Cardinal George: On listening to the pope

Even within the church, individuals and groups that have habitually said we should ignore papal teaching, even in its solemn form of an encyclical, are now saying we should listen to Pope Francis. This is no small improvement and no meager pastoral victory!

Despite the newfound willingness of former despisers of the papal office to listen to Pope Francis, there remains a deeper challenge to what he himself would desire. Before his election, Cardinal Bergoglio warned his brother cardinals about the danger of a "self-referential" church, a self-absorbed church that speaks more about itself than about Christ. Today, ironically, it seems that many are speaking more about the pope than about either the church or Christ!

So what has Pope Francis said that has occasioned this about face in the world's judgment? Ironically, again, the pope has said we should pay attention to Christ, who wants to forgive us and whose love is always available to us. The pope began his recently published interview (see story on Page 2) with the declaration that he is a sinner. This is the first truth emphasized in the Ignatian Exercises and in the Gospel itself. What a sinner needs is forgiveness; what the self-righteous demand is approval. Self-righteousness is the biblical sin against the Holy Spirit.

The pope is neither an American liberal nor an American conservative. He is a disciple of Jesus Christ who has experienced the forgiveness and mercy of God and who wants to tell the world about it. His words fall out of the categories of American public discourse, because the one word that cannot be spoken publicly in our society is forgiveness. "Justice" in the form of punishment is the subject of half of our TV shows and three quarters of our news broadcasts. The pope, by contrast, invites us to confess our sins and taste the mercy of God. Then, in a life dedicated to sinning no more, the doctrinal and moral teaching of the church finds its place.
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