A Pope’s heart and mind

September 22, 2013 

His early days as the Holy Father of 1.2 billion Catholics showed Pope Francis to be a gentle soul, humble, gracious, easily smiling and a man of uncommon modesty. He declined some of the trappings of office, such as the larger papal apartment, and lives in a room with a few personal treasures meaningful to him.

But with a recent interview published in Jesuit journals (the one in the United States is called “America”), the pope also demonstrates a formidable intellect and a willingness to expand the world of ideas and debate within the church.

Those who would interpret Pope Francis’ expressions of compassion and open-mindedness on the issues of abortion, contraception and the rights of gays should not, of course, take those thoughts to mean he is turning the church sharply to left or abandoning the conservative traditions of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict.

But at the least, the pope seems to be advocating that the church open its mind to discussing these matters with compassion and not just judgment.

He also touched on issues such as those who have left the church because of divorce. He indicated the church should perhaps be more open to them.

Of the church’s staunch position on abortion, contraception and the rights of gays, Pope Francis clearly expressed the view that, if those positions are firm, priests need to focus more on compassion.

“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” he said, adding, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Some Catholics have been angered, and perhaps distanced from their church, by strict doctrines and the church’s apparent unwillingness to debate them. The scandal involving the sexual abuse by priests also alienated some Catholics.

In Pope Francis, the cardinals appear to have chosen a peacemaker who is perhaps not so meek.

In the published long interview, the pope also seemed to want to clarify his personal story.

He’s aware, clearly, that in early reports people noted his choosing to live in modest quarters. But he says in the interview that the traditional papal residence is hardly ostentatious. And he lets readers see something of his family life, expressing his love for his parents and especially his grandmother. He humanized himself, in other words, connecting with average people.

This is a pope who wants others to know him, who does not wish to intimidate but to embrace. He mingles in crowds, kisses babies, blesses children and families. A pope of the people.

That philosophy now is reflected in the opening of his heart and mind on issues he surely knows have been divisive for his church.

In so doing, the pope will not necessarily abandon those traditional doctrines, but he sends the message to his bishops that they need not be afraid to discuss them and that they should be in the business of forgiveness and understanding, first and last.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service