Pope Francis warns church's moral structure could 'fall like a house of cards' - Omaha.com
Published Friday, September 20, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 7:15 pm
Pope Francis warns church's moral structure could 'fall like a house of cards'

Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging interview published Thursday that the Catholic Church's moral structure might “fall like a house of cards” if it doesn't stop obsessing over abortion and same-sex marriage and start concentrating on compassion.

Eileen Burke-Sullivan, a Creighton University associate professor of theology, said the pope's comments are a dramatic example of his continuing effort to set a more merciful tone for the church.

“All too often, the Catholic Church comes across as heavy-handed, archconservative and uncaring,” said Burke-Sullivan.

Six months into his papacy, Francis set out his vision for the church and his priorities as pope in a remarkably blunt interview with La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine. It was published simultaneously Thursday in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, including America magazine in the U.S.

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas said the pope is challenging “all of us to more conform to Christ in terms of compassion.”

Lucas and Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln said nothing in the pope's interview indicates any change in church teaching.

“He's saying that our doctrine begins and ends with God's love,” Conley said.

In the 12,000-word article, the pope departed 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.

Francis took a different turn in his comments, saying the church has grown obsessed with preaching about abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.

Burke-Sullivan said it's clear from the interview that those issues remain important to Francis, but he's saying the church must also speak out more on other problems, such as chronic poverty.

“(Poverty is) as immoral as some of these other issues the church has hammered,” she said.

In the interview, Francis expanded on his groundbreaking comments over the summer about gays.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he said. “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.”

Rich Ketter, a member of a local Catholic support group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said the pope's comments were a hopeful sign.

“We need to see each other as creatures of God,” said Ketter of Caring Catholic Families. “The purpose of the church is to spread the good news and not worry that God is going to smite us for this or that.”

Rev. James Martin, editor at large for America magazine, said mercy has been a hallmark of Francis' papacy from its earliest days.

“The interview shows a gentle pastor who looks upon people as individuals, not categories,” he said.

Francis said the 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 said. “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.”

The 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 teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality — areas of the culture wars where U.S. bishops often put themselves on the front lines.

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.”

Conley, the Lincoln bishop, said Francis hasn't skirted those issues during his papacy, and the interview makes clear that he strongly supports church teachings on those matters.

“He's chosen to emphasize God's mercy but also recognize the sin of abortion, contraception and homosexual acts,'' Conley said.

The bishops of the Des Moines and Sioux City dioceses in Iowa could not be reached for comment.

Omaha's Rachel Kraft, who considers herself a conservative Catholic, said the church and its members spend too much time arguing over such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Kraft, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, said the pope is saying that Catholics are aware of the church's teachings, and it's unnecessary to hit people over the head with them.

Nancy Kilbride, a member of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Council Bluffs, agreed.

She said Francis wants the church to welcome people, not exclude them.

The pope addressed that point, saying: “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.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press and the New York Times.

Contact the writer: Michael O'Connor

michael.oconnor@owh.com    |   402-444-1122    |  

Michael is a general assignment reporter for the Living section, covering a mix of topics including human interest stories.

State Department moves to delay Keystone XL pipeline decision
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
< >
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
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.
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 »