This past week has seen some startling news headlines concerning Pope Francis and the teaching of the Church. For some, if we rely solely on those headlines, it signals a ‘change’ in the direction of the Church’s teaching – maybe even, some news commentators excitedly suggest, a change in the Church’s doctrine. They trumpet a headline like, ‘Pope says Church can’t be obsessed with abortion’ and launch into articles which, if we read them, quite obviously show that the writers either didn’t hear or read fully what the Pope said, or (even more obviously) that the writers or analysts do not grasp the Church’s teaching to begin with.
This is where I often caution friends who get excited about these news articles; as someone who worked in the media a number of years ago, I remind my friends that news media are in the business of making money. They sell advertising and they sell subscriptions, and those sales are based on the size of their audience. The audience grows with the more sensational headline or commentary – accuracy and truth have little to do with it;completely factual accounts of what exactly has transpired or what has been said are irrelevant compared to audience ‘reach’..
It was interesting to see reporters and commentators and announcers go into all sorts of contortions to say the Pope’s words in one lengthy interview signalled a change in the Church’s position on moral issues; and the next day the Pope, in an address to doctors, reiterated the Church’s teaching that abortion is murder. The silence was deafening as far as the coverage of the latter address was concerned.
If any commentator or analyst or anyone else wants to know really what the Church’s position is or will be on all manner of doctrinal or moral or faith issues, then all they have to do is read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That is the Church’s teaching, and Pope Francis has said nothing, in any address or homily or interview to contradict the Church’s teaching in any matter.
When the secular media or anyone else says the Church is obsessed with certain issues like abortion or same-sex marriage or married priests, it is because that is all the media or special interest groups ever want to talk about in relation to the Church. They don’t want to talk about the Church’s teachings on social justice, on interpersonal relations, on mercy, charity or love. They only want to talk about the single most burning issue on their minds – not the Church’s or even the majority of Catholics in the world.
Pope Francis , like Pope Benedict before him and like Blessed Pope John Paul II before him, has emphasized that Catholics are called to follow all the Church’s teachings – even if they make us uncomfortable; we are to reach out in love to all people, welcoming them into our Church; we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick and the dying. We are to love the sinner, but hate the sin; but we are also to protect the widow and orphan, follow the commandments of God, proclaim the Gospel and live out the teaching of Jesus handed down to us by the Apostles through the Church.
We are reminded, as were Jesus’ first followers, that we are either faithful to what has been given us or not. We follow God’s will, or our own. We are invited to enter into His kingdom and given the means of entering it; or we can refuse to follow the means of entering and go our own way.
No amount of media coverage, commentary, or opinion is going to alter this basic truth; we choose to follow the Church’s teaching or we choose to follow worldly opinion and desires. We can’t do both. And this is where this Sunday’s Gospel from St. Luke (16:1-13) emphasizes this point.
Jesus says, ”Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” And He goes on to say, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
No amount of ink or coverage will change the Church’s position on faith and morals. No amount of commentary will change what Pope Francis is teaching, because the Church’s position and the Holy Father’s position are the same.
We are to be children of light, people of God; following God’s will by serving and loving Him, and serving and loving each other. Nothing more, nothing less.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!