Pope Francis is greeted by priests of the Diocese of Rome during his visit to the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome Sept. 16. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
by some of the reactions to the
September 19th America interview
Francis, which was originally conducted over three days in August,
you might be tempted to think a pontiff had never given an interview
before. How quickly some forget, if they ever knew at all.
first papal text I ever read, as a young Evangelical Protestant with
a growing curiosity about the Catholic Church, was John Paul II's
1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (available
online in PDF format), which was an interview conducted by
Italian journalist Vittorio Messori. And, of course, Pope Benedict
XVI was interviewed in 2010 by German journalist Peter Seewald,
resulting in Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the
Sign of the Times (Ignatius Press, 2010). That book certainly
garnered widespread attention, especially for comments that Benedict
made about contraception.
fact, if you read only accounts from many mainstream news sources,
you may have concluded that the entire book was about condoms. The
obsession with the “condom comments” became so ridiculous that
the president of Ignatius Press, Mark Brumley, penned
an interview with himself which satirized the nonsense:
Media: So the Pope has written a book about condoms!
Brumley: Well, actually, it’s an interview book. And
journalist Peter Seewald interviewed Benedict about a wide-range of
topics, not just about condoms.
but condoms must be a major theme of the book. Look at all the
coverage that has focused on condoms!
the Pope’s comments about condoms cover only about two pages out of
about 200 pages of Q & As.
what did the Pope say about condoms?
here and read for yourself what
does this have to do with the interview with Pope Francis? Quite a
bit. Consider some of the headlines that a Google search turns up
for “Pope Francis” and “interview” (all from the first page
Bluntly Faults Church's Focus on Gays and Abortion (New
Francis: Church cannot be 'obsessed' with gays, other bans (Chicago
Pope Francis says
church cannot focus only on abortion and gay (NBCNews.com)
Pope Francis: Church
can't 'interfere' with gays (CNN)
Francis Tells Church to Stop 'Obsessing' Over Gay Marriage (Mediaite)
Francis takes issue with church focus on gays, abortion (Los
Pope Francis says
church cannot focus only on abortion and gay marriage (NBCNews.com)
Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church's Obsession
Francis: The Church needs to mellow out on abortion and gay issues
(San Francisco Chronicle)
indeedCatholics surely must not obsess over “gay marriage” and
abortion, otherwise they might start looking and sounding like the
reporters and editors of The
New York Times,
NBC News, CNN, and all the rest! Why, if I didn't know better, I'd
think that the only reason many reporters skim through papal writings
and interviews is to find mention of “sex”, “abortion”,
“condoms”, and the like.
did the Holy Father actually say? First, keep in mind that you really
must read the entire interview. Twice. Or even three times.
Carefully. That said, here is the section inspiring all of the
knee-jerk, group-think reaction among many American journalists:
cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and
the use of contraceptive methods. 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.
dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.
The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the
transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed
insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the
essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and
attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples
at Emmaus. 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.
said here is not just accurate, but very much in keeping with both
commonsense and a perspective shaped by a desire to share the gospel,
save souls, and transform lives, by God's grace.
you cannot win souls by simply telling people, “No, no, no!” As
Al Kresta stated, when he interviewed me earlier today about this
papal interview, “Before there is any 'no', there is a resounding
'Yes!'” This does not mean, of course, that saying “No!” is
wrong, but that it must be introduced with a “Yes!” And that is
the “Yes!” of God's love, mercy, grace, and gift of salvation.
Francis does not say Catholics should not discuss abortion, marriage,
and other “hot button” issues, but that our conversations,
arguments, and discussions about them must be within a proper
contextand that context is the gospel. After all, as he notes,
“the teaching of the church” on these issues “is clear” (even
if many Catholics remain conveniently confused about them).
Cynical Misreading of Pope Francis
after the interview was released, the dissenting group Catholics
United (see the August 2012 CWR article, “The
Catholic Con Continues”) released a press statement penned by
the CU communications director, Chris
Pumpelly. The statement opens by claiming that “Francis articulates
his vision of moving the priorities of the Catholic faith away from
divisive social issues, like what he calls an 'obsession' with gay
marriage, abortion and contraception, while refocusing on core Gospel
teachings relating to poverty.” That statement is misleading at
best, as “the priorities of the Catholic faith” have always been
focused on proclaiming the gospel, even if many individual
Catholicslaity, clergy, and religious alikefail to do so.
Pumpelly, like so many “progressives”, seeks to create a faulty
“either/or” approach that seeks the silencing of those who
uphold the clear and consistent teaching of the Church about
sexuality, morality, and marriage.
fact is, it is the secularists, the technocratic elitists, and the
self-appointed gatekeepers of society who have for decades
relentlessly pushed their anti-human and anti-family priorities upon
the Church and on all those who believe that marriage is indeed the
union of a man and a woman, that sexual union is for the marriage bed
alone, and that life deserves protection from the moment of
conception. It brings to mind the story of an archbishop who, upon
learning that lawmakers were seeking to legislate “same sex
marriage” into existence, began writing letters and helping
organize responses against the impending legislation. In one of his
letters, he wrote the following of the growing push for “same sex
is not a simple political fight; but rather an attempt to destroy the
plan of God. It is not about a mere legislative projectthat is
only the instrumentbut, rather, it is a “move” by the father
of lies, who intends to confuse and trick the children of God. ...
the senators: cry out to the Lord for his Spirit to be sent to the
senators who must vote. That they not be moved by error or by
changing situations but, rather, according to what natural law and
the law of God show us. This battle is not ours but God’s. That
they may assist, defend, and accompany us in God’s will.
archbishop, of course, was Jorge
Mario Bergoglio, writing in 2010. Was he, then, falling prey to an
“obsession”? Was he, in his words and actions, “abdicating”
his “moral authority” by obsessing “over divisive, often
politically-driven, social issues like gay marriage and access to
birth control”a charge leveled by Catholics United executive
director, James Salt, against the American bishops? Conversely, is it
really possible to openly dismiss moral truth and undermine the
perennial teaching of the Church, and then claim to somehow be more
perfectly attuned to the priorities of the Church? I hope the answer
on the Ultimate Goal
those who are most “obsessive” about these issues are those who
cannot (or will not) appreciate that the mosaic of the Church's
teachings, which beautifully expresses the gospel and provides a map
to right living, must be received and viewed in full, without
removing those tiles which offend our passions or transgress the
wisdom of the current age. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church
plainly states, “There
is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas.
Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and
make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and
heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith”
(par 89). What Francis has emphasized in this interview is a need for
prudence and discernment in recognizing the best way to convey the
proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is
from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our
preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the
first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is
nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you
have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence.
But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and
religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite
order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the
pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those
who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be
able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The
message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some
aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart
of the message of Jesus Christ.
builds upon what the Church calls the “hierarchy of truths” (CCC
90), the recognition that there is an organic relationship of
priority within Church teaching. Truth is truth, but certain
doctrinesthe Trinity, the Incarnation, the saving work of Jesus
Christare more foundational and central, and without them, other
truths cannot be seen as easily and understood with proper clarity.
about the Pope's statement, “...I have never been a right-winger.”
Anyone who presents this as an open shot at Catholics who opposed
“same sex marriage” and “abortion” is being either cynical or
foolish. The comment is made within the context of the young
Bergoglio being a Jesuit superior; he laments the “authoritarian”
methods of governance he used when first appointed to that position
within the Order. What is most ridiculous and offensive about James
Salt's misuse of the term is that Catholics United is supposedly
against the alleged misuse of politics in the name of the Church, yet
misuses the very words of the Pope in order to further a political
agenda squarely at odds with the Church. As is so often the case,
distinguishing between dissenting Catholics and fixated secular
journalists can be difficult, although the latter probably have more
excuses for their failures.
the conclusion of his interview, the Holy Father says, “The
thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how
human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and
deepen the church’s teaching.” When I first read John Paul II's
the Threshold of Hope
almost twenty years ago, I recognized both genius and a incisive understanding of what is means to be human. The same is true for the
writings and teaching of Benedict XVI, especially (but not limited
to) his profound encyclicals on charity and hope.
Francis has his own style, which reflects his unique personality and
background, but it is also evident that he has the same central goal
as his predecessors: to “proclaim
the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching”
(2 Tim 4:2).