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Everyone has been commenting on Pope Francis’ interview this week. Francis, who is well liked in his home of Argentina, is rattling some cages at the Vatican. More than a billion people, or one out of seven, consider themselves Roman Catholics, and what he says matters to one-seventh of our world. That is a very high number.
I visited the Vatican two years ago, along with other women who were my age or older. On that hot August Day on the steps of St. Peter’s, the Vatican police were shooing women from sitting on the steps. “What,” I thought, “would Jesus have done?”
Like many religious institutions in the world, the Catholic Church has to be relevant if it is to survive. Interfering with privacy and taking political positions will not win congregants. Pope Francis understands this on a very gut level. He needs to speak for all Catholics and not just the right or the left.
In light of this week’s interview, many on the right are accusing Pope Francis of engaging in left-wing Liberation Theology. Liberation theology was made popular in South America, and its main point is that the teachings of Jesus are to help the suffering and poor. Although some people think liberation theology is a smokescreen for Marxism, many others see it as the Church’s return to the basic values and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Catholic News Agency, however (based in Colorado), said that in a private meeting before the interview was published that Pope Francis was extremely critical of liberation theology.
There is a huge problem with trying to label what Pope Francis said in that long interview. Much has been made of the pope’s comments about gay people, but before he spoke about gay people, he spoke about mercy. Pope Francis said in response to a reporter’s question on his plane back to the Vatican from a successful trip to Brazil, “Mercy is greater than that case that you pose. I believe that this is a time of mercy. [During] this change of epoch, [there are] also so many problems of the Church like the not good witness of some priests, also the problems of corruption in the Church, also the problem of clericalism, to make an example, have left so many wounded, so many wounded.
“And the Church is mother, she must go out and heal the wounded, with mercy.
“But if the Lord doesn’t tire of forgiving, we don’t have any other choice than this, first of all, to heal the wounded. She is a mother, the Church, and she must go out onto this street of mercy and find a mercy for all.”
His comments on gays were not from a speech but responding to a specific question. The Pope’s answer incorporates the question: “Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Mah! So much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find anyone who can give me a Vatican identity card with ‘gay’ [written on it]. They say they are there. I think that when you encounter a person like this, you must make a distinction between the fact of a person being gay from the fact of being a lobby, because lobbies, all are not good. That is bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a very beautiful way, but says, wait a moment, how do you say … it says, [that] these persons must not be marginalized for this, they must be integrated into society.”
The pope continued, “The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers, because this is one, but there is another, another [problem]. The problem is forming a lobby of this tendency, a lobby of the greedy, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.”
It is interesting to note that what Pope Francis was addressing were the lobbies and the corruption of the Church, but the news media did not report it that way. They only reported on a sea change with gays when, in fact, the whole point of his response to the question was the issue of lobbying and corruption in the organized church. That is exactly what Jesus was addressing with the temple and the money changers.
Is it liberation theology or cleaning up the Church and getting it back to its mission? That is for you, the reader, to decide. What we do know is that the pope is addressing the need to change the Roman Catholic Church.
I don’t know if senior citizens will continue to be shooed away from the steps of St. Peter’s, but I do know that the doors to that church and others in the Roman Catholic faith are going to swing open more fully. It’s about time.