Call it “The Francis Way” or the “Way of Francis.” Know that it is different. It belongs neither to the right nor to the left. It is neither liberal nor conservative, socialistic or capitalistic, Democrat or Republican, Vandal or Bronco.
Instead, it is firmly grounded in words directly attributable to Jesus in two commandents 1) You shall love your neighbor as yourself; and 2) Judge not lest ye be judged.
Pope Francis clearly lets the two commandments guide him, the result of which is a Catholic Church that is becoming more compassionate as this Pope teaches the clergy and laity alike to be more tolerant.
In a remarkable 256-page apostolic exhortation on “Family Life,” the Pope admits the obvious---the “family unit” across the world is changing and one cannot promulgate a one-size-fits-all definition. The traditional family unit we baby boomers thought the norm was Cleaver’s in the mid-50s television show, Leave It to Beaver: a father, a mother (who vacumed the rugs in a dress and pearls), married and two children both their biological progeny.
The “family,” however¸ has changed dramatically in 60 years. The Cleaver “family” comprises less than 20 percent of the population in many parts of the United States. There are more couples living together before they marry, if they marry at all. There are more single-parent housesholds, more grandparents raising their grandchildren, more same sex couples than ever before. There are more divorced people who are practicing Catholics and in good conscience still take communion despite the Church forbidding it, if they have remarried, until the first marriage is annulled.
Pope Francis also appears to understand the American Constitution better than his “conservative” critics. He gets what separation of Church and State truly means.
Take the subject of gay marriages. Within the Catholic Church marriage is a sacrament and a sacred, mystical union between a man and a woman the purpose of which is to bind the couple even closer through the intimacy of sex and propagate the species.
The Church will never change that position. However, this Pope understands that in secular society the State strives for equality and equal distribution of rights to all. Therefore, one can speculate that the “Francis Way” understands secular society has recognized that two people of the same gender can cohabit, can have visitation rights and inheritence rights. This would fall under the render unto Caesar solution proposed by Christ.
Call it a civil union, call it gay marriage, call it whatever but recognize the individuals involved are largely decent people seeking love in this lonely old world who can and do undertake vows to each other which they in good conscience believe to be every bit as binding as a Catholic’s sacramental marriage.
So long as the State does not try to dictate to the Church what its sacraments are, they can co-exist. The “Francis Way” is pushing decision making down to the diocesan and parish level. He is saying to bishops and priests, embrace those divorced Catholics, the single parents, the gays and lesbians, the transgendered and make them feel welcomed. You can accept the individual without embracing the philosophy, just like in the old days when Democrats and Republicans could be friends and still not agree.
Leave judgment to God. The “Francis Way” is to recognize Christ in everybody. One premise is an absolute verity: We are all sinners. We must love sinners but not our sins.
Today, almost every couple, whether heterosexual or homosexual, has had sex before marriage and many have cohabited. A sizable majority are guilty of fornication. For Catholics that is a major sin. For secular society, it is a simple fact of life and rightly decriminalized.
The “Francis Way” is to teach individuals that sex before marriage damages the chances of a couple’s union, regardless of gender, succeeding. We all pay for the consequences of the dissolution of marriages or unions. Pope Francis reminds us those most victimized by these failures are children.
What many miss is this Pope reiterating the primacy of an individual’s conscience. Buried within the 256-page exhortation is this wonderful statement: “We form consciences; we don’t make them.”
The “Way of Francis” is an expression of confidence that if one understands Catholic teachings on most issues, this educated conscience will make correct choices that mirror what Jesus would do under similar circumstances. The bottom line though is to recognize that Jesus underscored mercy and compassion towards all and avoidance of intolerant judgments. Francis recognizes at the end of the day most folks act in accordance with that formed conscience.
This “middle way,” this path of Francis, is also premised on positing our trust in the Almighty. Pope Francis would urge us to trust God always and in all ways.
(Editor’s note: Besides serving as press secretary to former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Chris Carlson is a self-described “bead-carrying Roman Catholic” and he is on the board of Catholic Charities of Idaho.)