Pope Francis has my admiration because I hear the voice of love speaking through him. He always stresses God’s infinite mercy.
People Accuse Pope Francis
Recently, a ninety-three-year-old atheist accused him of denying the existence of hell. This man who has nothing but contempt for Christianity delighted in causing an uproar. The Pope denied his claim as a bogus reconstruction of what he misheard. The Pope’s denial is good enough for me.
One thing is certain from what the Pope said was this: anyone who commits a mortal sin and dies unrepentant does not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Purgatory exists for those who receive mercy because of some excusing causes like ignorance and/or human weakness. Nevertheless, until their sins are washed away by their repentance they cannot enter heaven.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3: 16-17)
Mercy seems like laxity to those who became alarmed when Pope Francis urged Catholics to rely more on their conscience in resolving personal moral issues.
Affirming freedom of conscience is an act of intellectual honesty and a way of being both merciful and understanding. These are God-like qualities.
In 2016, 2016 Episcopal Commission for Doctrine Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote The Beauty of Mercy: Pope Francis and Confession, explaining that Pope Francis’s sense of mercy does not imply an attitude of leniency towards sin:
being merciful is not the same as being lenient as a confessor – nor is being rigid a way to offer mercy, Pope Francis says that neither the lax nor the rigid confessor “treats the penitent as a brother, taking him by the hand and accompanying him in his conversion!” Rather, the truly merciful confessor listens, accompanies, and encourages.
Pope Francis states:
“Mercy means carrying the burden of a brother or sister and helping them walk… The confessor who prays, the confessor who weeps, the confessor who knows that he is more a sinner than the penitent, and if he himself has never done the bad thing that the penitent speaks of, it is but for the grace of God. Merciful is be Merciful is being close and accompanying the process of conversion,”
Very few annulments were granted in the 1960’s and 70’s, because of canonical rigidity. When Pope Francis was elected, it wasn’t long before he began urging Catholics to rely more on their consciences, and that was music to my ears. Reliance on conscience is a long-established principle of Moral Theology.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson at the time, reported that Pope Francis was saying that in grave situations a well-formed conscience can be relied upon. The responsibility and gravity of the situation were to be determined by the parties themselves.
On July 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “If someone is gay, and sincerely searches for the Lord, and has good will, who am I to judge?” He immediately received a flood of criticism for that quote, but the parents of gay children felt genuine solace. While he did not endorse same-sex marriage, he did say there could be some sort of civil union to protect their civil rights. He opposes promiscuity in general.
Conservative Catholics Are Fearful
Conservative Catholics are usually fearful that any relaxation of the laws pertaining to marriage and divorce and contraception, would threaten the Church’s broader stance on medical ethics and sexual issues. This is an understandable concern, but not an insurmountable one. Freedom of conscience is a human right. Granted it can be abused, but it must be protected. Every right can be abused.
Pope Paul VI affirmed the immoral nature of artificial contraception in his Encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.” Pope Francis is preparing for the canonization of Pope Paul, and he has remained firm in his opposition to those who refuse to have children because it interferes with their lifestyle. Nevertheless, he respects the consciences of those who are struggling to find the strength to raise children in today’s world.
Pope Francis agrees with the various National Hierarchies who have instructed the laity that they may use of private conscience in resolving these matters. He also highlighted Paul VI’s instruction to priests, urging them to show compassion in the confessional in matters involving human weakness.
What I admire most about Pope Francis are his Christ-like qualities, humility, compassion, and kindness.
May the Lord be your strength and your joy.
By Father John Catoir JCD
Father John Catoir, the former president of the Catholic Press Association, received the St. Francis de Sales Award in 1993 for outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism.