February 23, 2017; Reuters
Pope Francis is turning out to be one of the most quotable pontiffs in recent history. His simple statements about love, service, and humility and his willingness to engage with current issues have made him popular among liberal Catholics who have been yearning for the Church to redeem itself after the scandals and struggles of the early 2000s.
His most recent statement was particularly welcome among people frustrated with skyrocketing economic inequality and double-talking public figures. Francis accused Catholics who do not care for the poor, who take advantage of others, of leading a “double life.”
So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others. How many times have we heard—all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere, “But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.” It is that: scandal…But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another.
Francis is an excellent example of the “practice what you preach” model of leadership. The Jesuit America Magazine has described him as:
A pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, rides around Vatican City in a Ford Focus or in foreign cities in small cars. A pope who invites street people to his birthday breakfast. A pope who tells the driver of his vehicle to stop at the dividing wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem so that he may pray before this glaring sign of division and pain. A pope who invites Muslims clerics to ride with him in the Popemobile in the war-torn Central African Republic.
After setting his own example, Francis turned to his clergy, admonishing them not to live like “princes” and suspending one bishop who didn’t take him at his word.
His unwavering devotion to the downtrodden and his unwillingness to undertake hardline campaigns for some of the Church’s more conservative moral teachings have made Pope Francis unpopular in some circles. When it comes to judgment and exclusion for divorced couples, homosexuals, and others who flout Church law, though he has not changed traditional Catholic positions, Francis has stressed mercy and compassion over moral grandstanding.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and he has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Francis asked. Plenty of people, comes the answer from conservative circles. But in the true tradition of the moral warrior, he has not let his critics take him down.
As NPQ has reported, the pontiff has said, “I like to use the image of the field hospital: Some people are very much injured and are waiting for us to heal their wounds, they are injured for a thousand reasons. We must reach out to them and heal their wounds.”
Francis’s frustration with hypocrisy and selfishness is evident in his willingness to join battle on current events. He has advocated for the acceptance of refugees, criticized Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall, and castigated the wealthy for not sharing with the poor. In fact, he has been seen to embrace tenets of liberation theology, which his predecessor Pope Benedict opposed and which is often branded (with some inaccuracy) as Marxist Catholicism.
The consistency of his message and his ability to shape his life around the mission of caring for the less fortunate have made him a powerful worldwide leader. Though Catholic theology involves some mind-bendingly complicated debates, Francis has distilled it into simple principles and demonstrated what it looks like to put them into practice, making it easier for wayward followers to return and feel accepted. He has even reached out to atheists, saying, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Pope Francis’s practices in stewardship, humility, and leading by example are a valuable lesson for leaders in all sectors, but especially in the nonprofit sector, where moral factors are especially prone to play a role and service is an important guiding motive. His admonition this week to follow deeds and not words guides not only the faithful, but anyone looking to assess their leaders.—Erin Rubin