While I'm not on board with some of what he proclaims to the world, I'll have to confess that I find his tendency to wander off the reservation now and again to be delightful.
Setting aside pomp and power? I'm down with that. Being obviously, directly, and explicitly on the side of the world's poor and struggling? Yeah, that works for me, too.
And then, this last week, there was his astounding announcement in a sermon that God's love extends not just to those within the Catholic fold, but also to those who aren't. That's not just Protestants, but non-Christians. Even atheists, he said, so long as they are doing the good. As he put it:
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! "Father, the atheists?" Even the atheists. Everyone! ... We must meet one another doing good. "But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!" But do good, we will meet one another there.What a remarkably welcoming, joyous, and hopeful view of faith. And yeah, I know, some atheists may not want anything to do with the Plasma and Corpuscles of our Redeemer, but at least it's focusing on the reality of making the world a kinder and more just place.
This radical statement was quickly walked back by a Vatican Spokespriest. No, no, he didn't mean THAT, they said, even though that's exactly what his words meant. And here I was thinking he was infallible.
It struck me, in reflecting on the tensions between the gracious reality that Francis declared and the institutional backpedaling, that grace is something that institutions do rather less well than persons. As a human being and a child of God, it does me no harm to allow you to believe as you wish.
Openness to other forms of truth threatens organizational integrity and institutional aspirations. If I say, you know what, those Methodists across the road have a really nice church, or I say, hey, that Baptist actually preaches some interesting things, then I open myself...and my church...to the possibility that people might be free to leave.
Which, of course, they are. But in our fear of allowing that freedom, we cast up thickets of theology to defend our institutional interest. Not God's interest, necessarily. But ours.