Last month, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church’s emphasis on gays, abortion and contraception were driving people away, and he called for church leaders to rethink the way they minister to people.
His statements run counter to efforts in recent years by some in the church who have included denying abortion rights’ supporters Communion. The Augusta Chronicle asked the Rev. Jerry Ragan, of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church, for his thoughts on the pope’s statements.
Beyond what the media focused on, what did Francis say in his recent interview?
There are many summaries online of the pope’s interview. I think the Irish Times had a pretty good insight. It reported that “Francis used remarkably blunt language as he sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a ‘home for all’ and not a ‘small chapel’ focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings.” In other words, we need to welcome all people to experience the saving love of Christ.
Why did his remarks draw such attention?
As spiritual leader of over a billion Catholics and having the respect of many other Christians, the Holy Father’s words, thoughts and deeds are always going to draw lots of attention. What attracts people to Francis? He understands that practicing what one preaches is the key to church credibility in the eyes of many people today. He is simple, real, and yet devout, true and solid. He speaks in a language I can understand and grasp and reflect on. Quite simply many folks in and out of the Church are taken with his authenticity and his genuine compassion for “the least of these.”
How does Francis influence how you pastor in Augusta?
He wants the church to be present in people’s lives. For priests, that means getting out with their faithful and sharing their problems – as he put it in his memorable and earthy phrase, pastors should have “the odor of sheep.” My great desire as a pastor is always to walk with my people as they try to draw ever closer to God’s Kingdom. Our Holy Father, Francis, affirms that desire in me.
Do you see a major shift coming for the Church?
I already see a huge shift. In a post-modern world there are many who would like to say the church is irrelevant, but Francis wants us to be involved in the world. In September, he called for a global prayer vigil that a peaceful solution would be found for the Syrian chemical warfare crisis. Days later, a peaceful solution was found. Faith and prayer can change the world.
What hopes do you have for the Church under Francis?
I also sense that the pope will be open to a greater role of the laity in the governing of the Church. I think he will appoint laymen and laywomen to decision-making positions in the Vatican for the first time, which is already happening on the local level. … The hope that the Holy Father gives me and the Church is the possibility of moving beyond our petty, narrow-minded thinking to share God’s love with all people, especially the poor.