The heresy of Pope Francis

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

The newspapers gleefully cackled (on a Sunday no less!) at Pope Francis allegedly slamming the clergy’s “obsession” with homosexuality, abortion, contraception. From the way the media painted it, it was as if Pope Francis had called for the renunciation not only of the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI but also centuries and centuries of Catholic teaching. The truth, as usual, however, is that Pope Francis did no such thing.

I think it was Pat Archbold (“Quotes That Prove The Pope Is A Liberal,” National Catholic Register, Aug. 5) that best described how Pope Francis differs with Pope Benedict XVI:

“The press has been telling us that Pope Francis, in word and deed, is no less than the total renunciation of Pope Benedict’s papacy... I think it is time we face facts. The press is right. The Pope is a liberal and I have the quotes to prove it:

“Encourages Homosexuality: ‘It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs.’

“He is focused on the poor: ‘Many people today lack hope. They are perplexed by the questions that present themselves ever more urgently in a confusing world, and they are often uncertain which way to turn for answers. They see poverty and injustice and they long to find solutions.' 'Yet if we refuse to share what we have with the hungry and the poor, we make of our possessions a false god. How many voices in our materialist society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can! But this is to make possessions into a false god. Instead of bringing life, they bring death.’

“He is overtly humble and does not embrace his office: ‘The authority of the pope is not unlimited.’ ‘The cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard. The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.’"

“He makes a point of extolling women and the Church: ‘It is theologically and anthropologically important for woman to be at the center of Christianity. Through Mary, and the other holy women, the feminine element stands at the heart of the Christian religion.’”

Which should pretty much close the argument that Pope Francis, who cares for gays, the poor, and women’s rights is the anti-Benedict. Except for one fact that Archbold points out: “Every quote above is from Pope Benedict. Every one.”

There is no break with established Catholic doctrine (the text of the Pope’s interview can be found here www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview). This is a fact that people, perhaps because technology and media have encouraged them to think in the short-term (particularly as far as gratification of desires are considered), have difficulty in comprehending about an institution that thinks in millenia or even eternity. Pope Francis’ point, as Matthew Schmitz, writing for First Things (firstthings.com, “Pope Francis on How to Talk About Abortion, Gay Marriage, and Contraception,” Sept. 20), insightfully declares is “not to compromise on or back away from truth, but rather to reject its caricature. This is good practical guidance. If it’s what he meant in his broader remarks, then those remarks offer wise advice well worth taking.”

I agree. Both sides of the moral debate indeed need to take a step back. Locally, pro-RH (or “pro-choice” or social “progressive”) Catholics need to accept that the faith does come with demands, that one can’t pick and choose only those doctrines they like from those they don’t. That by doing so they are actually placing themselves as their own god. On the other hand, the anti-RH (and “pro-life”) Catholics need to understand the utter subtleties of the doctrines of the faith, not reducing what essentially are beautiful and textured teachings into something merely as stark black and white, debasing a profound conversation about our shared humanity into a simple “us” vs “them” antagonism.

Thus, Catholic Vote’s Stephen White was correct in his assessment that the “challenge for the Church, as the Pope seems to see it, is not that people are unaware [or refuse to accept that] that the Church considers, for example, abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts to be sinful (everyone knows this); the problem is that they don’t understand why the Church teaches what it does.” The clergy’s problem, locally, for example, is not that they talk too much against contraception but that they don’t talk enough (and competently) about it to place it within the context of the power and beauty of the whole of Church teaching.

So, to sum up, Pope Francis never changed anything doctrine wise. Which is perhaps the real heresy that he may be committing, at least in the eyes of “pick and choose” Catholics and progressives.