In the News 2013
The Times (UK)

‘Heal, or church will fall apart’

Pope Francis has warned that the Roman Catholic Church will ‘‘fall like a house of cards’’ if it continues to obsess about issues such as abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

The Pope, in an interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, also warns against being locked in by petty rules. Although he does not mention the ordination of women, he hints strongly that he wants to find ways for them to exercise authority in the Church.

He dismisses the view that he is a conservative which he says is a myth that arose from a mistaken ‘‘authoritarian’’ manner he adopted in the past. And he suggests reform of the Synod of Bishops, the regular gatherings in Rome of Catholic bishops. The interview, in Italian, is published in English in Thinking Faith, the online journal of the Jesuits in Britain. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope.

With his clear endorsement of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and his clear backing for the liberal tradition in the Church – which under the previous two Popes was severely embattled – the Pope’s interview will dismay conservatives.

The Pope said: ‘‘ We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.’’

He said that the teaching of the Church is clear and that he is a ‘‘son of the Church’’. He continued: ‘‘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, he said, must 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.’’

He confessed to failings in the way he ran the Jesuits when he was head of the order. ‘‘In my experience as superior in the society, to be honest, I have not always behaved in that way – that is, I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not

‘‘I see the church as a field hospital after battle . . . Heal the wounds, heal the wounds . . . And you have to start from the ground up.’’ a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults.’’

He has never been a Rightwinger, he insisted. ‘‘It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.’’

Asked what the Church needs most today, the Pope said: ‘‘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.’’

On Christians who live in ‘‘irregular’’ situations, such as the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and others, the Pope said: ‘‘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.’’

He added: ‘‘A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied ‘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.’’

He called for the role of women to be looked at. ‘‘We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.

‘‘The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.’’

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said: ‘‘We welcome what Pope Francis said today when he called for the Catholic church to be ‘home for all’ and not a ‘small chapel’ focused on doctrine and limited views on moral teachings.

‘‘This message resonates … Catholics are gay and lesbian; Catholics use birth control and Catholics have abortions.

‘‘We truly hope that this is just the start, that Pope Francis doesn’t only talk the talk, but also walks the walk.’’

This piece was originally published by The Times (UK).

Catholics for Choice