Pope pens book

Fran­cis lays out case for mercy in first pub­li­ca­tion as pope, says God never tires of for­giv­ing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - RELIGION - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pope Fran­cis lays out his case for em­pha­siz­ing 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 mor­al­iz­ers 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. A copy was pro­vided in ad­vance to The As­so­ci­ated Press on Sun­day.

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, sig­nalling 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 crit­i­cized 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 em­pha­size 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 re­al­ize 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.

AP PHOTO

Pope Fran­cis de­liv­ers his speech dur­ing his weekly gen­eral au­di­ence in the Paul VI Hall at the Vat­i­can, this past Wed­nes­day.

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