The middle ground between the cardinal and the Jesuit – the pastoral duty of the Church

Cardinal Robert Sarah’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, published on Friday, is a clear-headed and factual explanation of how and why the Catholic Church relates to people with same-sex attraction the way she does, but also how she fails to relate to them. Because, like Fr. James Martin SJ says, to name but one person who looks at the issue somewhat differently than the Church as a whole does, there is room for improvement in this matter.

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There are two lines of thought to consider here which, I think, are represented pretty well by Cardinal Sarah and Father Martin respectively. On the one hand, there is the unchanging teaching, outlined by the cardinal in his article, taking seriously the message of Jesus Christ, who invites us to a high but achievable standard, to the fulfillment of our human potential and calling. On the other hand, there is the concern voiced by many people that the Church is harsh, even discriminatory in this teaching or, more often, in the way she translates it into daily practice. Fr. Martin often speaks about building bridges towards people with same-sex attraction, and Cardinal Sarah also acknowledges this when he says that the Church must “determine whether [she is] reaching out effectively to a group in need”.

BvUyZbwkI am not joining into the Catholic social media tradition of bashing either Cardinal Sarah or Father Martin for their positions or approach, even though I find myself agreeing with the Cardinal more. But that’s no excuse to attack anyone.

The Catholic teachings regarding sexuality, relationships and sin are well-developed and deserve to be taken seriously. The same is true for the pastoral obligations the Church – meaning all of us Catholics – has towards people who, for whatever reason, fail in living up to those teachings. We have no excuse to discriminate, express hate or loathing towards anyone. When people feel they are being hated or discriminated against, we must take their feelings seriously. In the first place by listening, followed by examining if we make a mistake, and if so, what mistake. Both Cardinal Sarah and Father Martin would agree with this, I believe.

If we take Jesus and His word, the foundation of the teachings of the Church, seriously, these must be the framework and basis of everything we say and do. Jesus would eat and speak with sinners – so should we. He would also explain what they should change in their lives. We are called to exercise that same respect. Father Martin says we should build a bridge – to sit and listen. Cardinal Sarah tells us to be rooted in the teachings of Christ – to admonish and teach. Both sitting and teaching are expressions of the respect due to every person.

Photo credit: [1] PA, [2] Fr. Martin on Twitter

Some personal thoughts about The Interview

Pope-with-Fr_-SpadaroSo, the obligatory Pope Francis interview blog post… I’m not going to analyse it very much. Others have done so much better than I ever could, but, as ever, the warning for everyone wanting to know what the Pope said stands: read his words, not those reported in most mainstream media. The interview can be read in English here and in Dutch here.

There are a few things I can and will say about it, though. First of all, the way that this interview was published, simultaneously in several languages, is worth noting. On Twitter, Father James Martin SJ joked:

But in all seriousness, prepping several translations and publishing them in various journals and magazines at the same time deserves to be noted, not least in the Vatican. It prevents the rise of rumours, misunderstanding and avoids the risk of not being noticed (as many documents on the Vatican website, which are published in several languages, still are for many faithful).

Personally, I found the interview a bit dense to read, but refreshing. In all honesty, I a still getting used to Pope Francis. He is so different from Pope Benedict XVI, who was the Pope for all of my Catholic life (all of five years…), until last March. A serious reading of the interview shows that Francis and Benedict are not that different after all, although their personalities and priorities certainly are. Shocking as some oneliners may seem for too many, they, not even the Holy Father’s comments about topics such as abortion and same-sex marriage, really are not at odds with what the Church has been teaching for centuries. Pope Francis simply emphasises other things than his predecessors wanted or succeeded to do. And in doing so, he may well succeed in explaining these teachings, this faith of ages, anew. And in that light, how painful, how shameful it is that too many media outlets simply take the chance to put Pope against Pope – as if Benedict was the old meanie whose policies are now being reverted by good Pope Francis. Rubbish.

This interview is exciting. It allows us to get to know Pope Francis on a far more personal level than before. From his preferences in music and films to his prayer habits and his certainties (and doubts) in the faith. Our faith, our Church, is built on a relationship, of course: the relationship between man and God. Relationships also play an important role on other levels of the Church. And how we relate to our Pope is one of those levels. If we know him, we can form a relationship with him, even if it is a one-sided one since he can impossibly know all of us.

So, thanks, Holy Father, for sharing a glimpse of your life and personality. It’s so easy to be critical of an anonymous man in white, but we can follow a person, with wishes, hopes, dreams, doubts, fears and faith.