For months, the media has been spinning an exciting drama based on the odds of Pope Francis changing essential Church teachings. I have a surprise for them: Pope Francis is Catholic. No essential teachings are about to change. We might come to recognize more and more, however, how little the secular media really knows about the Church and its teachings.
First came articles speculating on whether or not Francis stayed within the confines of tradition when he didn’t distribute communion during his first Mass in St. Peter’s and chose to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass in a juvenile detention center.
Then came a slew of articles on how Pope Francis was “softening” the Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality.
Most recently, we have countless media all excited about the possibility of Francis removing the Church’s tradition of celibacy in the priesthood, based on an interview with the Pope’s newly appointed Secretary of State, Archbishop Parolin.
The end of the story? The pope is Catholic. He believes in the essential teachings of the Church. I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise, at least to Catholics.
Archbishop Parolin didn’t say anything new about celibacy and the priesthood. Celibacy had NEVER been a dogma – always a disciplinary practice. None of the former popes have claimed it to be an unchangeable doctrine; they have just pointed to the value and importance of the tradition and said they were not considering changing it. That doesn’t mean it will never change, nor does it mean that it will change.
The secular media should do a little more research before writing on subjects outside of their expertise. There ARE married priests in the Catholic Church. The commitment of priestly celibacy applies to the Latin rite; many of the Eastern Catholic rites have married priests, and, even in the Latin rite, there have been a few exceptions. Right now, there are some married priests in the Latin rite, mainly previously ordained ministers from other denominations that received a dispensation from celibacy when converting to the Catholic Church.
Francis’ message regarding homosexuality isn’t new either. In fact, it is completely compatible with statements the Church has made on homosexuality previously.
It does not surprise me that Pope Francis has done nothing to reverse or change essential teachings of the Church, even though the media has “spun” different words and actions to indicate that he has.
What does surprise me is the numbers of Catholics I’ve seen get indignant, worried, or excited as the case may be at the idea of Pope Francis changing something on the basis of secular media news. Catholics, who know their Church and the teachings of their Church should be able to recognize when the secular media is, whether willingly or unknowingly, misinterpreting something.
There are either too many Catholics that no longer know the true tenets of their faith and are taking information from the wrong sources, or too many Catholics that have been raised to blindly accept whatever the media puts forth, or both.
In the meantime, while the media keeps “breaking news” that doesn’t exist regarding Pope Francis and potential changes to Church teaching, Pope Francis’ real message is being missed, or at least, overshadowed.
If Pope Francis isn’t out to remake the Church, what is he doing and saying?
Pope Francis is leading the Church, including the Roman curia, through various reforms. These reforms, however, do not challenge the essential beliefs and moral teachings of the Church; they pertain to different systems and practices that are either unnecessary or clouding over the true mission of the Church.
Pope Francis does have a clear message. It’s not an end to priestly celibacy, or the heralding in of homosexuality as a morally acceptable option. It’s to LIVE the Christian message. Pope Francis has set a distinctive tone to his papacy from the beginning. Think again about his decision to spend Holy Thursday at the detention center. Pope Francis is someone who listens and someone who serves, and he is encouraging the entire Church to do the same. He is not straying from the teachings of the Church, but leading the members of the Church closer to their own teachings, through ACTION.
I wish that both the media and Catholics reading the media would focus less on false hopes or scares, as the case may be, about the Pope changing Catholic teachings, and focus more on the Pope’s real message and priorities.
If you’re Catholic, I wouldn’t get too concerned next time you see the headline about Francis changing an essential teaching of the Church. It just isn’t happening. He might change practices and traditions, but not basic teaching. After all, he’s the Pope. He’s Catholic.