Recently, the United Nations issued a report chiding the Holy See for not doing enough to safeguard children from sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and called on the church to change its teachings concerning abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
The report disregards the serious and fruitful changes implemented by the church over the last 10-plus years concerning safe environment for children, and obviously sees the church as the major obstacle in the UN global crusade for “gay marriage” and “reproductive rights.”
The issues surrounding the Health and Human Services mandate, which would force religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance that covers contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients, in violation of conscience, still go unresolved.
Many court cases concerning this denial of religious liberty are still in adjudication. The stay given by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor regarding the Little Sisters of the Poor case offers some hope of relief.
In some states, Catholic Charities has been forced out of adoption services because it will not offer children to homosexual couples. On the federal level, Catholic Charities received the highest marks from the government as the best and most efficient provider of counseling and medical services to victims of human trafficking.
Because it would not provide contraceptives or abortion counseling, however, the government has cut off all funding to Catholic Charities for such purposes.
These three examples point to movements within our culture that would like to marginalize the church’s voice in the public square concerning fundamental principles of moral teaching. If only we would change our convictions regarding the integrity of human sexuality and the dignity of human life, or at least stopped talking about them in public, then the Catholic Church would be acceptable to most.
But, as it stands, we are a major obstacle to freedom of sexual expression and human happiness in the eyes of many, at least at the United Nations.
Pope Francis has rightfully focused the world’s attention on the love and mercy of God poured out for all people in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This invitation to experience the unconditional love of God as the fundamental and principal Good News is absolutely the right approach and is the core conviction of Catholicism.
This divine love, once accepted, does not leave us alone or unchanged. God calls us to conversion of heart and morals as we come to learn and live the truth that sets us free, the teachings that the church consistently articulates as divinely revealed and inscribed in the human conscience.
Although such comments do not grab global headlines, Pope Francis has spoken this past year about the tragedy of abortion, the intrinsic definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, and the beauty of the church’s sexual teachings.
Leading with mercy, kindness and unconditional acceptance of every person is not contradictory or in opposition to the liberating truth of Christ. Love and truth, tenderness and orthodoxy, joy and penance, purity and pleasure all fit wonderfully together in Catholicism. Our culture does not understand such connections easily.
Jesus’ ministry was profoundly public. He preached to thousands in vast open spaces; he healed the sick and cast out demons in town squares and synagogues; he conversed with religious leaders in the temple precincts; he suffered a crucifixion witnessed by scores of people in a public execution.
There was nothing hidden or private or marginal about Jesus’ preaching and healing that was not made known. He lived the transparency of an evangelizing life that called out from the housetops.
In a culture that speaks of “freedom of worship” rather than “religious liberty,” that wants us to stop talking about inconvenient and difficult moral truths, that will only let us minister and serve for the common good on its terms, ignoring the rights of conscience, we must be more public in our faith witness than ever before.
Not in a harsh, defiant, in-your-face approach, but in the joyful, affable and loving proposal offered by this charismatic pope from a new world.
Like Christ, Pope Francis and the church want to hold the whole world in an embrace of mercy and tenderness, and like a gentle mother, whisper the wisdom and goodness that, deep down, we long and need to hear.