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OPINION - A most peculiar Pope

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) God bless Pope Francis.

His Holiness has been doing something unusual in his spare time. He’s asked his aides to gather some of the prayer requests from tourists who visit the Sistine Chapel. He reads some of them in his apartment and has been making phone calls to some of the writers. Several Italian tabloids have reported on the calls, which usually starts with, “Hello, this is the Pope.” This will probably have to stop. Most of the call is spent trying to convince the person on the other end of the line that this isn’t a joke. Then he prays with them.

By now you’ve heard of the humility of Pope Francis, and some of his controversial and seeming conflicting statements about gays, birth control, the role of women in the church, and who does and doesn’t get into Heaven. None of that is particularly important.

There is a paradigm shift happening right before our eyes, and not everyone realizes it.

The Catholic Church presents the papacy as the embodiment of Jesus Christ on Earth. The Pope is infallible, without sin, divinely chosen to lead the Church. The Pope isn’t one of us. He’s more divine than man. And Francis rejects all of that, insisting he’s a pilgrim seeking God just like the rest of us. He’s only more qualified than we are because he’s devoted his life to questions religion and faith. Francis is more like the old testament prophets; seemingly ordinary people chosen to deliver God’s messages.

I can’t present myself as an expert theologian. But in this Pope I see more of Jesus’ teachings than any other time in my life. Religion isn’t a hammer used to beat other people down. Instead it instructs you and me on how to live our lives and what our relationship to God should be. Those are questions that will take a lifetime to ponder, and leave very little time to be bogged down in the shortcomings of others. I have more than enough of my own faults to examine before casting stones. The Pope’s warnings about obsession with small-minded rules is no accident.

Consider a gay man raised in the Catholic church as a child. Should he be cut off from the church forever because of his sexuality? What about a woman who gets an abortion? Does her guilt and shame never end? The drug addict, the criminal, the prostitute… are the church doors closed to them? I’m divorced. Am I damned? I believe all of the above are sins. But only by welcoming sinners into the church might they examine themselves and consider the possibility that there’s a better way. The psalmist tells us ...as far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. Christ sought out exactly these types of sinners for his ministry. These are the ones Pope Francis calls out to rediscover their faith. And he tells the rule-followers do not to push them away.

The Pope’s message of inclusiveness is important, and so far it’s been mostly received as a series of breaks from church dogma. That’s unfortunate. How long until we realize that the Almighty has given us the right person at the right time to lead His church?

Chris Conley
9.20.13