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Editorial: May Pope Francis hear Chicago’s nuns

ope Francis waves crowd from central balcony St. Peter's BasilicVatican Wednesday March 13 2013. | AP Photo

ope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. | AP Photo

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Updated: April 15, 2013 11:18AM



Pope Francis, we are told, is a doctrinal conservative and a champion of the poor. If he reigns in that manner, balancing core beliefs and compassion, Chicago Catholics may find in him a pontiff they can joyfully embrace.

It is heartening that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, took the papal name of Francis, honoring one of the church’s most selfless, most giving and least authoritarian saints, Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis, though born to wealth and position, cared nothing for material things and even less for hierarchy or rules. He cared to ease suffering in the world.

This, we dare to say, is what the great majority of Chicago Catholics hope to find in their new pope — a leader who embodies those simple values of faith and charity taught to generations of Catholic boys and girls by a dwindling army of nuns. The nuns did not water down Catholic theology, but they did emphasize the positive — what a Godly man or woman should do in this world, not just what they should never do.

A good Catholic, the nuns always said, should clothe the naked and feed the poor. A good Catholic should walk through life with humility, reminded with a smudge on the forehead every Ash Wednesday that “from the dust we came and to the dust we shall return.” A good Catholic should oppose abortion, yes, but also come to the aid of every unwanted child.

Too often in recent decades, the Catholic Church has been defined — and defined itself — by what it opposes in modern life. It has stood mightily against abortion. It has opposed premarital sex and all forms of contraception. It has opposed same-sex marriage.

It has opposed the ordination of women as priests. It has called on the carpet American nuns whose only offense was to look and sound a little too liberal, focusing on issues of poverty and health care rather than on abortion.

The church has, at the same time, been self-destructively insular, secretive and fumbling, horribly mishandling scandals over sex abuse and Vatican finances.

But without abandoning fundamental doctrine — a religion that drifts from core beliefs is a religion that fades away — the Catholic Church could do more under Pope Francis to remind the world that its primary mission also includes great love and humanitarian service.

The new pope could — and how we wish he would — resurrect the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s wise teachings on the “consistent ethic of life.” A faithful Catholic, Bernardin taught, values the sanctity of human life from conception to death and, for that reason, opposes abortion but also works for social justice. In keeping with this “seamless garment” philosophy, he called for greater government help for the poor and opposed nuclear proliferation and capital punishment.

While Chicago Catholics obviously are not of one mind on such public policy issues, we suspect they share our concern that the Church should be less a “party of no” and more a force for enlightened good.

We hope Pope Francis will visit Chicago one day, where he would witness hundreds of Catholic schools, churches, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions — many even now run by nuns — doing God’s best work every day.

Faith and hope are nothing, the nuns always said, without love.



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