Region’s Catholics reflect on call for compassion from Pope Francis
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org September 21, 2013 7:12PM
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:42AM
Some Catholics in Northwest Indiana say Pope Francis’ comments about pastors emphasizing compassion when discussing divisive social issues reflect his commitment to reaching out to people in need.
The pope, in a 12,000-word article released Thursday by a Jesuit journal, discussed his belief that the Catholic Church had become obsessed by “small-minded rules” about how to be faithful. The pope said it’s not necessary to talk about hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality and birth control all the time.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” Francis said. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
The Rev. Joseph Pawlowski, who serves St. Paul Catholic Church in Valparaiso and as vicar general for the Diocese of Gary, said the excerpts of the interview don’t reflect any change in church teaching but a reinforcement of his focus.
“What he’s saying is we should not be pushing people away from the gospel,” Pawlowski said. “He’s a very pastoral man. And that’s what Jesus did; he didn’t shut out any particular group — whether it was the Pharisees or tax collectors — even if they didn’t like them.”
Some U.S. bishops have already publicly voiced dismay that Francis hasn’t hammered home church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, but Francis said it’s not necessary to talk about those issues all the time. U.S. bishops were behind Pope Benedict’s crackdown on American nuns, who were accused of letting doctrine take a backseat to their social justice work caring for the poor — precisely the priority Francis is endorsing.
The pope’s comments demonstrated a contrast between him and his predecessors — Benedict XVI and John Paul II, who were doctrinal conservatives. Their viewpoints guided the selection of bishops and cardinals, and Pawlowski said Francis will likely do the same. Francis has eschewed some of the pomp and ceremony of the Vatican, preferring to stay in a hotel and calling up people who are struggling with tough life decisions.
“If anything, it’s consistent with who he is. The gospel is not an abstraction but a lived life,” Pawlowski said. “Pope Francis told delegates that he is looking for people like him who have a pastoral perspective.”
The Rev. Rick Orlinski, who serves St. John Bosco and St. Joseph parishes in Hammond, said the pope’s down-to-earth style is rare.
“They asked when he prays and he said when he goes to the dentist,” Orlinski said. “It’s not necessarily world-changing, but it’s been a long time since a pope has had that personal touch — maybe John XXIII.”
Francis’ approach may help to re-engage disaffected Catholics, Orlinski said.
“We tend to think that the church is not in close connection with them as a person,” Orlinski said. “When they listen to Pope Francis, maybe they think there’s a place for them in the church.”
Some parishioners from Northwest Indiana said the pope’s comments reflect an adjustment to the realities of life and a shift to a more welcoming community of faith.
Arlen Westphal, 69, attending Mass on Saturday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center in Valparaiso, said it was about time the faith started moving toward a more progressive message.
“It’s not fair to say, just because you’re gay, you’re not going to go to heaven,” Westphal said.
Silvia Garza, 51, also attending the Mass in Valparaiso, said Francis’ approach aligns closer to her own views: that God is all-loving and all-forgiving of all sins.
“God is not selective,” Garza said. “He loves us all no matter who we are.”
The Associated Press and Post-Tribune staff writer Matt Mikus contributed to this report.