IN a revealing interview, Pope Francis has made some surprising comments – including that the Catholic Church is ‘obsessed’ with gays, abortion and birth control.
Six months into his post the Pontiff’s frank words, made during three meetings with a fellow Jesuit for New York-based America magazine interviewer in August, seem to consolidate him as a reformer. Many have taken the groundbreaking interview, with its distinctly different tone and championing of the importance of change, as signalling a break with 35 years of doctrinal intransigence.
Fighting abortion and gay rights has long been top on the agenda for bishops and priests in many countries, but Pope Francis argued that teachings had to be presented in a wider and more compassionate context, and Jesus’ message not narrowed down.
The 76 year old said the church should have a pastor rather than a bureaucrat’s heart: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”
He added: “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
It was in part an expansion of the comments he made about homosexuality in July, returning from Rio de Janeiro when he famously said: ““Who am I to judge?” At the time there was confusion over whether he had been speaking about gays in the priesthood, but in his latest interview he confirmed that he had been speaking about gay men and lesbians in general.
He recalled being asked once whether he ‘approved’ of homosexuality’, and said he had replied with the question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person.”
Speaking to the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, whose content is approved by the Vatican, he criticized the church for putting ‘dogma’ before love, and giving priority to a set of moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized.
“There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong,” Francis said.
Since he was elected in March, Francis, who was formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has reiterated this point with things like a visit to a refuge centre, hugging disabled pilgrims at his audiences and washing the feet of juvenile prisoners. According to opinion polls, it is these humble gestures that have made him so popular with many.
Pope Francis described his vision of a church which was inclusive and a “home for all”, a starkly different view to the one articulated by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI: “We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
For the full article, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 28 September 2013).