In U.S. visit, Francis was caring but cautious


With a generous spirit and palpable affection for American values, Pope Francis won the nation’s heart during his six-day visit that ended Sunday. With his commitment to unchanging church doctrine, he disappointed some who yearn for reform.

His message was pastoral, a series of dramatic reminders of man’s obligations toward the needy, the stranger, the other. His gestures were powerful — his tiny Fiat that knocked the papacy down to a human level, his loving embrace of a disabled child, his decision to dine with the homeless directly after addressing Congress.


But as he delivered moving messages of humanity, the Argentine prelate, making his first trip to the United States at age 78, avoided engaging in America’s polarizing culture wars.

The result for many Catholics, liberal and conservative, was a sense of possibility and renewal, tempered by questions about whether welcoming rhetoric is enough to bridge serious divisions as a very traditional church struggles to find its place in a fast-paced, disillusioned society.

“This was a real feel-good visit,” said Jeannine Hill Fletcher, a feminist theologian at Fordham University in New York. “He called us back to charity in a really beautiful way. But look at the missed opportunities to deal with the complex issues that divide the Catholic Church in America. Where was the open discussion of the places where the church is really wrestling? Where were the realities of women, the realities of gay and lesbian Catholics, the realities of racism?”

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