Pope Frank’s line should, by now, be clear. He, rightly, emphasises the love Jesus shows to all; but his Christ is not the Judge who will judge us – he is cuddler-in-chief, who will cuddle us and make it all OK – he’s a therapist, not a Redeemer. He can’t be a Redeemer, because there’s nothing from which we need redeeming. All we need is to do what we think is good, don’t frighten the horses, and it will be fine. I’ve been reading the Bible for as long as the Pope has, and I can’t say that is what it is telling me. I’ve read a deal of Christian theology in many traditions, and I can’t say that’s what it’s telling me, either.
If you nerve yourself, and go into the comments below articles on Pope Frank, you tend to get two sorts of reaction: scandalised Catholics who, knowing something about their faith, are horrified at the one-sided and semi-pelagian version of it being peddled by Rambling Pope Frank; and others doing the written equivalent of cooing ‘oh, isn’t he lovely, oh I love the Pope?’ There can, surely, be no doubt, that that’s what he’s going for – gathering behind him not only the aging once-trendy ‘modern’ Catholics, but also the badly catechised (by which I mean not catechised at all) Catholics who have drifted away, but are being lured back by the promise that the church has changed and will no longer judge them.
Yet the Creed itself says he will return to judge the living and the dead. It does not say ‘he will return and say, as long as you’ve done your best, that’s OK’. Perhaps the Pope is such a good fellow himself he does not struggle with sin, or perhaps he doesn’t believe in it? Quite how anyone can look at the world in which we live and be in that state of mind, is a puzzle.
Does the Pope really think that Christ will say to the suicide bomber: ‘You did what your conscience told you to do, well done thou good and faithful servant?’ I’m perfectly prepared to believe that the bombers did and do sincerely believe that what they are doing is what their consciences tell them to do; but I’m also prepared to say they are wrong, utterly and totally. They are as wrong as another of the things the Pope condemned the other day – the practice of Lutherans and Catholic burning each other. I taken entirely, the caveat usually entered, that it was the State which executed folk, but then neither Church was exactly standing there saying this was a really bad idea. Macaulay was right, men seldom do anything really wicked save under the impulse of strong conscience; they burned me believing it was better that their bodies should die than that their souls should perish – though quite how the former was going to prevent the latter has never been clear to me.
The Pope is now at the other extreme from those bad days – but the imbalance will not help, I fear. Men and women who need love will, indeed, get it from the Lord, but they will get it if they repent and amend their lives. It is no act of real love to imply that sinners can carry on as they are and that will be OK because Jesus loves you all the same. Yes, he does love you, and he will mourn if you go to hell because of your sins. Woe be to those who cause his little ones to stumble.