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Pope defended from an unexpected quarter

“No, I do not see a pope who wants to overturn Church teaching nor do I see a pope who wants to hush anything up or to establish an old boys’ network. I see a pope who resolutely wants to pursue a path of renewal and one who is neither liberal nor conservative,” wrote Bishop Stefan Oster, the conservative-minded head of the Diocese of Passau on the Bavarian-Austrian border, in Germany.
The 53-year-old bishop, who admits he has hitherto questioned much of Pope Francis’ teaching, has surprised some people by defending the pope against abuse cover-up charges made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
But the bishop, who is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, caused even greater astonishment by expressing gratitude for the way Pope Francis is leading the Church on the right path.
Bishop Oster made his comments on September 2 in three-page blog post titled, Why I believe Pope Francis, explaining how he came to the conclusion that history’s first Jesuit pope is genuinely trying to renew the Church.
The bishop expressed his conviction that much of what is “vain, mendacious or even evil and criminal in the Church” has come to light “(not) because the pope has made mistakes in his leadership,” but rather it is actually the way Pope Francis “proclaims and practices the faith (that) has caused a light to shine on how much in the Church is abysmal.”
He confessed that he now fully accepts the pope’s “sincere endeavours to deepen the faith, spread more hope, greater love and mercy—and his indefatigable commitment to justice, peace and the preservation of creation.”
Bishop Oster says he reached this conclusion by re-studying what he calls “the four most significant texts of Francis’ pontificate thus far”—Evangelii Gaudium (the 2013 apostolic exhortation on renewing the Church), Laudato Si’ (the 2015 encyclical on care for creation), Amoris Laetitia (the 2016 exhortation on marriage and the family) and Gaudete et Exsultate (the 2018 exhortation on the call to holiness).
He points out the the pope’s writings have caused wide and heated discussion within the Church. For example, they have prompted Catholics to debate whether the 81-year-old pope is liberal or conservative and to question whether he is seeking to preserve, develop or even change Church teaching.
The German bishop said liberals, for instance, tend to interpret Evangelii Gaudium as an effort to decentralise the Church more than as a call for evangelisation.
They see Amoris Laetitia as a paradigm shift in the Church’s view of sexual morality. And, in their eyes, Laudato Si’ is basically a summons to make political, ecological and social concerns the Church’s first priority.
“For traditionalists such views are very worrying,” Bishop Oster explained.
“They are most concerned that too much change is a threat to the Church, or that the wrong issues are being prioritised, which, in the end, will lead to a totally different Church and totally different Church teaching,” he continued.
“They question whether the Magisterium, faith, liturgy and the call to conversion are not getting too raw a deal,” the bishop said, adding, “and I must admit that I am familiar with such questions since I have asked them myself.”
Bishop Oster has been labelled a conservative because he has (“for the moment”) instructed priests of Passau not to allow re-married divorcees to receive communion under any circumstances.
The bishop is also one of the seven German bishops, including Rainer Cardinal Woelki of Cologne, who wrote to Rome for clarification on whether to allow interdenominational couples to receive the Eucharist at Catholic liturgies after two-thirds of country’s bishops voted in favor of doing so (Sunday Examiner, April 15).
But in his latest blog post, he said it was especially after studying Gaudete et Exsultate, that he felt “more deeply and less fearfully” that Pope Francis is following Christ’s path of holiness.
“Holiness is neither banal liberalisation nor simple cementation of what already exists, but living one’s every day life with Jesus and taking up the ever-changing challenges the world presents and urges the Church to find new answers,” Bishop Oster wrote.
“I am therefore also confident that, by virtue of his office, he (Pope Francis) has that special charism which is given to the Church’s leader,” he said.
Bishop Oster concluded, saying, “I am thankful to Pope Francis for his service and for this witness!” UCAN/La Croix

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