While Pope Francis is maintaining the Catholic Church doctrine unchanged, he has put compassion and charity at the top of his priorities, above condemnation and punishment. The Pontiff offered yet another such example in his letter about abortion, in which he takes on the internal conflict and pain endured by Catholic woman who have undergone it, while exalting the value of forgiveness above exclusion.
Since his arrival to the Chair of Saint Peter, the Pope has drawn a sharp contrast with his latest two predecessors, giving priority to the Church’s principles of social doctrine, which focuses on the person while taking into account their feelings and circumstances. The priest summed up the transformation he is seeking when he compared the Church with a “field hospital after battle,” that seeks to “heal” the wounded instead of condemning them for their condition or decisions.
Pope Francis’ letter condemns abortion unequivocally, but as much as he denounces sin, he forgives the repentant. This contrasts with an attitude within Christianity that looks down on sinners from a moral high ground that lacks any generosity.
The Latin American pontiff has stood out precisely for addressing the kinds of issues that keep many Catholics estranged from the Church, including divorcees, gays, single mothers and those who have aborted. This pastor tends to all the sheep, while others neglected some of them for considering them astray or inappropriate.
Through word and deed, Pope Francis has injected a sense of humanity that is changing perceptions within the very Church. More and more people identify with a faith that is closer to the forgiveness of the New Testament than the Old Testament’s “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” However, the Holy Father’s views have met resistance in conservative circles that seem to think that the traditional family is strengthened with condemnations and accusations, while forgetting the individual.
Those issues will probably be addressed at the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The United States visit will provide a preview of the debate, since part of the U.S. clergy sides with the most conservative sector in our country. What is crucial is that the line of openness and generosity marked by Pope Francis gets reinforced.