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pope in philly

The temptation to remind us that Jesus said the world would hate his disciples, and then comment on the disjunction between that and the Pope’s reception in America, has not always been resisted, and, with the Synod on the Family almost upon us, one can almost touch the tension; whatever the Pope’s achievements, making his flock feel as though they were safe from wolves appears not to be one of them. We should, I think, beware of seeing things in terms of the American ‘culture wars’ however tempting that is. To say that a man opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage is a ‘liberal’ is a strange definition of that word. It would be a brave person who said they knew precisely what the Pope wants on the issue of marriage, but in so far as I can work it out, it looks rather as though he’d like to make it less difficult for people to get a decision on whether their failed marriage was valid or not, whilst tightening up on marriage preparation; that might not pleases everyone, but it seems an over-reaction ot see it as Catholic approval of divorce; but then over-reaction is something Pope Francis attracts in the way wild flowers do honey bees.

Everything we see of the Pope is through the media, and the media always has its own agenda; that he speaks in Spanish and that the media in pretty illiterate when it comes to Catholic teching, all combine to make the problem of public perception even more difficult. It seems unfair to criticise Francis for talking about the need for ‘love’ and ‘mercy’ by saying the Church has always preached that, when nothing he has said implies the opposite. It would be equally unbalanced to say that the Church has always practised what it preached; much as those of us here who are Catholics dislike the tone of much that Bosco says about the Church, it is a reminder that some of the things it has done has made such smears easier to believe.

Would it be better for the Church if the Pope were hated and despised? It would, I suppose, depend on what he was being hated for? Those committed to a totalitarian view of same-sex marriage will continue to hate the Pope because he upholds Catholic teachin; the same will be true of those hoping for women priests (not, one would have thought, a hugely popular cause outside Catholics of a certain age?) or for Catholic approval of divorce. Whatever alarmists claim, these things are not going to happen; they cannot as they run counter to the teaching of the Church.

Is it possible, as in the area of declarations of nulluty, to make changes which might be helpful from a pastoral point of view? Yes, it is, and if there are other areas, then the Church has a duty to explore them and to see what can be done. The world has changed, and the pressures it puts on ordinary Catholics are greater in some ways than ever before. Divorce is at an all-time high, family life more complex, and the temptations to which people are exposed likewise. For the Church to react by adapting to these things by accepting them, would be wrong; but it would be wrong for it not to consider how to react to the places in which so many Catholics find themselves. If it is mindful of its own failures in catechesis, that will help.

So yes, it is easy and tempting to imagine that if the world seems to love the Pope, the Pope must be wrong, but we should resist temptation.

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