Much has been made around the world in the secular media about what Pope Francis “said” in an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit Journal.
The first thing to be noted is the interview, conducted with the Italian Jesuit priest, Fr Antonio Spadaro, S.J, took place over three lengthy sessions. To do justice to the Pope’s answers would be to read the article in its entirety.
Failing that, the next best option would be to provide much more context than the brief grabs that made secular world headlines.
Below are some fuller excerpts from the interview, with the key phrases so magnified by the media highlighted in bold:
“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. 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.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. 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 confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.
“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?
“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.
In response to much of the media interest and interpretation, Sydney Archbishop George Cardinal Pell released the following brief statement on Friday 20 September. It bears inclusion here to provide some balance and perspective on some of the overzealous interpreting of the Pope’s words:
“Two paragraphs in Pope Francis’ important 12,000 word interview have been the focus of particular attention. He also emphasised the importance of not taking issues out of context.”
“The Holy Father is describing how many priests and bishops, including myself, carry out their ministry as teachers and healers. Questions like abortion and homosexual practice involve very important human and scriptural values, and they need to be articulated clearly, sensitively, and with a compassionate understanding of our weaknesses and struggles. Essential Christian moral teachings need to be defended and explained when they are attacked. But we do not seek to harangue people about them every day. After Jesus saved the adulterous woman from stoning, he gently urged her to sin no more (Jn:8).”
“Important moral issues as they are, they are not central issues of faith, like the resurrection of Jesus or the love and mercy of God.”
“The Holy Father is calling our attention to the way truth is something lived in a relationship, first and foremost in a relationship with God. Faith is foundational. With this great truth to rely on, God calls us to live a better life, helps us in our struggles, and through his forgiveness enables us to start again when we fail.”
“This is the message that we work to bring to people every day. I hope the Holy Father’s interview helps to make this clearer to everyone.”
Released by The Archdiocesan Communication Office
September 23, 2013