Ever since Pope Francis took over the leadership of the Catholic Church, the attitude of Catholics and people of other faith in the world positively changed towards the Catholic church. The world started seeing a genuine prophet who wanted to ‘rebuild the church’ after the model of St. Francis of Assisi whom he has taken as his model and patron. He was more concerned about living as a true disciple of Christ than worshipping him by keeping up the traditional dogma and unproductive rituals. He wanted to imitate the example of the good shepherd who always led the sheep from the front, setting personal example of simplicity. Hence he asked the leaders of the church to be shepherds with the ‘smell of the sheep’.
Soon after a few days of his election as the Pope, the inclusive statement he made on God was against the fundamentalist and traditional view. His statement “my God is not a Catholic God” surely shocked the traditionalists. On another occasion he revealed his compassionate heart for the homosexuals when he said, “who am I to judge them?” Following the example of Christ and spirit of the Gospel, he wanted to open the doors of the church for divorcees and those married outside the church.
Traditional theologians feel that the Pope is spreading heresy and “posing a danger to the faithful”. Don’t these self-righteous defenders of faith see the empty churches in Europe because people were fed up of the dogmatic theology and oppressive laws? From the day one after his election, Pope Francis is winning millions of hearts for Christ.
He appealed to the priests and bishops all over the world to wash the feet of women on the Holy Thursday in the church as a symbolic act of service. For centuries, only men’s feet were washed by the celebrant. It was a revolutionary step to remove the discrimination against women. However, the orthodox, rather self-righteous, bishops of Syro-Malabar church in Kerala refused to follow the example of Pope Francis. (Despite being a priest of Syro-Malabar diocese I had introduced this practice for the last 30 years)
Ever since his election, Pope Francis is in the media. The Pope’s humanitarian and prophetic stand on various international issues has made him popular among people of other faiths. He not only spoke against terrorism but showed compassion by welcoming Muslim refugees, who were victims of terrorism, to Vatican. In India many Hindu fanatics also started speaking positively about Pope Francis. He criticized proselytization as a crime. He is correcting the mistakes of imperialism of the Catholic Church and making it more spiritual. His initiative for a joint celebration of 500 years of Martin Luther and reformation is a step in this direction.
The Pope was honest and humble to ask pardon for the sexual abuses committed by Catholic clergy and directed stern action against such priests. He did not tolerate extravagant ways of bishops either. He asked a Bishop in Germany to resign for constructing an expensive residence for him. He criticised bishops who make unnecessary trips outside the diocese neglecting the pastoral care when he asked them not to be “airport bishops”. However, many bishops in India are not bothered about the simplicity of the Pope and go on enjoying the pleasure of building palatial houses and multi-million churches.
Through his encyclical on consecrated life, “Joy of Love”, the Pope has asked religious to be more humane and joyful in their consecrated life. His call to give up “funeral face” in the convents communicates urgent and radical reforms which are needed to make consecrated life more relevant to the times.
Throughout the history of the world, prophets were confronted by traditional theologians and high priests, accused of heresy and were murdered. The religious fanatics, kings and vested political leaders had always joined hands to murder the prophets who acted as conscience of the society. Socrates, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, several progressive authors, journalists and social activists were eliminated.
When Jesus Christ launched a new way of spiritual movement challenging the institutional Jewish religion he was accused of blasphemy and sedition and was crucified. Thousands of prophets who spoke against superstition and commercialisation of religion were condemned as heretics and burned alive. Those who burnt these heretics alive were canonized for defending the superstitious dogma and oppressive laws.
There is no wonder that a few theologians and high priests in the Catholic church are accusing Pope Francis of spreading heresy. The letter they have written to him to protest is termed as “filial correction”. While these theologians and defenders of faith question the prophetic role of Pope, they should analyse their actions and statements on the basis of the life and teachings of Christ. The fundamental question the disciples of Christ should ask to test their actions should be this: ‘What would Jesus do if he were here? What is the mind of Christ? What is the heart of Christ? Before looking into dogma and canon law we need to look into the Gospels to know the mind and heart of Christ.
The decline of the Church in Europe and many other parts of the world is due to the drifting away from Christ and his teachings. The rigid theology and inhuman laws forced people to quit the church. The important mission is to make all the people in the world disciples of Christ, not members of the institutional and imperial church. People should be helped to follow THE WAY; the way of love, forgiveness, freedom, equality, compassion, justice, inclusiveness and pluralism. Pope Francis is making sincere and radical efforts to reinvent the Catholic church as THE WAY. This way will end all violence and hatred; this way will unite the whole human family as a civilization of love!
If Pope Francis is accused of spreading heresy he is only following the example of Jesus Christ who was accused of blasphemy. This is an encouragement to those who want to be true to their prophetic call, “..... I have appointed you to be a prophet to the nations” -- Jer 1:4.
(Published on 23rd October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 43)