Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis delivered a blunt
message to the church: Stop obsessively preaching about the ills of
abortion, contraception, and gay marriage.
"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," he said in an interview
published Thursday. The church "cannot insist only on issues related
to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods."
While Francis's comments do not represent a change in doctrine,
they mark an important symbolic shift for the church that is likely
to anger conservative factions more closely aligned to the views of
Pope Benedict XVI, who railed against gay marriage and legalized
His message broke from views long held by much of the church
hierarchy and many of his predecessors on the most controversial and
pressing issues the Catholic Church faces.
But in calling for a more open and welcoming church, Francis
showed little departure from the approach he took as an Argentine
cardinal and leader in a Latin American church that has employed
tactics that differed from the message pushed by the Vatican.
Members of the Latin American clergy have a history of applying
church doctrine more progressively, choosing to focus on the poor
and underprivileged in a region deeply divided along class lines.
"He's making a pastoral intervention on three communities of
human beings who have been targeted by the last two popes," says
Jennifer Hughes, a history professor who studies liberation theology
at the University of California, Riverside. "Gay people, women, and
the church of the poor. With these statements on the three, he's
taken them back into the pastoral embrace."
With parishioners leaving the church or opting for evangelical
Protestant sects, the Vatican has recognized it has a communication
and image problem, which is part of what made then-Cardinal Jorge
Mario Bergoglio an attractive candidate.
"What I see are the thoughts of a pope that are very similar to
his beliefs when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires," says Father
Jose Maria Canto, rector of the Faculty of Philosophy and Theology
at Colegio Maximo in Buenos Aires, a position once held by Pope
Francis. "He's being very direct, and very honest. And he's thought
deeply about these issues"
'Home for all'The pope's comments appeared as part of a lengthy
interview conducted by an Italian Catholic journalist in August and
simultaneously published in Jesuit news outlets around the world,
including the US magazine America, which translated it to English.
In the interview, Pope Francis showed no sign he would push for a
change in church policy, only a different approach. The "teaching of
the church ... is clear and I am a son of the church," he said, "but
it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."
As opposed to Benedict, who called for a smaller church of core
followers, Pope Francis said the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church
should be "home for all."
During his career, Pope Francis advocated for marginalized
populations in Argentina while balancing the demands of an
increasingly conservative Vatican, observers say.
"On one hand, he shows that he's a man of clear orthodoxy, and on
the other a daring innovator who conceives of the church as being
for actual people not a coterie" that excludes, says Jose Maria
Poirier, editor of the Argentine Catholic magazine Criterio. …