Pope Francis lays out case for mercy in first book as pope

January 10, 2016 10:00 pm

 
Francis arrives to celebrate a baptism ceremony of 26 babies at the
Vatican. Photo / L’Osservatore Romano/pool photo via AP. Right, the
cover of his new book. AP photo / Andrew Medichin

lays out his case for emphasising the merciful face
of the Catholic Church in his first book as pontiff, saying God never
tires of forgiving and actually prefers the sinners who repent over
self-righteous moralisers who don’t.
The Name of God Is Mercy,
a 100-page conversation with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, is
being published this week in 86 countries to help kick-start Francis’
Holy Year of Mercy.
In the book, Francis condemns what he calls
the “scholars of law” ” the doctrinaire-minded rigorists who throughout
the history of the church have challenged Jesus’ message of
unconditional love and mercy for even the most wretched of sinners. He
says often these self-righteous Christians are hypocrites themselves,
using the law to hide their own “deep wounds.”
“These are men who
live attached to the letter of the law but who neglect love; men who
only know how to close doors and draw boundaries,” Francis is quoted as
saying.

Francis has rankled many conservatives with his frequent
dismissals of theological and legalistic arguments stressing doctrine
over his more pastoral message of welcome and mercy for society’s most
marginal. The clash in approaches has been particularly evident in
recent church debates over marriage and divorce.
“We must avoid
the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights
of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother’s eye
while remaining unaware of the beam in his own,” Francis says. “Let us
always remember that God rejoices more when one sinner returns to the
fold than when 99 righteous people have no need of repentance.”
The
Vatican is officially launching the book Tuesday with a high-level
panel discussion featuring Francis’ secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro
Parolin, and Life Is Beautiful actor Roberto Benigni, signaling the importance Francis places on getting the message out.
In
the book, Francis insists that his now-infamous “Who am I to judge”
comment about gays was merely a repetition of the church’s teaching on
homosexuality. Francis won praise from gays with the comment, uttered
during his first press conference in 2013. But many conservatives have
criticised the remark as vague and incomplete since church teaching also
holds that gay acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
Francis says
the church has long held that gays should be treated with dignity and
respect and seen as individuals. And he goes to some length throughout
the text to cite scripture and previous popes to make clear that his
radical agenda is fully rooted in the church’s basic teachings.
“People
should not be defined only by their sexual tendancies: Let us not
forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive
his infinite love,” he says. “I prefer that homosexuals come to
confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all
together. You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way,
and accompany them along it.”
Francis has made clear from the
start of his pontificate that his would be a papacy focused on mercy,
and he called a jubilee year to emphasise it. Throughout the book,
Francis refers repeatedly to his own ministry to prostitutes and
prisoners in Argentina, showing how his own personal encounters with
society’s outcasts have shaped his view about the faith and formed the
bedrock of his papacy.
As a confessor, Francis is quoted as
saying, “I have always tried to find a crack, just a tiny opening so
that I can pry open that door and grant forgiveness and mercy.”
But
Francis’ opening isn’t a free-for-all: He says of course prisons can’t
throw their doors open and let violent criminals out onto the streets.
But he says once a debt is paid, prisoners must be reintegrated back
into society and welcomed. And he distinguishes between ordinary and
even repeat sinners and those who are corrupt, saying corruption is a
condition, a state of life and often a hypocritical one incompatible
with Christianity.
“The corrupt man often doesn’t realise his own condition, much as a person with bad breath doesn’t know they have it,” he says.
Some
conservatives have balked at Francis’ mercy-over-morals priorities,
saying it has sent confusing messages to the faithful especially after
two previous popes spent so much time stressing doctrine. Even some
cardinals have called on Francis to make clear-cut policy statements on
certain hot-button issues, especially on the divisive question of
whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive communion.
Church teaching holds that, if these Catholics are living in sin, they cannot receive the sacraments.
Francis
launched a two-year study on the issue and other matters related to
Catholic family life, and is expected to weigh in this year with a
document on whether any accommodation can be found.
In the book,
Francis doesn’t commit himself one way or the other, but he indicated
that his ultimate decision may draw on a personal experience.
Francis
recounts that one of his nieces wanted to marry a man who had children
from a previous marriage but hadn’t yet obtained an annulment, a church
decree that his first marriage was null.
The couple got married
in a civil ceremony and went on to have three children. Francis recalls
that every Sunday when they went to Mass the man went to confession and
told the priest that he knew he couldn’t be absolved from the sin of
adultery, but he asked for a blessing.
“This is a religiously mature man,” Francis said.
Progressives,
led by the German bishops, have said such religiously mature Catholics
should be allowed to participate fully in the life of the church,
including receiving the sacraments.

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