- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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Pope Francis unveiled his blueprint for a decentralised and more pastoral Church that is focused on the needs of those within and outside it rather than preoccupied with its own prestige.
His first major document as Pope, Evangelii Gaudium (“The joy of the Gospel”), was issued today at the Vatican. Starting with a call for the Church to embrace the new evangelisation with joy, he went on to describe how the Church should engage with the world.
In it he called for a “sound decentralisation” of the way the Church is run, saying that the “collegial spirit”, whereby local bishops would take a greater share in decision-making, “has not yet been fully realised”.
“It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory,” he wrote.
Regarding access to the sacraments, he said the doors of the sacraments should not be closed for "simply any reason". “The Eucharist … is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” Francis insists.
Within the Church, Francis called for “a more incisive female presence” and opportunities for young Catholics to exercise greater leadership.
He urged Catholics to guard against “defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’”. And he had harsh words for people who “feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.”
“A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying,” he wrote. “In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others … It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.”
Francis also called for greater cultural diversity within the Church, which he said should be tied to “modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history”. Missionaries should not “impose a specific cultural form” when reaching new peoples with the Gospel.
Francis then looked at the Church’s relations with Muslims, and pleaded with leaders of Islamic nations. “I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practise their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!”
He pointed to the importance of conscience, saying that non-believers who were faithful to their consciences can live “justified by the grace of God”, and were recipients of practical wisdom from the Holy Spirit that helped people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony.
He also voiced concern for the weakest members of society, highlighting the cause of the unborn, migrants, and victims of human trafficking.
Read the document in full here.