Pope Francis has criticised the Roman Catholic church for becoming "obsessed" with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception and said he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.
In the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, Francis used remarkably blunt language as he sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a "home for all" and not a "small chapel" focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings.
"It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," the pope told Fr Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal whose content is routinely approved by the Vatican.
“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,” said Francis.
“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 interview was conducted during three meetings in August in the pope’s spartan quarters in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse. Francis has chosen to live there rather than in what he said were more isolated quarters at the Apostolic Palace, home to many of his predecessors.
The interview was released simultaneously today by 16 Jesuit journals around the world, and includes the pope's lengthy reflections on his identity as a Jesuit. Pope Francis personally reviewed the transcript in Italian, said Fr James Martin, an editor-at-large of America, the Jesuit magazine in New York.
America and La Civiltà Cattolica together had asked Francis to grant the interview, which America is publishing in its magazine and as an e-book.
“Some of the things in it really surprised me,” Fr Martin said. “He seems even more of a free-thinker than I thought - creative, experimental, willing to live on the margins, push boundaries back a little bit.”
The new pope's words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, often appeared to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. These teachings are "clear" to him as "a son of the church," he said, but they have to be taught in a larger context. "The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives."
From the outset of his papacy in March, Francis has chosen to use the global spotlight to focus instead on the church’s mandate to serve the poor and marginalised. He has washed the feet of juvenile prisoners, visited a centre for refugees and hugged disabled pilgrims at his audiences.
His pastoral presence and humble gestures have made him wildly popular, according to recent surveys. But there has been a low rumble of discontent from some Catholic advocacy groups, and even from some bishops, who have taken note of his silence on abortion and gay marriage.
Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, told his diocesan newspaper he was "a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis" because he had not spoken about abortion. "Many people have noticed that," the bishop was quoted as saying.
The interview is the first time Francis has explained the reasoning behind both his actions and omissions. He also expanded on the comments he made about homosexuality in July, on an airplane returning to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, where he had celebrated World Youth Day.
In a remark then that produced headlines worldwide, the new pope said, “Who am I to judge?”
At the time, some questioned whether he was referring only to gays in the priesthood, but in this interview he made clear that he had been speaking of gays and lesbians in general.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he told Fr Spadaro. “I replied with another question: ‘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.”
The interview also serves to present the pope as a human being, who loves Mozart and Dostoevsky and his grandmother, and whose favorite film is Fellini’s “La Strada.”
The 12,000-word interview ranges widely, and may confirm what many Catholics already suspected: that the chameleon-like Francis bears little resemblance to those on the church's theological or political right wing. He said some people had assumed he was an "ultraconservative" because of his reputation when he served as the superior of his Jesuit province in Argentina.
He pointed out that he was made superior at the “crazy” young age of 36, and that his leadership style was too authoritarian.
“But I have never been a right-winger,” he said. “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
New York Times