Catholics should not try to ‘recover a past that no longer exists’, Pope Francis declares

Pontiff warns against ‘legalist’ Christian faith that seeks ‘doctrincal security’

Pope Francis: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” Photograph: Reuters

Pope Francis: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” Photograph: Reuters


As if to deflect from countless headlines about his views on homosexuality and abortion, Pope Francis chose a far more personal theme for his daily tweet yesterday: “Christ is always faithful. Let us pray to be always faithful to him.”

The same certainty – what he calls his “dogmatic certainty” that “God is in every person’s life” – resonates through his interview with a Jesuit theologian, published this week.

As well as discussing hot political topics such as Vatican censorship, the role of women in the church and the Catholic stance on reproductive rights, the pope articulates a clear and somewhat challenging vision for Christians. “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing,” he says.

“Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security’, those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists – they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.”

Drawing on his background as a Jesuit, he extols the virtues of living “on the margins, on the frontier”, saying: “There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a ‘lab faith’ but a ‘journey faith’, a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.”

Citing the example of nuns working in hospitals, he adds: “They live on the frontier . . . Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience.”

‘Warm the hearts of the faithful’
Asked what sort of reforms are needed in the Catholic Church, he replies: “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 . . . And you have to start from the ground up.

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”

As for role models, he cites the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, along with his lesser known companion Peter Faber (1506-46) who is praised for his “dialogue with all . . . even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naiveté perhaps . . .” The pope adds: “I am rather close to the mystical movement. . . And Faber was a mystic.”

Elsewhere, the pope describes himself as a Roman outsider, “a sinner” and “a really, really undisciplined person”. He emphasises the role of consultation in decision-making, calling for a “less rigid form” of discussion at the highest level of the church.

“I do not want token consultations, but real consultations,” he says. “The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”

Untapped resources
Suggesting untapped resources in the laity, he says: “If you want to know who [Mary] is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people . . . We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”

This focus on the church as it is experienced in ordinary life is a recurrent theme, and informs his comments on homosexuality.

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” he says, “In Buenos Aires, I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this.

“During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.

“By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

He continues: “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.”