by Max Brantley
A strict analysis shows the new pope merely hewing to church doctrine. Ross Douthat, not generally one of my favorites at the New York Times, notes that, but also notes that tone and emphasis are important and, in this, the pope's remarks are newsworthy. I buy that. I feel good about the new pope and his seeming higher priority for broader issues of social justice. I welcome the change of tone from Benedict. Writes Douthat:
Popes do not change doctrine, but they do choose what to emphasize and what to downplay, which issues to elevate and which to set aside, where to pass judgment and where to talk about forgiveness, and so forth. And we’ve seen enough of this pontificate to sense where Francis’s focus lies: He wants to be seen primarily as a pope of social justice and spiritual renewal, and he doesn’t have much patience for issues that might get in the way of that approach to Christian witness. Thus the headline-grabbing rhetoric and symbolic gestures emphasizing poverty and simplicity above all else, thus the frequent invocations of “clericalism” as the worst problem facing the church, thus his fairly casual attitude (in his off-the-cuff remarks, at least) toward doctrinal discipline, his frequent calls for experimentation and his apparent hostility to liturgical traditionalism — and thus, too, his apparent determination to distance himself and his message from the culture-war issues of the post-sexual revolution West.
Imagine if the Arkansas flock got even more active — and in this our local bishop is an exemplar — in working for justice for immigrants, rather than obsessing about sexual orientation, a fact of life that many within and without the church don't view as a moral issue.