By Father John Catoir
There are many opinions circulating about Pope Francis. Some say he’s too liberal, others say the Holy Father stresses mercy too much over justice.
Permit me to present a few facts about how the pope has performed his duties since assuming the chair of St. Peter. I hope it will help you get to know him better.
At the beginning of his pontificate, he was asked a question about the possibility of ordaining women priests. He answered: “[A]s far as women’s ordination is concerned, the church has spoken and said: ‘No.’”
Ordination of Women
Then a priest from Australia, Father Greg Reynolds, didn’t take him seriously, and went on promoting women’s ordination. The pope excommunicated him.
That was in 2013, the first year of his pontificate. Father Reynolds already had been suspended by his archbishop. He had been forbidden from performing any priestly duties, but continued to do so publicly.
In an article published by the National Catholic Reporter, Father Reynolds expressed shock and bewilderment, blaming the excommunication on the fact that he promoted women’s ordination: “I am very surprised that this order has come under his watch; it seems so inconsistent with everything else he has said and done.”
This gross miscalculation cost this priest dearly.
Targetting the Mafia
Another area where Pope Francis has been misjudged is on his courage. Is he too weak? Do you remember in 2014 when Pope Francis traveled to Calabria, Italy? He made big news by being the first pope to excommunicate all members of the mafia.
He did it at a public Mass in the strongest terms, blaming them all for following an evil, murderous path. There were many who feared for his life that day, because they knew that anyone who defies the mafia is targeted. Maybe that’s why Pope Francis has said that he doesn’t expect his papacy to last too long.
Medicinal, Not Punitive
The mafia excommunication was planned for maximum effect. In this Holy Year of Mercy, you may ask whether it is merciful to excommunicate anyone? The answer is written in canon law. The penalty of excommunication is intended to be medicinal, not punitive. It is designed to give a serious warning to the recipients, hopefully, to turn them around so they may repent their sins before they face final judgment.
There have been many kings, bishops and cardinals, and even saints – Joan of Arc, for example – who were excommunicated but were exonerated, or they humbly atoned for their sins.
Anyone who sees this pope as weak or indecisive is not paying attention. He has been consistently courageous in denouncing evil wherever he finds it. Even terrorists have felt the sting of his reproach.
After the 2015 attacks in Paris, Pope Francis condemned the terrorism as blasphemous and barbaric: “The path of violence and hatred cannot resolve the problems of humanity, and using the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy,” he said.
Maybe what he’s trying to tell us – and is leading by example – can be found in “The Joy of the Gospel,” where he gave us these words to help us move with similar courage:
“But if we allow doubts and fears to dampen our courage, instead of being creative we will remain comfortable and make no progress whatsoever,” he said.
“In this case we will not take an active part in historical processes, but become mere onlookers as the church gradually stagnates.”
Father John Catoir writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.