And it’s: mercy.
John Allen explores that theme and posts this singular quote from the pope’s presser on the plane:
“I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of epoch, also because of many problems of the church — such as the example of some priests who aren’t good, also the problems of corruption in the church — and also the problem of clericalism, for example, has left many wounds, many wounds. The church is a mother: It must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don’t have any other path than this one: before anything else, curing the wounds, yes? It’s a mother, the church, and it must go down this path of mercy. It must find mercy for everyone, no? I think about how when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn’t say: ‘But you, listen, sit down. What did you do with the money?’ No, he held a party. Then, maybe, when the son wanted to talk, he talked. The church must do the same. When there’s someone … but, it’s not enough to wait for them: We must go and seek them. This is mercy. And I believe that is a kairos: This time is akairos of mercy. John Paul II had this intuition first, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy … he had something, he intuited that it was a necessity of this time.”
This conviction that we are living in a kairos of mercy makes sense of everything else the pope said on the plane and, for that matter, most of what he’s said and done since his election in March. It explains his unwillingness to pass judgment on gays, and it also explains his refusal to be drawn into a political diatribe when a Brazilian journalist asked him about recent laws in the country liberalizing abortion and permitting same-sex marriage. Asked why he didn’t address those issues during his trip, the pope said, “It wasn’t necessary to speak of them, but of the positive things that get young people going. Anyway, young people know perfectly well what the position of the church is.” Pressed for his personal conviction, Francis didn’t duck: “That of the church. … I’m a son of the church.” There you have it in a nutshell. Francis is no doctrinal radical, and there will likely be no substantive upheaval of the church’s positions on issues of gender and sex or anything else. On the one specific question Francis fielded along these lines, women’s ordination, he reaffirmed “that door is closed.” The revolution under Francis is not one of content, but of tone.