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Published: Sunday, 12/8/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

COMMENTARY

Could there be a ‘Francis’ in our future?

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

There was an official farewell for departing Roman Catholic Bishop Leonard Blair Wednesday night. Choirs sang. Prayers were said. Tears were shed.

We will await, possibly for some time, a new Catholic bishop in Toledo. Some Roman Catholics in this city wonder if it will be a church conservative like Bishop Blair, or a church liberal, like his predecessor, Bishop James Hoffman.

Everyone wonders: Will the new bishop be community minded and ecumenical, or more focused on internal church organization.

This brings us to Pope Francis I, whose election as pope is one of the blessings and miracles of our time.

I say that without apology or hyperbole.

It is amazing that a person that wise and that real can be elected to lead any organization. But that he could be elected to lead an organization as rich and powerful as the Catholic hierarchy is nothing short of miraculous — the Holy Spirit moving with impatience.

The official line of the Catholic right wing — George Weigel in the Wall Street Journal just a few days ago — is that Francis is not so radically different from his two predecessors. He is different only in “style.”

And Catholic liberals fear that this is true: He will not change the church itself. Or will operate on his own, outside the organization, like John Kennedy running his own foreign policy parallel to the State Department’s.

But style is everything, isn’t it? What made the Declaration of Independence new was not new ideas, but style. Plus, sincerity and conviction.

What made the Gettysburg Address different was not a radical departure in ideas or policy, but style. Plus, sincerity and conviction.

Francis really is new, and different, and I will give you just two examples. Both are found in the “mission statement” he put out last week — “The Joy of the Gospel” — but he has emphasized both for the last nine months. The first is the notion that mercy is at the top of the hierarchy of Catholic doctrine. Mercy. Not opposition to abortion or upholding the traditional family. But mercy. The teaching on abortion and the family is the same. But mercy and compassion — say for the woman who has had an abortion or the gay man — trumps condemning that man or that woman.

Second, Francis says he wants a church that is not turned in on itself but focused on service to the poor, the lost, and the forsaken. Moreover, he wants a church that is itself “bruised and broken.” His words.

If you don’t think that is a church very different from the Catholic church that exists in America and in Toledo today, or indeed from any of our mainline Christian denominations, I’d like some of what you are smoking.

A bruised and broken church would not have much of a hierarchy at all; would not be rich, certainly; would not turn away or turn out anyone, especially not other broken souls. It would look like the Cherry Street Mission; Dorothy Day’s hospitality houses; or the tiny, dingy chapel where St. Francis had his vision.

Last week we were told that Pope Francis sneaks out of the Vatican at night in a simple black suit and Roman collar to visit the homeless. I have two things to say about that: I hope that it is true. And, if it is true, it gives us all far greater glad tidings than 1,000 Christmas carols. For it means Christ lives, even in the church.

And so a question: Will Francis send Toledo — is he able a shepherd like himself?

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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