To the editor:
Last month, I wrote a letter expressing optimism that Pope Francis might bring about real shifts in direction, attitude, and priorities at the Vatican (the Times, letters, Saturday, Aug. 24).
I was optimistic for two primary reasons.
The first was “El Papa’s” prominent display of a photo of the assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Mass “El Papa” celebrated in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most destitute slums in July.
Oscar Romero and his legacy had long been ignored by the Vatican under the leadership of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI because they were right wingers politically and theologically who disapproved strongly of Romero’s passionate advocacy for the poor and vocal criticisms of the brutal, right wing, U.S.-backed Salvadoran government.
The second reason for my optimism stemmed from “El Papa’s” response to a question in an interview about gay priests on his return flight to Rome from that trip to Brazil.
When asked how he felt about gay priests, in his direct and gentle style, the pope answered with this question: “Who am I to judge?”
That is why news about the pope’s most recent interview has stoked my optimism about where the Catholic Church may be headed in the years ahead.
He made no calls to radically change long standing Church doctrine, but only to rethink how that doctrine is applied and practiced. In answer to one question in the recently released interview in La Civilta Catolica, a Jesuit publication, regarding gay men and lesbians, “El Papa” again answered the question with a question:
“A person once asked me in a provocative manner if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question; ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must first always consider the person.”
Francis was then asked what “... to think with the Church,” — a phrase coined and used by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order — meant to him.
His answer was yet another reason for great optimism among so many Catholics, like myself, who’ve grown disillusioned and disheartened by the right-wing, intolerant, unforgiving, and exclusionary political and theological dogma that emanated from the Vatican for more than 35 years under John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
His exact words were, “This Church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal Church to a nest protecting our own mediocrity.”
To that sentiment, all I can say is “Amen, ‘Papa’, amen!”