Throughout his first six months in the papacy, Pope Francis has shown clearly that he is a reformer pope. He is a man faithful to the Church’s teachings, but he is working to reform the Church’s structures and, more importantly, he calls all Catholics to reform the way we live the Gospel.
So it is disingenuous for some to suggest that in his recent interview with La Civilta Cattolica, the pope was merely describing what the Church does in putting proclamation of the essentials ahead of moral dictates.
To be sure, in most churches one will hear much more discussion of Jesus, the Incarnation and the resurrection than about abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.
In his interview and in many other homilies and addresses over the last six months, Pope Francis has consistently used reform language. He was not defending the status quo; he says we have to change.
The pope used reform words such as “a new balance” and a proclamation of the Gospel that is “more simple, profound, radiant.” He was critical of those “obsessed” with transmitting doctrines that must be “imposed insistently.”
Popes do not normally criticize non-existent problems. When the pope says bishops should not act like princes and that careerism in the Church is bad, he clearly believes that somewhere there are actual bishops who are careerists and who cling to their privileges.
The pope also clearly does not want the Church taking sides in culture wars where moral issues are front and centre. He wants, instead, that the Church heal wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful. When Church spokesmen respond by saying, “We already do that,” they are missing the point.
Instead of looking in the mirror, some criticize the mainstream media for allegedly distorting the pope’s words.
One can almost always find examples of how the media have put a different spin on papal pronouncements than we followers of the pope might like to see. Yet, the media got one thing right, which too many are trying to deny – he wants to see reform in the Church.
Reform is never comfortable. Many will resist change because it upsets their comfortable way of life or how they do business. Many will go to great lengths to circumvent or deny that they themselves must reform if the Gospel is to be clearly proclaimed.
For Pope Francis, the current state of the Church calls for reform, not the status quo. Vatican II remains unfinished business; the Gospel must not only be proclaimed, but also lived.
The Church must worship Jesus, the Son of God; it must also follow Jesus, the man from Galilee who condemned those religious leaders of his time who “tithe mint, dill and cumin and (who) have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23.23).