What a first year this has been for Pope Francis and for the Church! From Pius XII to the current pontiff, the Church and the world have been exceptionally blessed with a string of pontiffs who have been outstanding in the area that is most important for all of us – holiness. All these popes have been proposed for canonization with the exception of the still-living Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and I would not count him out after he leaves this vale of tears.
Pope Francis’ situation is unusual. Perhaps never has a pope in modern times been both so attractive to the world press and so misquoted especially on the topic of sexuality. The motivation appears obvious. In fact, the secular media is hoping against hope that somehow Francis wants to or is capable of changing infallibly proclaimed Church teaching in this area. Sadly, much of the misinformation comes from poorly formed Catholics who dismiss the moral teaching of the Church on matters such as birth control, the permanence of marriage, abortion, sex (whether heterosexual or homosexual) outside of marriage, and the definition of marriage as a faithful union of one man and one woman for life.
It is no surprise that much of this wishful thinking comes from the Western world, which is now pagan in fact and in practice. The positive side of this rejection of natural law norms and collapse in Christian belief may be the potential for the Church’s new evangelization to attract millions to union with Rome, including even large numbers of our separated brothers in Christ. In this way the Church could substantially realize one of our soon-to-be-Saint John Paul the Great’s greatest dreams and hopes: reunion! Given the drastic and continued shrinkage in the mainline Protestant churches, in the near future (perhaps even by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the pounding of Luther’s theses onto the Cathedral door in Wittenberg), the Catholic Church may have effectively completed the Counter-Reformation, although the numbers of the unchurched will likely remain substantial.
Among other profound challenges confronting the era in which Pope Francis has the responsibility of guiding the barque of St. Peter is the failure of much of the world, especially Europe and the U.S., to reproduce in sufficient numbers to replace their populations. This is both a crisis of faith in the future and a crisis in Catholic faith that, despite media disinformation, our pope does not share. As Cardinal Raymond Burke points out, the pope has spoken “unambiguously in defense of Catholic teaching on abortion, contraception, euthanasia and marriage,” and it is clear that the Holy Father firmly supports all Catholic moral teaching. As Cardinal Bergoglio, for example, he called efforts to redefine marriage “an anthropological regression.” More recently, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis has written:
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.
No, the pope will not and cannot change fundamental church doctrine, no matter how eager the secular media are to record the revolution.
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The feast of St. Joseph, marks the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis inauguration Mass. At that time he presented the Holy Family as the model for marriage in these words:
How does Joseph exercise his role as her protector? Discretely, humbly, and silently. But with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve- year old Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, in the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious hours she gave birth: amidst the drama of the flight into Egypt, during the frantic search for their child in the Temple and later in the day to day life of the family of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
Happily, therefore, we can conclude that this first pope from the Americas (although only one generation removed from Italian soil) will guard the integrity of the family in the Church as Joseph protected Mary and her Son. Pope Francis remains recognizably pope and Church doctrine is still Church doctrine. And the gates of hell—not to mention the media and those eager to dilute demanding teachings—will not prevail against it!