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Opinion

December 20, 2013

LYONS: In his own way, Pope seeks forgiveness

(Continued)

“This is ... the great benefit of confession as a sacrament, evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace,” Francis elaborated. “The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?”

It’s a rhetorical question with no one-size-fits-all answer. But the torture chamber metaphor has particular resonance coming from an Argentine, who presided as Bishop of Buenos Aires during that country’s “Dirty War,” when dissidents against the military government were kidnapped, tortured and flung out of airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean.

Harping on abstract doctrine, Francis stresses, distorts the essence of belief. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods ... The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

At the New York Times, this came out as “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.” Actually, writes Mark Shea in the National Catholic Register, he said no such thing. He stressed that not all rules are of equal importance, and that none should supersede compassion and forgiveness.

Anybody expecting immediate transformation of Catholic teaching about what Shea calls “the Pelvic Issues” is apt to be disappointed. On the other hand, an American cardinal who made a point in a recent TV interview of stressing that, contrary to the new Pope, “we can never talk enough” about abortion and “the integrity of marriage as between one man and one woman,” was quickly reassigned.

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