ROME (Christian Examiner) – In another dialogue that is sure to infuriate his conservative critics, Pope Francis warned Thursday that Catholics must avoid a rigid faith and disputes over doctrine or personal issues, Vatican Radio has reported.
Francis said in the address that Catholics should consider how Jesus looked beyond a rigid faith to generosity and holiness to care for others. Such a practice, the leader of Catholics worldwide said, frees Christians from the "idealism" that harms relationships.
"This (is the) healthy realism of the Catholic Church: the Church never teaches us 'this or that.' That is not Catholic," Francis said. "The Church says to us: 'this and that.' 'Strive for perfectionism; reconcile with your brother. Do not insult him. Love him. And if there is a problem, at the very least settle your differences so that war doesn't break out.' This [is] the healthy realism of Catholicism."
According to Francis, rigidity leads to schism, and schism is heresy.
"It is not Catholic (to say) 'this or nothing.' This is not Catholic; this is heretical. Jesus always knows how to accompany us, he gives us the ideal, he accompanies us towards the ideal, He frees us from the chains of the laws' rigidity and tells us: 'But do that up to the point that you are capable.' And he understands us very well. He is our Lord and this is what he teaches us."
Whether Pope Francis was speaking to his critics about his generally liberal attitude toward capitalism, his perceived openness to other religions, or some internal church dispute isn't exactly clear, but the Pope claimed that "insults" between Catholics break down the bonds of brotherhood.
According to Francis, Catholics have a "very creative vocabulary for insulting others," but insulting someone is a sin like murder because it kills a person's dignity.
Francis did strike at the hypocrisy of some Catholics who say one thing and do another. In a cryptic comment, he said the churchman who does throughout the week the opposite of what he preaches on Sunday is scandalous.
"How many times do we in the Church hear these things? How many times! 'But that priest, that man or that woman from the Catholic Action, that bishop, or that Pope tell us we must do this this way!' and then they do the opposite. This is the scandal that wounds the people and prevents the people of God from growing and going forward," Francis said.
"It doesn't free them. In addition, these people had seen the rigidity of those scribes and Pharisees and when a prophet came to give them a bit of joy, they (the scribes and Pharisees) persecuted them and even murdered them; there was no place for prophets there. And Jesus said to them, to the Pharisees: 'You have killed the prophets, you have persecuted the prophets: those who were bringing fresh air.'"
"Catholic Action" is a broad term that applies to many lay Catholic groups who promote Catholic views on faith and family, or other special initiatives that lead to social transformation – that is, bringing societal views in line with Catholic teaching on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
Catholic Action was promoted beginning in the late 19th century and was reiterated as a tool of the church during Vatican II from 1965-68. Since then, Catholic laity have been encouraged to be engaged in politics and culture.
Being engaged, however, might lead to disputes within the body, he added, so he reminded the faithful to settle their disputes by finding agreement with one another and living at peace.
"Jesus is a great person! He frees us from all our miseries and also from that idealism which is not Catholic. Let us implore our Lord to teach us, first to escape from all rigidity but also to go out beyond ourselves, so we can adore and praise God who teaches us to be reconciled amongst ourselves and who also teaches us to reach an agreement up to the point that we are able to do so," Pope Francis said.
This is not the first time Francis has condemned the idea of a "rigid," "idealistic" or "narrow" Catholic faith. Francis said in September during a visit to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia that the church should avoid a narrowmindedness and also consider that there are many types of families. That led many critics to assume he saw the possibility of salvation for others outside of the Christian faith and a potential breach in the church's doctrine on exclusively heterosexual marriage.
Critics also latched on to his comments in 2013 about not judging homosexuals.
"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem ... they're our brothers," Francis said.