John-Henry Westen

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Understanding why Pope Francis’ moderate approach is revolutionary

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

October 6, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — On June 9, 2016, Pope Francis gave a homily that is key to understanding his modus operandi when it comes to matters of faith. He railed against an ‘all or nothing’ approach to the faith, saying “this is not Catholic, this is heretical.” It is the same sentiment behind his frequent and severe criticism of “rigid” Catholics. The ‘rigid’ "appear good because they follow the law,” he has said, “but behind this, there is something that does not make them good: or they are wicked, hypocritical or sick.”

Pope Francis has made a point of practicing a non-rigidity, or a strategy of compromise on various points of faith. Especially in areas the secular world finds most distasteful, points on which many disdain and ridicule the Church, Pope Francis has intervened in a way some might see as mitigating the most severe criticisms of the Church. It is what many would call a moderate approach, modernizing the Church, or perhaps a blunting of extremes.

Typically, Pope Francis will proclaim a teaching of the Church then, when pressed with hard cases, will back away from the logical conclusion of the truth expressed. He often says he remains a ‘son of the Church,’ professing to hold the traditional beliefs. He does acknowledge what he calls the ‘ideal’ but in the name of mercy allows for a wide latitude of exceptions in difficult cases. He notes that ‘reality is more important than ideas’ and thus justifies a bending of the rules, which for him is to ‘accommodate’ the weak.

We’ve seen the approach in practice.

To comprehend how revolutionary these changes are in the Catholic Church requires an understanding of the Church’s approach on these matters -- an approach that has remained consistent over its 2,000-year history. It is an approach based on absolute truths or moral principles that do not allow for exceptions or compromise.

Paying attention to nuances allows one to look past the veneer of age-old Catholicism that shields the rupture. Take, for instance, the example of remarriage after divorce.

It is generally true that Jesus was never recorded in the Scriptures as having said anything specific about homosexuality. Yet in three of the four Gospels, Christ is quoted speaking against remarriage after divorce. So if the Church is able to compromise on the teaching around adultery, it should be much easier make exceptions on other moral issues where Christ was not so specific.

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery,” Jesus said.

Throughout Catholic history the same has been held. It was the underlying reason for Thomas More’s beheading and the 500-year-old split-off of the Church of England.

The Church was always generous with the weak. Catholics who separated from their spouses and hooked up with another partner were accommodated before Pope Francis. Even in complex situations where the new couple had young children and so were unable to live separately without doing the children harm, were, under Pope John Paul II, able to receive Holy Communion. It was on condition that they live as brother and sister rather than spouses.

Pope Francis, however, has deemed such requirements impossible and so has permitted full communion for those in second unions without needing forgo sexual relations with the new partner even though the legitimate spouse is still alive.

From a worldly perspective, Francis’ approach may make sense and the world loves him for it. But from a Catholic perspective, it undermines confidence in God who supports those who put faith in Him. If the Church says it is impossible resist the temptation to live a moral lifestyle when faced with divorce and remarriage, should it not also say it is impossible when faced with same-sex attraction, or temptations to porn, or an unwanted pregnancy?

When it comes down to it, it seems Pope Francis lacks faith in a promise of Christ recorded three times in the Bible. When the apostles reacted to Jesus’ requirements of a moral life suggesting it was hopeless, Jesus replied, “With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.”

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John-Henry Westen

John-Henry is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com. He and his wife Dianne and their eight children live in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada.

He has spoken at conferences and retreats, and appeared on radio and television throughout North America, Europe and Asia. John-Henry founded the Rome Life Forum an annual strategy meeting for pro-life leaders worldwide. He co-founded Voice of the Family and serves on the executive of the Canadian National March for Life Committee, and the annual National Pro-Life Youth Conference.  

He is a consultant to Canada’s largest pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition, and serves on the executive of the Ontario branch of the organization.  He has run three times for political office in the province of Ontario representing the Family Coalition Party.  

John-Henry earned an MA from the University of Toronto in School and Child Clinical Psychology and an Honours BA from York University in Psychology.

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