It's amazing how eager the liberal media are to interpret anything Pope Francis says in a way that maximizes its potential as a sign that the pontiff is close to eschewing millennia of orthodox Christian teaching because of the shifting winds of public opinion. My colleague Matthew Balan noted such in his story yesterday, "CNN Grasps to Find Silver Lining for Liberals in Pope's Pro-Traditional Marriage Answer."
Well, today Time magazine religion reporter Elisabeth Dias sought to set the record straight for her fellow journalists and those gullible enough to believe their hype about the import of the bishop of Rome's recent comments on civil unions (emphasis mine):
Predictably, the internet exploded: a Huffington Post headline read, “Pope Francis Suggests Gay Civil Unions May Be Tolerable By Church.” ThinkProgress’s LBGT vertical touted a story, “Pope Francis Suggests Support For Civil Unions.” Catholic News Service was slightly more measured with its tweet: “Pope, in interview, suggests church could tolerate some civil unions.”
First, it is important to be clear about what Pope Francis did and did not just say. He did not affirm gay marriage. He did not announce Holy See support for civil unions. He reiterated, yet again, the traditional and non-changing Catholic teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. Today his words about civil unions actually appeared to be about health care and economic equality, not marriage itself.
He also, once again, reminded the world that his papacy seeks to welcome gays, not to judge. It pointed to his desire to see a church of pastors, not of doctrinaires. It was a loud echo of the five most famous words of his papacy so far: “Who am I to judge?” He uttered them in reply to a reporter’s question on gays in an impromptu press conference last July. Even that brief gesture of increased compassion from the Holy See sent shockwaves through global Catholic communities, and it signified the shift in tone that put Francis on the cover of LGBT magazine The Advocate’s as their 2013 Man of the Year.
The deeper symbolic power of Francis’ latest tone-shifting statement lies in the day that his words broke. Today, March 5, is Ash Wednesday, one of the holiest days in the Catholic calendar, and this evening in Rome, Pope Francis bowed to receive the ashes in the sign of the cross on his forehead.
It is a religious act that symbolizes humility, repentance, and a recognition that ultimately, human beliefs and actions bow to God’s mercy. It is the day that Francis, for the first time, begins to lead the church through Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, when congregants are asked to examine at their own sins and let God deal with the sins of others. Francis is a charismatic leader, and there’s no mistaking his symbolism: his attitude of mercy for all is the new tone for the world’s largest church.