Chill and Let My Father Do His Job

This interview with Pope Francis burned the Internet up today, mostly for these things:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.


We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but 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: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

That got all KINDS of crazy love.

This got less attention, but was just as revelatory:

The dicasteries of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops,” he says. “They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship. It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.

In other words, deal with your own stuff instead of sending endless pissy letters to Rome bitching about this or that word out of place in a homily, for God’s sake, because we have work to do. In strict contrast to Benedict, who wanted to stamp out unorthodoxy wherever it hid.

Reading the entire interview, though, I was struck by this:

“And then a thing that is really important for me: community. I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta. At the time of the conclave I lived in Room 207. (The rooms were assigned by drawing lots.) This room where we are now was a guest room. I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”

I interviewed a bishop once, and it lasted two hours, and in that two hours, I asked him only one question that gave him any kind of pause.

I asked him if he experienced God.

He said, and I’ll never forget this, no. Not directly. Not from a loud voice or in a burning tree. He said he found God in the lives of others, in their struggles and successes and losses and victories. His particular interpretation of God was absolutely dependent on other people.

It’s not hard to figure out why the American church has focused so insistently on these few issues that Francis so bluntly ennumerates (and it’s kind of refreshing he just says “gay marriage” as opposed to the usual hierarchical phrasing of “so-called same-sex marriage” or some other insulting term). When you have a smaller church, you’re focused on the things that your donors care about. What stirs them up? Abortion and gays and the pill. Francis is not saying the church’s official position on those things will change, but he is saying stop using them as weapons.

Church doctrine, Francis says over and over in the interview, has become a bludgeon. It’s become a way to weed out the insufficiently devout and the incorrect and make the church smaller and smaller. Wall it off and lock it up and keep out the sinners. But if the church is about the people, and you make the people the enemy, you’re left with nothing. Eventually you’re left with no one. If Francis sees his ministry as being about community, if that is critical, then anything that divides people for the sake of dividing them, for the sake of making holier-than-thou assholes feel better about their spiritual spreadsheets, is pointless.

Judgment for the sake of judgment, using the rules to lawyer people into hell, making the system more important than the people it’s meant to save, is exactly what that nice Jewish carpenter fella a couple thousand years back was so pissed off about in the first place. We have, says the pope, to evolve from there:

Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.


2 thoughts on “Chill and Let My Father Do His Job

  1. There are a lot of fascist power-lovers in the Church and I don’t see them being happy with this guy at all. He better watch his back.
    The hypocrites and users have murdered the head of the church when he displeased them since year zero … literally.

  2. I’m getting whiplash going from Ratzinger/Pope Benedict who pre-papacy was admittedly heavy conservative but with very well thought out opinions, but as Benedict was Hogtied by his past but as Benedict seemed to change to totally adamant far right. Now only a few months into his papacy, Pope Francis is saying we need to talk.
    And as y’all have hinted at, like politics, it seems like many denominations have been taken over by a “take no prisoners” brand of religion / American Taliban / etc.

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