenge to the comfortable Catholic to push outwards one’s frontiers so that God’s love can reach all.