Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison has said the public should not accept media distortions of Pope Francis, but should recognize him as “a son of the Church” trying bring people to Christ.
“The mass media are trying to create a spirit of Pope Francis, just as they created a spirit of Vatican II,” he told the Wisconsin Street Journal Feb. 27. “Many Catholics fell for that the first time. I hope they won’t fall for that again.”
“When he says he’s the son of the Church, he really means it.”
According the bishop, the Pope is not changing doctrine or morals, “but there’s been so much innuendo about what he wants in the mass media, that I think many Catholic people are confused, and I feel badly about that. But that’s not his fault.”
The bishop praised the Pope’s “unbelievably uncanny knack” for “pulling people in.” Citing Cardinal Raymond Burke, he suggested the Pope is “trying to remove every obstacle from people meeting Jesus Christ.”
When asked about a statement in a previous interview about Pope Francis having made him “a stronger culture warrior,” Bishop Morlino responded that to meet Christ, one must “stand up for the whole Christ,” and that in the Diocese of Madison, he has observed that cultural issues are what need to be emphasized.
“What are the aspects of Christ and of his work that need work in that vicinity or this region? That’s the judgment the bishop has to make. So I have to see kind of which aspects of the truth of Christ need work here, and when I see that, I kind of end up right back where I was. I have to speak up forcibly about these issues.”
“But I have never failed to teach also about God’s mercy,” he added. “Never. It’s one of my major themes. It always has been. But God’s mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and we have to think that through and work that out.”
Bishop Morlino also discussed the meaning of the word “pastoral,” saying “it means patient love” and affirming that his approach as bishop has been pastoral. “There can’t be anything pastoral that does not include inviting people to see the truth. To pretend the truth is not there or to water it down, that really couldn’t be pastoral.”
The bishop interpreted Pope Francis’ warnings about being “obsessed” with abortion and other controversial issues such as same-sex unions in the light of the desire to help people to meet Christ.
While “there is a time and a place” to discuss such issues, he said, bringing up those subjects can at times place an obstacle to “someone meeting Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis “wants them to meet Jesus Christ and then bring that up,” Bishop Morlino said. “Because when somebody has the mind of Christ, the whole world looks different, and someone who might think the teaching on same-sex unions is behind the times and pure folly might see it quite differently if they had met Jesus Christ risen from the dead.”
“If you’re going to bring someone to Christ, and you’re going to take them where they’re at, you can’t watch every word, because then that connection won’t happen. But then, after they meet Jesus Christ, they see things differently, and then there’s a time for clarification,” the bishop said.
Bishop Morlino noted that such clarification is present in the writings of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
He said Pope Francis is “drawing people closer to Jesus Christ, and that’s the most important thing.”