So my first thought when Cardinal Bergoglio was elected and became Pope Francis I was “wow, a Jesuit”. The Jesuits are definitely the liberal branch of the Catholic Church, or at least liberal as Catholicism goes. I of course wondered if his selection was both pandering to Latin America, where the exodus from the church isn’t as bad as North America and Europe, and pandering to the younger, more liberal flock. Simply put, I was very suspicious that the College of Cardinals more or less said, “hey, we hear you, and here is what you want”, without ever actually planning on changing anything.
That may very well be what the College of Cardinals had in mind. Pope Francis however must not have gotten the memo. From his bucking tradition with his attire (thanks for putting away those ridiculous red shoes) and who he surrounds himself with, to his willingness to be available to the media. As much as I liked Pope John Paul II, and as progressive as he was, he never really addressed issues like class warfare, wealth inequality, and gay rights and gays in the church.
I’m certain he’s “gone off the reservation” because the man has been Pope for a few months and the old school Bishops and Cardinals can’t distance themselves fast enough. It seems like daily the Pope clearly makes a statement, and some Bishop or another is on TV with a “what he meant” statement. And Pope Francis has taken positions on actual issues that actual people, Catholic and non face daily.
Many of his public statements have been decidedly un-Popelike. And he’s addressed many societal issues.
Class warfare, poverty and economic inequality:
“The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty!”
“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world, no amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself.”
“Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor.”
“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.”
“A society that does not pay a just wage, that does not give work to people. A society that that only looks to its balance books, that only seeks profit is unjust and goes against God. It is work, not power, not money, not culture that gives men and women a sense of dignity. By stripping them of work, society strips them of their God given dignity.”
The waning numbers of the church members:
“Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture.”
“Be the first to seek to bring good, do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it.”
“I ask you, instead, be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love.
The environment and climate change:
“When we talk about the environment, about creation, my thoughts turn to the first pages of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, which states that God placed man and woman on earth to cultivate and care for it. The question comes to my mind: What does cultivating and caring for the earth mean? Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it?”
“We are living in a time of crisis. We see this in the environment, but above all we see this in mankind. Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women, we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the culture of waste.”
Gays in the Catholic Church:
“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. They’re our brothers.”
Coexistence and respect of those of all beliefs and no belief:
“I told you I would willingly give you a blessing. Since many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church and others are non-believers, from the bottom of my heart I give this silent blessing to each and every one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you but knowing that each one of you is a child of God. May God bless all of you.”
I am by no means saying that the Vatican is about to take a hard left. To be honest I think Pope Francis is going to encounter serious resistance from his own clergy. It is refreshing to see a Pope entering the 21st century, in a matter of speaking, and taking a clear position on todays issues. Maybe it gets the ball rolling and his successors follow suit. For the time being however, thank you Pope Francis for putting into words what many modern Catholics already feel.