During a press conference on the way back from World Youth Day, Pope Francis addressed a number of issues, including marriage (not what you think), the role of women in the Catholic Church, and reserving judgment on gay people. (Quotes from National Catholic Reporter, full article available here).
- On marriage, the pope spoke of the need to find ways to welcome divorced and remarried Catholics into the life of the church, a theme he has mentioned before. He said the topic is a priority for his 8 Cardinal advisors: “When the council of eight cardinals meets Oct. 1-3, one of the things they’ll consider is how to move forward with the pastoral care of marriage. Also, just 15 days ago or so, I met the secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and maybe it will also focus on the pastoral care of marriage. It’s complicated.”
- Regarding the role of women, the pope expressed the need for a “theology of women in the Church,” but said that a previous pope has said no to women’s ordination: “On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.”
- Finally, when asked about gay priests, Francis seemed to dismiss the idea that being gay was worthy of judgment or condemnation: “If [gay people] accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”
On Facebook, the Jesuit writer James Martin wrote that the pope’s comment on gays, “reveals great mercy. That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus Christ. And we can never have enough of it.” In addition to mercy, Francis’ comments also provide hope, hope to those who live on the margins of the church. In a special way, those who live without—without money, without recognized dignity, without full embrace from institutions of power—are called to live prophetic lives. But sometimes being offered some hope from the powerful, in this case Pope Francis and the church, is needed in order to keep moving forward with the struggle. Francis’ comments, however offhand and however easily dismissed they will be by traditionalists, are worth celebrating.
But there’s got to be more.
I’ve joined the chorus of those praising this truly palpable breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is welcomed change in style. How will his bishops here in the US react, especially to the comments about not judging gays, finding roles for women, and welcoming back the marginalized? The Pope, it seems, will lead by example. Will his bishops follow? What concrete steps will Catholic leaders take to change the atmosphere of the church?
A friend IM’ed this morning, asking if this news was a big step for the church. Yes and no, I said. Yes, it’s certainly huge that a pope has spoken about gays in a nonjudgmental, loving way. The pope’s words may inspire others to alter their own speech and behavior. No, because we wait for change, for signs that this is indeed more than an off the cuff remark. But for now, I’ll stick with yes. Yes, this is hope, and hope is huge.