Pope Says Church Could Collapse Like ‘House of Cards’ Over Obsession With Abortion, Gay Marriage

Pope Francis
Pope Francis waves after his general audience in St Peter’s square at the Vatican on September 18, 2013. (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Released this morning, a rather remarkable interview with Pope Francis I. The New York Times has the story

Pope Francis, in the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic church had grown “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.

In remarkably blunt language, Francis 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 the Rev. 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. Read full story

Here’s the full interview with the Pope, which was conducted in Italian and has been published in English by the Jesuit magazine America. The interview took place over three days and was conducted by the editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal. Some of the Pope’s translated words, as reported in America:

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. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. 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.

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. 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.

“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.” Read full interview

The Pope seems determined to undo decades of Catholic church emphasis on certain hot-button issues, topics that in America, at least, have been front and center in the culture wars. From AFP on Monday:

Pope Francis on Monday called for “another way” of treating divorcees who remarry – a thorny issue since Catholics who wed a second time are currently not allowed to receive Holy Communion at mass.

Catholic faithful should “feel at home” in parishes and those who have remarried should be treated with “justice,” the pope was quoted as saying by Romasette, the local newspaper for the diocese of Rome.

In July, he said this about about gay priests: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Update: Bernard Schlager, vice president of academic affairs  and dean of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, talked with KQED’s Tara Siler today about the pope’s remarks. Schlager said he was “surprised” by  Francis’ comments on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, but that his views are probably in line with the Catholic laity, if not church leaders.

“I think that he has listened deeply probably throughout his entire career in the church… and he’s getting a sense that I believe is shared by many Catholics around the world, that this narrow focus is hurting the church.

“As Francis grows into his position as Pope, he is putting his stamp on his papacy in a way that is decidedly pastoral, in a sense that he is focusing on being shepherd of the church, first and foremost, and less of an enforcer of doctrine. I’m not saying he’s not supporting traditional Catholic teaching, but as he was saying, much of [the church leadership] has become obsessed with these three issues of gay marriage, contraception, abortion.”

Schlager said this sea change at the very top of the church may play out in terms of appointments the Pope makes.

“The influence of his two predecessors is seen today in the fact that the two of them have chosen all of the bishops and cardinals except for maybe a very few. That is where the influence is most felt significantly in the church throughout the world. The question will be how long Francis remains pope and what kind of appointments he makes in terms of bishops around the world, because they of course are the local leaders of the Catholic Church. They are nearly all, because they were appointed by John Paul and Benedict, quite conservative.”

  • Minnesota Mary

    The Catholic Church has already collapsed “like a house of cards.” All that remains is the faithful remnant.

  • guy1

    with so many lapse catholics(Christmas and Easter service only attenders) it was just a matter of time before they elected a lapse pope….before the joke was..”.is the pope catholic?”……I guess now it’s not a joke now and the answer is no!!!!!

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor