A recent interview with Pope Francis in the Jesuit magazine, “America” has set a new tone for the Catholic Church—one less focused on doctrinal enforcement and more focused on ministry, service, and compassion. Pope Francis described the church as having been “obsessed” with politically charged social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, and that the time has come to take a new approach to perform the church’s main duty of bringing people to God.
Pope Francis sees the necessity of immersing the clergy with the people. “I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.” He fully comprehends that the Church’s agenda of the last few decades of rigorously defending and promoting the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage has created a perception of an institution that is out of touch with the people and small-minded— a church that is un-embracing and exclusive. Focusing in pastoral ministry will allow the church to appear dedicated to the people it serves.
Pope Francis lays out a good plan for the church to undertake. While not dismissing, rejecting, or even changing the most socially contentious Church doctrine, Francis is pointing the church towards a different path certainly more attractive and hopeful.
“Every pope has a different strategy,” says U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. “What I think [Francis’] saying is, `Those are important issues and the church has got to keep talking about them, but we need to talk about them in a fresh new way.’ If we keep a kind of a negative finger-wagging tone, it’s counterproductive.”
A new outward emphasis from the church based in serving the needs of humanity around the world is certainly a “breath of fresh air.” Over the years, negative attribution of the church received from its defense of its most controversial positions were demoralizing and frustrating to many of the faithful. Those Catholics who supported the church felt always as if they were apologizing for their faith. Those opposed or doubtful of existing Church teaching found themselves battling as what they saw as a close-minded self-centered institution, and drawn away from the Church. Focusing less on the minute details of the Church and more on defining and developing the Church’s mission towards the world’s most venerable and marginalized, is an approach which will attract more people to the Church. Francis’ actions, good works, and compassion will reinforce a view of a Catholicism that teaches ultimately to love one another and bring people to God. The hopeful new direction of the Church can best be summarized by Pope Francis’ comments.
“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 sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”