With Pope Francis now in the United States there is plenty of talk about the comments he has made so far, and plenty of speculation about what he will say throughout his visit and beyond.
If you want a pretty good predictor of what Pope Francis might say and do, pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
People think that everything Pope Francis does is so new and fresh, when in reality, he is simply saying what the Church has always taught.
Take for example his comments on the flight back from Rio in 2013 regarding homosexuals. When asked what he would do if he found out one of his priests was gay he simply replied, “Who am I to judge?” Everyone treated it as if he had said something revolutionary. He said himself in the interview published in Jesuit journals across the world including America in the U.S., “I really just said what was in the Catechism.”
Here is the paragraph he was hinting at:
“[Homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (CCC #2358)
Another more recent example is the letter he issued September 1 giving priests the authority to grant absolution to women confessing the sin of abortion. Is this a change? Not really. Priests are required to have permission from the bishop to grant absolution to anyone confessing the sin of procuring or helping some to procure and abortion. What the pope has done, as part of the Year of Mercy that will begin December 8, is extend that permission to all priests.
In doing so he is not downplaying the seriousness of abortion, he merely making further effort to extend the healing and forgiveness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation that has always been there.
Pope Francis has made changes in papal protocols and has begun changing the way the Church is governed most especially in the Vatican itself. He also intends to explore ways women can have more of a role in Church governance. There is one thing he will not do. He will not change what the Church actually teaches in matters of faith and morals. These are not the possession of any pope, but rather the entire Church—past, present, and future.
The pope is a big deal because the gospel is a big deal. The attention Pope Francis is getting is proof of how desperate people are to hear it and see it in action, even if it confuses them a little.
The days to come will have no shortage of “new” things the Pope Francis will say that the Church has already said—that people will finally hear.