Pope Francis has done it again.
In the six months of his papacy, Francis has endeared himself to Roman Catholics with his humility — he lives in an apartment and sometimes carries his own luggage onto the papal jet. He tools around the Vatican in a 1984 Renault. His decision on Holy Thursday to wash the feet of juvenile offenders (including two females, something that had never been done) instead of 12 priests was evidence that his papacy would be different.
His message has been different, too. In July, Francis made news when he said of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?” Last week his moderate views created more waves. In an interview, Francis said the Catholic Church needed to find a “new balance” in delivering its message about social issues.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” the pope said. “This is not possible. ... when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.”
Francis said the Church's teaching on these issues “is clear, and I am a son of the church.” But even so, “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
It's true that conservative Christians have been especially focused on homosexuality and abortion. Political candidates who follow that path risk turning off independents and libertarian-leaning constituencies. But this message, coming from the head of a church that in particular has been a vocal and prominent leader in the anti-abortion fight, is stunning.
That may be Francis' intent — to awaken Catholics, get them thinking about better ways, more loving ways, to deal with these volatile issues. Or as one anti-abortion leader put it to USA Today, “to live our faith instead of beating people over the head with it.”
Francis certainly lives his faith much differently than his predecessors. What surprises might the next six months bring?