The 12,000-word interview, released Thursday in 16 Jesuit magazines worldwide, touched on many of the most polarizing topics of the day: the place of gays and women in the church, abortion, and issues of faith and religious doubt.
In the interview, Francis says the church has been too focused on abortion, gay marriage and contraception and suggests finding a “new balance” to deliver the Roman Catholic message.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis says. “This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
The pope breaks no new ground on doctrine, but the remarks underscore his attitude six months into his papacy, showing a desire to cement the perception of the Catholic Church as a place of healing and mercy, not judgment and finger-pointing, theologians say.
“He wants to change people’s perception of the church’s moral teaching,” says Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He says it was striking that Francis compared the church to a field hospital, a spiritual place for healing in the face of today’s moral and social dilemmas.
Catholics, even conservative ones, say the interview further firms up his place as the “people’s pope,” says Judie Brown, president and co-founder of the American Life League, a Catholic organization that works against abortion. “He’s saying that as Catholics we need to live our faith instead of beating people over the head with it.”
What needs to change is how church leaders and members talk about them, she says. “We should do it with love and charity instead of with a hammer.”
Francis says the church has become “obsessed” with issues such as gay marriage and abortion, and that if someone claims answers on issues of faith, they are “a false prophet.”
The interviews were conducted in Italian over the course of three sittings last month in the pope’s modest Vatican apartment with Father Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit like Francis who is the editor of La Civilta Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit publication.The pope reviewed the text of the interviews before they were translated.
Although Francis has not broken with previous teachings on many key issues, his humble manner and ease of explaining difficult theological issues in laymen’s terms have met with strong responses among Catholics, even lapsed Catholics, and other Christians.
“For my whole adult life, I have considered myself a lapsed Catholic,” says Alessandro Di Cristofaro, a 44-year-old university lecturer in ancient history in Rome. “But when I hear the pope speak, it draws me back to the church like when I was a child. I have even gone back to Mass a few times in recent weeks.”
Anna Maria di Pietroantonio, 39, a Rome health care worker, agrees.
“When I speak to my friends about it, we all agree it feels like a friendly parish priest who somehow became pope,” she says.
Others see Francis as moving away from Biblical teachings. Jason Clendenen, an evangelical Christian and church administrator in California who expressed dismay on Twitter with the pope’s interview, says Francis is shrinking away from commenting on sinful behavior. He says Francis seems too accepting of sinners such as gays and lesbians.
[Editor’s note: Did not Christ accept in dialogue sinners such as prostitutes and culpable tax collectors.]
Pope Francis makes simple, motions that invite people to talk and think.
WASHINGTON, DC, May 7, 2013 – In a letter to the bishops of Argentina sent in late March, Pope Francis directed them to govern the Church there following the Aparecida Document. The text states, in part, “[people] cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals.”
Judie Brown, president and cofounder of American Life League, and Michael Hichborn, director of Defend the Faith for American Life League, sent the following letter to all U.S. Catholic bishops:
RE: Pope Francis and Canon 915
We are renewed in our joy over the election of Pope Francis. One of the reasons for our happiness is the Holy Father’s reiteration of Catholic teaching as enunciated in canon 915. The report, published May 4 by LifeSiteNews and Breitbart News, states in part: “Pope Francis has directed the bishops of Argentina, his home country, to govern the Church there following a document that makes clear that Holy Communion should be disallowed for any person who facilitates abortion, including politicians. ‘These are the guidelines we need for this time in history,’ the pope wrote to the bishops.”
We pray that these words will be an encouragement to you as well because, like Argentina, the United States has her share of Catholics in public life who persist in their support of abortion while, at the same time, receiving Christ in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
We write to ask you, in view of this recent news report, to act on Pope Francis’ call and deny the sacrament of Christ’s real presence-body, blood, soul, and divinity-to every pro-abortion Catholic in public life who has not repented of his support for the heinous crime of abortion.
Pope tells Pontifical Council February 08, 2010
Pope Benedict XVI met on February 8 with members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who have gathered for their plenary meeting under the direction of the council’s president’ Cardinal Ennio Antonelli. The Pope encouraged the group in its studies on the themes: “the family, subject of evangelization” and “the family, resource for society.”
The Pontiff devoted some time to a discussion of the Pontifical Council’s plans to produce a new document on preparation for marriage. Citing the work of his predecessor John Paul II, Pope Benedict said that there are three essential types of preparation: remote, when children are trained to have a healthy attitude toward marriage and human sexuality; proximate, when engaged couples learn together about the Church’s approach to Christian marriage; and immediate, when the couple makes final spiritual preparations to enter a marital union.
Pope Benedict called the group’s attention to the UN discussion of the rights of children. “The family founded on marriage between a man and a woman is the greatest help that can be given to children,” he said. “Supporting the family and promoting its true good, its rights, its unity and stability is the best way to protect the rights and the real needs of children.” The Pope acknowledged with regret in his address that some Catholic priests had failed to respect the rights of children by abusing them. He vowed that the Church “hasn’t, and won’t ever, stop deploring and condemning” their misdeeds.