“But what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), ‘the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed.’ In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church—the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world—above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were professors of theology. Francis is a former janitor, nightclub bouncer, chemical technician and literature teacher.”
Included among Pope Francis’ new style that has won him accolades have been words and actions signaling his desire to respect and welcome LGBT people within the Catholic Church, and in society. The Time contributors write:
“The five words that have come to define both the promise and the limits of Francis’ papacy came in the form of a question: ‘Who am I to judge?’ That was his answer when asked about homosexuality by a reporter in July. Many assumed Francis, with those words, was changing church doctrine. Instead, he was merely changing its tone, searching for a pragmatic path to reach the faithful who had been repelled by their church or its emphasis on strict dos and don’ts. Years of working closely with parish priests have taught him that the church seemed more comfortable with narrow issues than human complexity, and it lost congregants and credibility in the bargain. He is urging his army to think more broadly. As he told Spadaro, “What is the confessor to do? We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. That 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.”
“In short, ease up on the hot-button issues [of abortion and gay marriage]. That might not seem like significant progress in the U.S. and other developed nations. But the Pope’s sensitivity to sexual orientation has a different impact in many developing countries, where homophobia is institutionalized, widespread and sanctioned.”
Early on in his papacy, many Catholics were elated when Pope Francis called for “open doors” at our churches and emphasized that we must become a “poor church for the poor” instead of fighting cultural battles around sexuality. These first signs were thought to fade away to business as usual in Rome, but they have not.
Pope Francis continued to challenge the Church to expand its welcome for LGBT people and others on the margins in a plane ride from Rio, in an interview with America Magazine, in calling for a Synod on the family that will include lay input collected globally, and in his latest document, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Perhaps most of all, this pope has not just said he respects people, whomever they may be, but shown he does through a daily life filled with pastoral moments among the people. Time’s headline for the Person of the Year article dubbed him “The People’s Pope.” This trend is an infectious one for Catholics all-too-ready to open wide the Catholic community’s doors to LGBT people, their families, and allies who have felt excluded.
While it is true that the pope has not changed doctrine on sexuality and LGBT issues, he has opened the doors for new processes that can eventually bring about true change. Pope Francis’ strategy seems to be one of respecting and trusting the laity of the church, and if he succeeds in that approach, we can expect important developments, particularly in the areas of marriage, sexuality, and the family.
Much work remains to foster more inclusive parishes, schools, and communities in the Church, but for now, let us celebrate Pope Francis as Time‘s Person of the Year for the good achieved so far. We congratulate the pope, thank him for his outreach, and we encourage him to do more in this direction. We hope the U.S. bishops will take note of Time’s recognition, and follow the pope’s example.
–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry