How big was the bang? Was the pope's interview really "explosive"?
Pope Francis keeps scoring big wins on the media front, most recently with his wide-ranging interview, published in English in America magazine--and well worth the read, if you want a peek into the soul of a good pastor who may become a pastoral pope. International news media were quick to pick up on the sensation, eager to turn the pope's remark about the church getting obsessed with "small-minded rules" into a signal of big changes coming. Religion News Service headlined the interview as "explosive"--but how big was the actual bang?
I count myself among those delighted by the interview--and generally delighted by Jorge Maria Bergoglio himself (though I would have wished for a little less emphasis on the Jesuits from the Jesuit interviewer!). But my takeaway from the pope's interview is simply: I've thought these things for a long time, and many Catholics I know have as well. We have all longed for a church in which the needs of the poor are brought to the fore, in which rules are always held in relation to the needs and situations of actual people (as in the case of divorce and remarriage), and in which the dignity of LGBT people is fully acknowledged even as most Catholics (including heterosexual people) struggle with sexual morality. And I think we all agree that discernment is the key to the renewal of the church, along with some much-needed structural reform.
In other words, Pope Francis is saying what many Catholics the world over have long been thinking--which marks a decisive shift in attitude, and one not diminished by his comments yesterday about the dignity of human life in the womb. I'm sure I join many Catholics in celebrating the fact that the bishop of Rome is a man who is first a pastor. And yet, that could all change tomorrow if the pope, God forbid, should die and be replaced by someone without that sensitivity.
In that light, the work I hope Pope Francis will do is to seek a church reform in which the message and emphasis of the Roman Catholic Church does not rest so much on the personality of the bishop of Rome. The actual person in Peter's chair will always matter, and if Pope Francis can begin a reform in which the pope's role is to moderate and lead the people of God in living an adult faith--one that does not rely so much on the judgments of the guy sitting in Peter's chair--that would truly be explosive. Papa Bergoglio has taken some intriguing steps in that direction in a mere six months. Let's hope there is more to come.