Once upon a time, when I was young and naive (okay, young-ER and less cynical), I wrote an open letter to the brand new Pope Benedict about how he had been granted a huge responsibility and opportunity to make the Catholic church better for its adherents. Things have changed since then, and I’ve learned a lot, like the following:
- The Pope can quit. Can just walk off the job. That was a shock.
- I’m not sure how Catholic I really am anymore. I can’t get past the idea of a religious organization also being an extremely wealthy and bureaucratic political power. It’s disturbing.
But from these lessons, comes something else. Pope Francis I may be just what the Church needs. His name alone holds a call to humility, first, by refusing the names that have become nothing short of long-running monarchic titles. Moreover, St. Francis may be one of the most humble saints in mystic history. Leaving aside visions, etc., St. Francis’ teachings encouraged his brethren to embrace poverty and help the least fortunate. He is the patron saint of animals, due to his “Sermon to the Birds” and a story in which he convinced a village not to kill a wolf that was attacking its people. Instead, he convinced the villagers to feed the wolf and care for it. Animals are easy to abuse, truly the least of us, and St. Francis call was to love even those who could really do nothing for us. He declared that he “considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.” Which, in all of Christianity, is everyone. No matter race, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. It’s everyone.
Which brings me back to the Pope. Pope Francis made what is truly a landmark statement. “If someone is gay, but searches for the Lord in goodwill, who am I to judge?” This is a far cry from the Church’s prior stance of homosexuality being an intrinsic evil, or “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” (A statement that makes me shake with anger.) Cardinal Timothy Dolan responded by saying that this was not a change in policy, just a “change in tone.” But I disagree. It’s so much more than that.
“Who am I to judge?” is completely different. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” still puts a moral responsibility on everyone to despise an intrinsic part of another person made by and in the image of their God. “Who am I to judge?” says that love, dignity, and respect have no part in judgment and hate. Under Church doctrine, judgment is to be left up to God and God alone. Our part in this world is to help, serve, and love one another. It strikes me as wonderful, and even revolutionary, to have the leader of the Church, a huge political and religious organization, gently reprimand the Church’s leaders and followers for passing judgment on their fellow man.
Way to go, Pope Francis. If this is the new party line, I almost think I could get behind it again.