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The ubiquity of their sad stories--the sheer volume of human beings whose lives are now definitively shaped and sometimes deformed by a consumerist sexual ethos--is precisely what Pope Francis is responding to. Asking Catholics to lead the case for faith by emphasizing traditional morality in an age glutted by sex is, indeed, a pretty tough sell. He's suggesting that believers work with the facts on the ground and find creative ways of planting the same eternal seeds in damaged soil.
"Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God," he said. Maybe this means using the "genius" of women to heal breaches within the hierarchy rather than to create more of them. Maybe it means understanding the moral energy behind environmentalism and building new bridges between that movement and Christian ideas of stewardship. Maybe there's synergy too in connecting the obvious moral dots between concern for all kinds of animal life and concern for unborn human life.
These are just some ways in which others can reach out as Pope Francis seems to want--and they don't involve compromising or countermanding the Magisterium by so much as an ampersand.
Far from selling the beleaguered faithful down the Tiber, this Pope is simply asking them to find bigger nets. This fisherman in chief is not a radical. He is something more interesting and unexpected both inside the church and out: a radical traditionalist.
Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and the author of How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization