Among Catholics who've been rattled by
remarks by Pope Francis in his famous interviews, some have sought
solace in blaming the media. They have a point. Sensationalism,
oversimplification, and ignorance (headline writers notwithstanding,
"proselytism" and "conversion" are two quite
different things) really have marked some of the papal coverage to
But when you're through criticizing
the press, the fact remains that the reporters have gotten it
essentially right. Pope Francis truly is saying something different
while apparently preparing to set the Church on a significantly new
path. This makes it a matter of urgency that Catholics, instead of
getting hung up on media mistakes, grasp where the Pope's newness
Italian Vaticanologist Sandro Magister
offers a helpful insight on that. To comprehend Pope Francis, he
says, he should be seen in the line of two larger than life figures
of the not so distant past--Cardinal Carlo Martini, S.J., of Milan
and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.
Cardinal Martini, a Jesuit like Pope
Francis, died in 2012. For many years he was Catholic progressives'
favorite candidate for election as pope. Cardinal Bernardin died in
1996. During most of the preceding two decades he was the dominant
figure among his brothers in the U.S. hierarchy.
By no means is Pope Francis's
resemblance to the two cardinals a perfect likeness. The Pope is very
much his own man, with his own style and his own priorities. Still,
no one who knew either Cardinal Martini or Cardinal Bernardin can
help but notice the similarities. Especially, as Magister suggests,
these concern the stance the Church should adopt in addressing the
In modern times, the stance has
generally been confrontational and combative: error must be
corrected, evil resisted, no matter the cost. By contrast, the
Martini-Bernardin approach is notably different: instead of
confronting the secular culture, seek common ground; where no common
ground can be found, downplay the conflict as much as can be done
without sacrificing principle.
And the Pope? His strategy is
reasonably clear from the metaphor used in his interview with several
Jesuit journals to describe the role of the Church in today's world.
"I see the Church as a field
hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured
person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood
sugar. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything
else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…"
Here is the context in which to read
Francis's words later calling on Catholics to talk less about
abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. First, he's saying, stop
the spiritual hemorrhaging from the wounds inflicted by the culture
on faith and hope, and only then turn to specific problems..
We now have clear evidence that
Francis doesn't intend only to talk about these things. It's his move
in summoning an "extraordinary"--that is, out of the
regular cycle--session of the world Synod of Bishops a year from now
to consider "the pastoral challenges of the family."
This consultation with bishops from
around the world reflects his commitment to collegiality as well as
his concern for divorced and remarried Catholics. If Pope Francis has
anything to say about it--and it hardly needs saying that he
will--the Church's pastoral approach to them will be at the top of
the Synod agenda.
So, unavoidably, will questions this
unavoidably raises regarding Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility
of marriage. Never mind the press--the truth is, we're in for an