Published Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 10:34 am / Updated at 11:57 pm
Pope: Church must balance stances on abortion, gays, contraception

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is warning that the Catholic Church's moral edifice might “fall like a house of cards” if it doesn't balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make the church a merciful, more welcoming place for all.

Six months into his papacy, Francis set out his vision for the church and his priorities as pope in a candid and lengthy interview with La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine. It was published simultaneously Thursday in other Jesuit journals, including America magazine in the U.S.

In the 12,000-word article, Francis expands on his ground-breaking comments over the summer about gays and acknowledges some of his own faults. He sheds light on his favorite composers, artists, authors and films (Mozart, Caravaggio, Dostoevsky and Fellini's “La Strada”) and says he prays even while at the dentist's office.

But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of generations of bishops and cardinals around the globe.

Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.

“The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Francis said. “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.”

Rather, he said, the Catholic Church must be like a “field hospital after battle,” healing the wounds of its faithful and going out to find those who have been hurt, excluded or have fallen away.

“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!” Francis said. “You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.

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

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas said Pope Francis was challenging “all of us to more conform to Christ in terms of compassion.”

Eileen Burke-Sullivan, a Creighton University associate professor of theology, said the pope’s comments are part of his continued effort to set a new tone for the Catholic Church.

“All too often the Catholic Church comes across as heavy-handed, arch-conservative and uncaring,’’ she said.

The pope's admonition is likely to have sharp reverberations in the United States, where some bishops have already publicly voiced dismay that Francis hasn't hammered home church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality areas of the culture wars where U.S. bishops often put themselves on the front lines. U.S. bishops were also behind Benedict's crackdown on American nuns, who were accused of letting doctrine take a backseat to their social justice work caring for the poor, precisely the priority that Francis is endorsing.

Just last week, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, wrote in his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed” that Francis hadn't addressed abortion since being elected.

Francis acknowledged that he had been “reprimanded” for not speaking out on such issues. But he said he didn't need to.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” he said. “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.”

Francis, the first Jesuit to become pope, was interviewed by Civilta Cattolica's editor, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, over three days in August at the Vatican hotel where Francis chose to live rather than the papal apartments. The Vatican vets all content of the journal, and the pope approved the Italian version of the article.

Nothing Francis said in this or other interviews indicate any change in church teaching. But he has set a different tone and signaled new priorities compared to Benedict and John Paul, priorities that have already been visible in his simple style, his outreach to the most marginalized and his insistence that priests be pastors, not bureaucrats.

Two months ago, Francis caused a sensation during an inflight press conference when he was asked about gay priests.

“Who am I to judge?” about the sexual orientation of priests, as long as they are searching for God and have good will, he responded.

Francis noted in the latest interview that he had merely repeated church teaching (though he again neglected to repeat church teaching that says while homosexuals should be treated with dignity and respect, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”)

But he said: “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 with love, or reject and condemn this person?'

“We must always consider the person. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

The key, he said, is for the church to welcome, not exclude and show mercy, not condemnation.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity,” he said.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read more related stories
Night hike planned at Homestead National Monument
Clayton Anderson to appear at Astronomy Day at Morrill Hall
UNL Extension forester offers tips on tree, shrub planting
Fire departments, Cass County water district fight over hydrants
Davenport man found guilty of vehicular homicide
Iowa City police, students connect over basketball
University of Iowa burn center sees jump in ammonia burns
Volunteers may revive Oyens, Iowa, ambulance service
3 suspects in robbery of drug dealers granted separate trials
Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Sperry, Iowa, man admits to shooting dog playing near child
After years of back and forth, another delay for Keystone XL pipeline
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
Good Deeds, April 20
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Year One without No. 3: The good, bad and uncertain
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
This Friday, celebrate Arbor Day where it all began
Why two hotshots ditched six-figure salaries for a life of less
Around and about: Blue Jean Ball raises $260K for Make-A-Wish
Bookends: Rex Harrison’s son plans Omaha reading, show
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
FROM THE BLOGS »
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
By Nancy Gaarder / World-Herald staff writer • Apr 17 at h:nn am/pm
Nancy's Almanac, April 16, 2014: Yes, it's been drier and colder than normal Nancy's Almanac, April 16, 2014: Yes, it's been drier and colder than normal
By Nancy Gaarder / World-Herald staff reporter • Apr 16 at h:nn am/pm
Jump to a blog:
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »