By Tom Quiner
When is the Catholic Church going to BEGIN talking about abortion, contraception, and homosexual sin?
I pose this provocative question in light of Pope Francis’ concern that the Church has become too focused on these issues at the expense of a more positive, radiant message of the Gospels.
I have been a Catholic for some 32 years. I attend Mass every week, as well as Holy Days of Obligation and sometimes daily Mass. Who knows, I may have been to over 2000 Masses over the years.
Out of all of those Masses, I have never heard a priest mention same-sex attractions. I have almost never heard any mention of contraception. Even references to human abortion have been fleeting, usually reserved for the annual Mass for Life at which the Bishop presides.
In other words, if we go by the sermons being said in Catholic Churches, there has certainly NOT been a focus on these subjects, at least in my corner of the world. Even more, I never hear messages about hell, even though Jesus talked about hell twice as often as he talked about heaven.
I have attended Masses throughout the country, so I’m not limiting my experience to my home parish. For the record, that does not preclude the fact that there ARE some priests who preach on these subjects, but they seem to be in the minority.
So who is Pope Francis talking to when he cautions us not to get too focused on these issues?
A visiting priest said something interesting in a homily a couple years ago. He said “we owe you an apology.” By we, he meant the priesthood. He said that our priests had ignored these subjects the past 40 years because they were such difficult (and unpopular) topics.
During these 40 years, Catholic Church attendance declined and these sins proliferated.
At the same time, our evangelical and fundamentalist Christian brothers and sisters DID address these issues. They DID address the consequence of sin. They DID call on Christians to be accountable to their faith. And their church attendance soared.
So, am I saying that Pope Francis is wrong?
No. I am trying to square his message with my personal experience with my Church. Here is the conflict: the Church tells us that human abortion, contraception use, and acting on homosexual impulses is sinful. Pope Francis acknowledges this. The Church will never change its positions on these issues. However, a substantial percentage of Catholics believe these actions are not sinful, that these are not barriers to our relationship to Christ, resulting in comments like this one from a Catholic that appeared in the Des Moines Register’s letters to the editor:
“As a Catholic, I welcome the message from Pope Francis recognizing that the church has focused too much attention on abortion, gays and contraception.
His heart is in the right place, and his bold move to say we need “a new balance” to deliver the church’s message is refreshing. Saying, “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant.” That is truly a breath of fresh air.
Speaking on the role of the church, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.” He is reaching out to the believers who felt the message had been too focused on abortion and gays. If we are to believe that Jesus spread a message of love, then it is difficult to reconcile that with what was sometimes being preached from the pulpit.
The message of forgiveness, acceptance and love are universal in most religions.
I applaud Pope Francis and his message. Maybe the more conservative Catholics can accept this message and get on the bandwagon of hope.”
I, too, applaud the Pope’s message of seeing the beauty of Christ in each person. In fact, it is my experience in the pro life movement that has helped cultivate this very thing in me. The beauty of God’s creation is central to the Gospel of Life.
So why do we “conservative” Catholics/Christians talk about these subjects?
We’re simply responding to the culture, the politicians, the judges, the legislators, and the purveyors of modern entertainment, who bring the subject up first by trying to normalize sin. We are simply trying to respond to those, including many sitting next to us in the pews at Mass, who tell us that human abortion, contraception, and so-called gay marriage are not only NOT sins, but that they are GOOD things, such as the letter writer above, (based on this and her previous letters in the newspaper).
Here is my take away from Pope Francis. We need balance and context in our pursuits. We need to look for Christ in those with whom we disagree. We need to lovingly engage them. We need to live the Gospel and proclaim the beauty of our faith and our Church.
And we need to stand up for the Truth.
I’ll be praying outside of Planned Parenthood tomorrow with members of my parishes’ Respect Life committee. Proponents of human abortion call our actions “protesting,” but in fact, we will be praying in a very Catholic way, by invoking our Blessed Mother to pray with us.
Is Pope Francis suggesting we shouldn’t be doing this? Heck no.
He’d be right there with us.