There has been near-universal joyous reaction to Pope Francis’s recent proclamation that the Roman Catholic Church needs to focus less on issues like homosexuality, abortion and contraception and more on other, deeper spiritual matters. The Holy Father has been lauded for his humility, and his reasoned stance that the Church needs to find a new sense of balance, lest it increasingly become a “small chapel.”
It is not as if the Pope is changing Roman Catholic doctrine on such matters. It simply means that the Church is going to attempt to re-calibrate itself, and to find a sense of balance, moving away from positions that have only succeeded in alienating huge sections of the flock.
So: is the Pope Catholic?
Yes, in its true meaning — genuinely catholic (universal) in his theological and social tastes. In some ways, the current occupant of the throne of Saint Peter is the most “Jewish” Pope we have ever encountered. It is difficult to remember a Pope who actually had the depth of relationships with the Jewish community as this Pope has enjoyed.
Yes, Pope John XXIII completely transformed Christian doctrine on Judaism and the role of the Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus. Pope John Paul II had relationships with Jews in his native Poland, and was the first Pope to visit a synagogue, and as a Polish survivor of the carnage of World War II, had a special sensitivity to the Shoah.
But Pope Francis, nee Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, had a real working relationship with the Argentinian Jewish community, especially with its spiritual leaders. His response to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA center in Buenos Aires was notable for its compassion. He has visited synagogues in Argentina. Moreover, as Cardinal Bergoglio, he collaborated with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in the creation of Sobre El Cielo Y La Tierra (Regarding Heaven and Earth), which is the transcript of a series of conversations with the rabbi. It is a wonderful, powerful book, which earned its place as Amazon’s #1 religion book.
It is enough to create Pope envy.
Why? Because the Pope, while recognizing the authority of Roman Catholic doctrine on matters of sexuality, has looked critically at the way the Church has communicated its teachings in the realm of sexuality. Channeling the late Peggy Lee, he has begun singing an updated, theological version of “Is That All There Is?” No, the Pope is saying – this is not all there is to the Church, and it is way beyond time for the Church to say that and to act on that, and to find a better sense of balance.
So, what would happen if Jewish leaders followed the Pope’s lead?