Dignity Canada Dignité

Excerpts from Interview with Pope Francis
Published Sept. 30, 2013 by the Jesuit Magazine

… when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others. (a)

The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships. (b)

This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity… (c)

“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “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. 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.... And you have to start from the ground up.

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all…(d)

… In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing. (e)

 “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This 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. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. (f)

… Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church. (g)

… in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions – that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation….

“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists – they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.” (h)

… There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths. I am afraid of laboratories because in the laboratory you take the problems and then you bring them home to tame them, to paint them, out of their context. You cannot bring home the frontier, but you have to live on the border and be audacious. (i)

The pope comments: “St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong. (j)

Excerpts from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel . November 2013

The Church is herself a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the re­vealed word and in her understanding of truth. It is the task of exegetes and theologians to help “the judgment of the Church to mature”. The other sciences also help to accomplish this, each in its own way. With reference to the social sciences, for example, John Paul II said that the Church values their research, which helps her “to derive concrete indications helpful for her magisterial mission”. Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in phi­losophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel. [40]

The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open… This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequent­ly, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its fa­cilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. [47]

If the whole Church takes up this mis­sionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explana­tions which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipi­ents of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, with­out mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them. [48]

Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm convic­tion that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challeng­ing questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to dis­cussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”. The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from bap­tism, which is accessible to all. The configura­tion of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above oth­ers. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”. Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”. Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucha­rist; this is the origin of its authority, which is al­ways a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life. [104]­

... it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. The word “solidarity” is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few…. [188]

… [the poor] have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficul­ties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to em­brace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them. [198]

The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any prob­lems. Inequality is the root of social ills. [202]

We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded. [204]

I ask God to give us more politicians ca­pable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Poli­tics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vo­cation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. We need to be convinced that charity “is the princi­ple not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their ho­rizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare… [205]

The Church has no wish to hold back the marvellous progress of science. On the contra­ry, she rejoices and even delights in acknowledg­ing the enormous potential that God has given to the human mind. Whenever the sciences – rig­orously focused on their specific field of inquiry – arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it…. [243]

Excerpts from Instrumentum Laboris published June 26, 2014 by the Vatican

Some episcopal conferences argue that the reason for much resistance to the Church’s teaching on moral issues related to the family is a want of an authentic Christian experience, namely, an encounter with Christ on a personal and communal level, for which no doctrinal presentation, no matter how accurate, can substitute. In this regard, some responses point to the insufficiency of pastoral activity which is concerned only with dispensing the sacraments without a truly engaging Christian experience. Moreover, a vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations. The responses are also in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching, namely, the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; the fragility of interpersonal relationships; a culture which rejects making permanent choices, because it is conditioned by uncertainty and transiency, a veritable “liquid society” and one with a “throw away” mentality and one seeking “immediate gratification”; and, finally, values reinforced by the so-called “culture of waste” and a “culture of the moment,” as frequently noted by Pope Francis. (# 15)

Generally speaking, the notion of “human rights” is also seen as highly subjective and a call for a person to self-determination, a process which is no longer grounded in the idea of the natural law. In this regard, many respondents relate that the legal systems in many countries are having to make laws on situations which are contrary to the traditional dictates of the natural law (for example, in vitro fertilization, homosexual unions, the manipulation of human embryos, abortion, etc.). Situated in this context is Every bishops’ conference voiced opposition to “redefining” marriage between a man and a woman through the introduction of legislation permitting a union between two people of the same sex. The episcopal conferences amply demonstrate that they are trying to find a balance between the Church's teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions. On the whole, the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral programme which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned.  (# 23)

The responses and observations widely and insistently refer to the economic hardships endured by families as well as the lack of material resources, poverty and the struggle for subsistence. This widespread phenomenon is not limited to developing countries only, but is also mentioned in responses and observations from Europe and North America. In such cases of extreme and increasing poverty, the family has to struggle for subsistence, a struggle to which the family has to devote most of its energy. Some observations call for the Church to raise a strong prophetic voice concerning poverty which puts a strain on family life. A Church which is “poor and for the poor” must not fail to make her voice heard in this area. (# 73)

On unions of persons of the same sex, the responses of the bishops' conferences refer to Church teaching. “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family. [...] Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’” (CDF, Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, 4). The responses indicate that the recognition in civil law of unions between persons of the same sex largely depends on the socio-cultural, religious and political context. In this regard, the episcopal conferences describe three instances …. (# 110)

Every bishops’ conference voiced opposition to “redefining” marriage between a man and a woman through the introduction of legislation permitting a union between two people of the same sex. The episcopal conferences amply demonstrate that they are trying to find a balance between the Church's teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions. On the whole, the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral programme which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned. (# 113)

A factor which clearly has an impact on the Church's pastoral care and one which complicates the search for a balanced attitude in this situation is the promotion of a gender ideology. In some places, this ideology tends to exert its influence even at the elementary level, spreading a mentality which, intending to eliminate homophobia, proposes, in fact, to undermine sexual identity. (# 114)

Episcopal conferences supply a variety of information on unions between persons of the same sex. In countries where legislation exists on civil unions, many of the faithful express themselves in favour of a respectful and non-judgmental attitude towards these people and a ministry which seeks to accept them. This does not mean, however, that the faithful give equal status to heterosexual marriage and civil unions between persons of the same sex. Some responses and observations voice a concern that the Church’s acceptance of people in such unions could be construed as recognition of their union. (# 115)

When considering the possibility of a ministry to these people, a distinction must be made between those who have made a personal, and often painful, choice and live that choice discreetly so as not to give scandal to others, and those whose behaviour promotes and actively — often aggressively — calls attention to it. Many conferences emphasize that, due to the fact that these unions are a relatively recent phenomenon, no pastoral programs exist in their regard. Others admit a certain unease at the challenge of accepting these people with a merciful spirit and, at the same time, holding to the moral teaching of the Church, all the while attempting to provide appropriate pastoral care which takes every aspect of the person into consideration. Some responses recommend not using phrases such as “gay,” “lesbian” or “homosexual” to define a person’s identity. (# 116)

Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality. Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life, in thoroughly examining the anthropological and theological aspects of human sexuality and the sexual difference between man and woman in order to address the issue of gender ideology. (# 117)

The great challenge will be to develop a ministry which can maintain the proper balance between accepting persons in a spirit of compassion and gradually guiding them to authentic human and Christian maturity. In this regard, some conferences refer to certain organizations as successful models for such a ministry. (# 118)

Some responses see a relation between the commonly-held contraception mentality and a pervasive gender ideology which tends to change some basic aspects of anthropology, including the meaning of the body and the difference between the sexes which is replaced with the idea of gender orientation to the point of subverting sexual identity. In this regard, many responses see a need to go beyond simply condemning this ever-pervasive ideology and to respond with persuasive argumentation against this position, now widely spreading in many western societies. In this way, the Church’s position on the subject of fatherhood and motherhood will be a strong voice in the anthropological change which some very influential persons are promoting. The response, therefore, cannot be only on the issue of contraception or natural methods, but should be placed at the level of the decisive human experience of love, discovering the intrinsic value of the difference that marks human life and its fruitfulness. (# 127)

Dignity Canada Dignité is Canada's organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about our church's sexual theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.