Damon Linker is one of the most astute commentators there is on church and society. He writes about “Pope Francis’ cunning long game” in The Week:
If Pope Francis were a straightforward reformer, he would seek to change church doctrine regardless of the potentially dire consequences for church unity. But Francis is well aware of the limits of his power and the danger of pushing too far too fast. So he has set out on a different, and distinctive, path. …
Instead of acting as an expositor of these core teachings of the church, the pope selectively diverges from them in his actions and statements without deigning to change the teachings themselves. The implicit message is the same in every case: The pope himself thinks it’s possible to be a member of the church in good standing while failing to abide by all of the institution’s rules. …
I think the pope’s strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present.
That’s the great advantage of pursuing a strategy of stealth reform: The seed planted now with a minimum of conflict bears fruits in the future with even less.
It’s never been more obvious that this is precisely what Pope Francis has in mind.
OTOH, Andrew Sullivan offers a clarification on an essential point, suggesting that Pope Francis isn’t actually changing anything in this particular case. He writes (scroll down):
The idea that Francis’s love for a gay man as a gay man somehow rips apart the fabric of the church and implies that Francis is guilty of heresy is absurd. Francis is blessing an identity, not an act. But if the inclination always leads to an immoral act, isn’t the inclination itself sinful? The answer to that is no. Because being gay is not only or even mainly about sexual acts. It is also the only way some human beings can express exclusive love for another person. The reduction of gay people to what we do with our genitals is un-Christian.
… And that is all the Pope is saying to another human being. God made you the way you are, and loves you for it, and wants you to be happy as yourself. … It is so strange to me how so many nonbelievers can see in this Pope’s interaction with others the spirit of Jesus, and how so many of the most devout seem terrified by it.
I think Sullivan is probably right on this particular point. But Linker’s larger point would still hold: Francis is playing a “cunning long game” to change the Catholic church in significant ways. Read Linker’s whole column here.