Pope Francis: Gays, Abortion: Catholic Church’s Obsession #PopeFrancis #Catholic

September 19, 2013

Pope Francis is back in the news and this time it is a long-form print interview. That means that it is more substantial and presumably less likely to be misinterpreted. Here is a segment of the story, followed by a link to the longer article and some commentary from me.

Pope Francis faulted the Roman Catholic church for focusing too much on gays, abortion and contraception, saying the church has become “obsessed” with those issues to the detriment of its larger mission to be “home for all,” according to an extensive new interview published Thursday.

The church can share its views on homosexuality, abortion and other issues, but should not “interfere spiritually” with the lives of gays and lesbians, the pope added in the interview, which was published in La Civilta Cattolica, a Rome-based Jesuit journal.

“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,” Francis said in the interview.

“The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,’ Francis said. “The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”

The 12,000-word interview ranges widely, touching upon the pope’s personal faith, the role of women and nuns in the church, Latin Mass and even the pope’s favorite artists.

Here is a link to the longer story.

Pope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church’s Obsession.

And the New York Times story is here.

And here are a few further thoughts.

This interview will be especially important for so-called “liberals.” I use that tag with caution because the liberal-conservative, one side is headed to heaven and the others are going straight to hell, division really does not work out well in religious discussions.  It actually does not work in political conversations any more either, but that is for another forum.

Progressive Roman Catholics, especially nuns, will make a lot of this new papal statement, and I want to be careful not to diminish what I think Francis is saying by pointing out how it will be received. I expect the altars of EWTN will be draped in black and poor Raymond Arroyo will announce that the Pope has lost his mind. The right-wing politicians that are always made comfortable at Arroyo’s side will ignore this pope much like church progressives have given little credence to his predecessors.

This interview may have some serious political consequences in the United States, so I will attempt to chose these words carefully. It is very possible to misunderstand this, or any, pope because they are not Americans and are naturally suspicious of a country which is so rabidly individualistic and shamelessly materialistic. Our media is especially suspect for church leaders from someplace else. This needs some unpacking.

Yes, the American news establishment is owned and managed a bunch of egotistical and generally under-educated individuals who are a lot more interested in making a buck than getting it right. When the pedophile priest story began to explode some years ago, church leaders dismissed the stories as the product of irresponsible American journalists. The people at the top of the Vatican do not “get” the USA.

If the Roman Catholic Church actually plans to tone down the current message on abortion, contraception and gay marriage, this ought to have a tremendous negative impact on American social conservatism. I say “ought to” because it is a long way from the Sistine Chapel to Branson, Mo. American conservative Roman Catholics will try to ignore this or twist the meaning, but bishops do take orders from Rome.

This is where things get sticky. One must wonder if Pope Francis has any awareness of how close the American branch of the Roman church has gotten to one political party. This same pope has embraced the notorious fugitive from justice, Cardinal Bernard Law. In any decent society, Law would have stood trail for his protection of pedophiles and be securely locked inside a prison instead of the Vatican’s luxury suites. Pope Francis is no man of steel.

This interview must also be reviewed from the ecclesiastical perspective. The pope is speaking as a pastor and his concern is the winning and care of souls. He is making a practical point that is hard to dispute, no matter one’s partisan position. His word “obsession” is very strong and one must wonder if it will be softened by Vatican officials in the next few days. Regardless, Francis is telling the church to emphasize God’s love for man and his invitation for us to join him in building his kingdom in expectation of the King’s coming.

Francis knows that conflict does not sell. It is unattractive and marks the church as being out-of-touch with real people. As one who often dwells on the doctrinal side of things, I must add an “amen.” As an Anglican, I see Roman Catholics as an important part of the living Body of Christ. We are the true living presence of Jesus in the world and when our words are full of division and mistrust, we do him dishonor.

Jesus is present in the gospel narrative as compassionate and involved in people’s everyday concerns. He does not compromise on morals and doctrine, but he builds relationships first. There is no easy way. Jesus says to grab your cross and come along to your own execution. It is not exactly “tough love,” but Jesus proposes love that is strong and selfless.

The commercial, political, material interests are taken up with the self-worship of pleasure, power and greed. Pope Francis proposes the right corrective, the gospel of salvation. It is a message that starts with divine grace and love.

Political activists have nothing to fear, until Jesus comes back. In the meantime, most people never have a serious thought anyway, and certainly no deep religious reflection. For those who have ears to hear, even among evangelical Anglicans, the Pope’s call for pastoral action is still big news.

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