Dear Pope Francis,
Since so many people are choosing to write to you, I thought I would too. Many of the letters you receive, at least those shared through the media, take you to task for one thing or another. I am writing for two reasons: to thank you for your leadership and courage, and to tell you that — despite what some are complaining about — I do not think anyone is “confused” by your actions, your teaching, and your writing. May I suggest that those who make that claim are using that language of “confusion” to mask the truth: that they just disagree with you.
Your writing and teaching are clear: you desire the Church to be an adult Church. By this I do not mean a Church only FOR adults, but a mature People of God, Mystical Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit. This should be a Church in which we deal with each other with compassion, maturity and an honest realization that people are generally trying to do the best they can despite the sometimes overwhelming challenges they face. Mature human beings come to realize that one-size-rarely-fits-all, and that we must use our God-given freedom of will in the best ways we can. Your Holiness, we all understand full well that there are absolutes in life, but we also understand that sometimes we are going to fall short and need to struggle on the best we can, always with the guidance of the Holy Spirit given to us all as children of God created in God’s own image and likeness.
No one is confused by this, Your Holiness. Your call to a mature Christianity echoes the voice of the world’s bishops assembled in solemn Council:
Coming forth from the eternal Father’s love, founded in time by Christ the Redeemer and made one in the Holy Spirit, the Church has a saving and an eschatological purpose which can be fully attained only in the future world. But she is already present in this world, and is composed of men, that is, of members of the earthly city who have a call to form the family of God’s children during the present history of the human race, and to keep increasing it until the Lord returns. . . . Thus the Church, simultaneously ‘a visible association and a spiritual community,’ goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God’s family (Gaudium et spes, #40.
There is nothing “confusing” in any of this, except for those who wish to be confused. They seem afraid of the unknown, the sometimes grayness of life. As Christ often chided his first followers, and your illustrious predecessors have often repeated, “Be not afraid”, and “Put out into the deep!” As we sailors know only too well, this often means that while we want to steer a true course, we must often trim our sails and tack in order to take full advantage of the wind and sea. My sisters and brothers who write to you of “confusion”, however, seem to long for a world — and the Church within that world — which has the clarity of a black-and-white photograph. The reality of the world is color-full, however, admitting all the colors God created. As the Council reminds us, we as Church have a “saving and eschatological purpose” which will only be fully realized in Paradise. The Second Vatican Council (much like your own teaching) is accused by some observers for being “overly optimistic” or for using “ambiguous” language. Nothing could be further from the truth of the matter, as you well know, Holiness. This is not ambiguity but mature and conscientious adaptability; not naive optimism, but well-founded Christian hope.
And so I thank you again, Holiness. Thank you for your clarity of thought and expression. Thank you for your courage and strength of leadership. Thank you for your joyful witness to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as individuals and as Church.
Sincerely in Christ,
Deacon William T. Ditewig, Ph.D., Archdiocese of Washington, DC
Commander, USN (ret.)
Professor of Theology, and former Executive Director, USCCB Secretariat for the Diaconate and Interim Executive Director, USCCB Secretariat for Evangelization