(RNS) In a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with journalists from his own Jesuit order, Pope Francis makes a number of stunningly frank comments that are likely to rattle the church and cement his reputation as a leader more concerned with a pastoral approach than a doctrinal hard line.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday, Sept. 11. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Wednesday, Sept. 11. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service


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Among other things, Francis said that while he has been reprimanded for not speaking much about abortion, contraception and homosexuality, he does not think it necessary to “talk about these issues all the time” and warned that the church can become “obsessed” with a few doctrines.

He also speaks about the need to treat gays and lesbians with respect and without condemnation, and he cautions against a “restorationist” mentality in the church and adds: “I have never been a right-winger.”

Here are some other highlights from the 12,000-word interview, which was conducted at the Vatican over three sessions in August. It was published simultaneously on Thursday by 16 Jesuit publications around the world, including the New York-based America magazine, which has the full transcript:

“We 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 … 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.”

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”

“My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative … but I have never been a right-winger.”

“We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”

“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.”

“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

“The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?”

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. 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. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds …”

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

“I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role.”

“(W)e must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

“The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.”

“The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.”

“If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.”

“The 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.”

“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.”

Also see:

“The Story Behind the Story,” by America editor, the Rev. Matt Malone, SJ, on how the interview came about and how it unfolded.

And “Listening to the Pope,” reflections on the interview by the Rev. James Martin, SJ, an editor at America and a popular author and commentator.

 

22 Comments

    • That’s right, but those are words that will make the headlines and stun those who won’t bother the read what the Pope actually says. A shame as he’s saying so much more than those three words, and it’s nothing against church teaching. It’s just stuff people aren’t used to hearing about.

      Also, I’m glad to have RNS as a resource for religious news. When I saw the news headline on Reddit I came straight here instead of clicking the link.

  1. Well, at least the Pope is finally putting his cards on the table. I love the clear pastoral emphasis on “heal the wounds”, but the doctrinal emphasis is missing in action. Both emphases are needed, publicly so, or things don’t work so well.

    Looks like a long(-er) walk, a rock(-ier) road, for American Catholics soon.

  2. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Is it the pope or the media which is obsessed with “sex” issues??? The pope made a very telling point (ignored by all the media accounts I have heard and read) that he is a son of the Church and embraces the teachings of the catechism–BUT does that mean that every time he writes or talks he must emphasize moral issues— like, for example, lying???? Must he talk of the “sex” issues to feed the media’s obsessions??? He wants to talk about mercy and forgiveness–but in the context of the traditional moral teachings of the Church and the Catholic catechism.
    As, usual the media is trying to use the pope’s words to further their moral agenda.

    • The culture as a whole is sex-obsessed, and the institutional church doesn’t escape that, I think.

      The corporate media has no moral agenda. The agenda is to make profits. If a “cool Catholicism” will sell, then it will be reported. It’s the main reason why I stay away from Big Media sites and stick to ones such as these.

    • He is the leader of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has decided to take certain positions on things that people have found controversial. As a figurehead he must be expected to represent the church when such issues are brought up, in the same way that the president should be expected to defend laws he has passed.

      If he wants to avoid talking about issues regarding sexuality then fine. He should then take steps and measures to change the church’s stance on homosexuality and contraception to one of indifference instead of trying to divert attention to things that, admittedly, SHOULD be more important to the church.

  3. Everything this “pope” says is a heresy. According to Catholic doctrine, a heretic cannot validly be pope. That is why many Catholics (although not the majority) consider him and the popes since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 to be an antipopes.
    Consider his remark about the Church not having the answer to all questions, and even Moses leaving room for doubt and how that flies in the face of Scripture itself. Moses left no room for doubt. Why also did Scripture say: “You have no need that any man teach you; but as his unction teaches you all things, and is truth.” (1 Jn. 2: 27), and “But when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will teach you all truth…” (Jn. 16: 13). The mark of faith is certitude in the truths that one must believe to be saved from eternal hellfire, as if these certainties were something distinct from the Lord and not necessary to attain to Him.

  4. John Stefanyszyn

    Jorge Bergoglio said that he is a sinner.
    To be a sinner is one who continues to disobey the Will of the One God and who continues to live according to the freedom to do his own will.
    Jorge Bergoglio has confessed and continues to confess that it is RIGHT TO BE FREE to worship any ‘god’, any ‘religion’.

    BUT there is Only One Creator God whose identity is clearly define by His Son Jesus Christ…and it is Only Christ that will rule according to the Will of His Father and NOT according to the ‘freedom will’ of man.

    Jorge Bergoglio is a sinner and continues to be a sinner.

  5. I am not Catholic but I already feel strong respect and affinity for this man. Just watching the way he interacts with others and his sense of humility portends a fundamental change in Catholic leadership. May God bless him.

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