September 19, 2013

Pope: Stop obsession with abortion, gay marriage

Pope Francis says that he too is a sinner, and the Catholic Church cannot restrict its message to just reprimanding people for their sins.

By MICHELLE BOORSTEIN and ELIZABETH TENETY The Washington Post

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A faithful tosses in the air a jersey with the colors of the Argentine flag as Pope Francis greets faithful upon arrival for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

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Pope Francis is shown a dog by a member of the Italian Federation of Canine Sports following his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.

The Associated Press / L'Osservatore Romano

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In the interview, Francis sounded primarily like a pastor, not a guardian of Catholic doctrine. Asked what kind of church he dreamt of, he said it should be "a field hospital after battle," about healing. Asked to define himself, he said "I am a sinner. . . . It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner."

Some traditional Catholics said they worried that people — particularly non-Catholics and the media — misunderstand Francis.

"Everyone knows that the church is against abortion. Everyone knows that the church is opposed to contraception. Everyone knows that the church thinks that homosexual acts are sinful. . . . What people have a problem with is why does the church say that?" said Stephen White, a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "What Pope Francis is saying is that they can't understand any of that unless we get to the real heart of the Gospel, which is Jesus who loves us, who calls us to love others . . . This is what Francis is saying, it's from that proposition that the moral consequences then flow. What he's saying is you don't want to put the cart before the horse. The moral teachings of the church follow from some deeper truth. We have to get that deeper truth right."

Michael Donohue, spokesman for the conservative-leaning diocese that covers Northern Virginia, predicted that the interview will do what other comments from Pope Francis have done: provoke.

"It takes some people back; it's even shocking to some people. It gets messy, ambiguous, then you get criticism from the left and right," Donohue said. "The left says church teachings are about to change, the other side says it's not significant. Well, it is — he's head of the church. I don't think he has some agenda that some progressive members who want things to change see. I don't see that. I see a holy father going where people are. If that includes topics where there is division, he is comfortable with that."

Allen Rose, a District of Columbia paralegal who sits on the board of the national LGBT Catholic group Dignity, said he was moved that Francis responded to a question about whether he approved of homosexuality by talking about "the mystery of the human being."

"This is basically what LGBT Catholics have been saying: 'Let me share my experience of my life, of God being in my life and what it means to me,' " Rose said. "I think there is disagreement among gay Catholics, is this enough? To me, you have to start somewhere."

Others feared that the interview's importance would be lost by those who focus too much on analyzing only snippets.

"That's not what this interview is about. The interview is an intimate sharing of the personal faith of Francis," said Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University, "a faith that has been tested in the poignancy of real life and emerged luminous — and his faith overwhelms and leaves my own trembling."

 

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