In a remarkable papal speech that was at times poetic and characterised throughout by a gentle tone, Pope Francis today laid out a new pastoral framework for the American bishops.
Stressing that he had not come to “judge you or lecture you” the Pope sought to offer new paths for the US hierarchy to explore which reject “complicated doctrines” and “harsh and divisive language.”
Instead, the Pope said: "whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you."
THE POPE IN THE US...
The speech is significant in offering a new approach for the leadership of the Church in the United States which has, in recent years, developed a reputation for its “culture warrior” stance by waging public battles on abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
The Pope did not enter into the specifics of these issues and stressed he understood the difficulties the Church face saying that “the field in which you sow is unyielding.”
Francis, however, warned the bishops not "to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.”
Instead their strategy must be one of dialogue - both within the Church and with the world.
He said: “harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
Pope Francis speaks to US bishops at the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle (PA)
The Pope said the bishops should continue to speak out on abortion but, crucially, he linked these to the “seamless garment” of Church teaching.
These include “innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.”
For the Church in the United States to be effective, Francis explained, it needs to be “a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love.”
And he left the bishops with two suggestions: to stay close to their people and to immigrants.
The latter, the Pope concluded, “will enrich America and its Church.”
UPDATE: Francis has come under criticism for remarks he made in the speech praising the bishops' response to the clerical sexual abuse scandal. The Pope said the hierarchy had faced the problem with "courage and self-criticism" and that they had offered "generous commitment to bring healing to victims." Such remarks will jar with victims groups given numerous church leaders were found to have covered up abuse.
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