IT IS a "breath of fresh air" and "redolent of Jesus". It is
"naïve and discouraging" and has "effectively sandbagged" bishops
operating in a "combative popular culture".
Pope Francis's interview with La Civiltá Cattolica, the
Italian Jesuit journal, published last week, has provoked mixed
Conducted by the editor-in-chief of La Civiltá, Antonio
Spadaro, at the Pope's "austere" apartments in the Casa Santa
Marta, it is the record of an extensive dialogue, running to 11,000
After publication, one passage was seized on by the press: "We
cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and
the use of contraceptive methods. . . 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. . . 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 strength of the Pope's adherence to current teaching was
emphasised a day after the publication of the interview, when he
told gynaecologists at the Vatican that "every unborn child,
although unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus
Nevertheless, there is a rebuke in the interview for those who
seek to retreat from modernity and establish "order in the sense of
pure conservation, as a defence. No: God is to be encountered in
the world of today." The Pope also distanced himself from those who
"always look for disciplinarian solutions. . . an exaggerated
doctrinal 'security'. . . a past that no longer exists". The view
of the Church's teachings as "a monolith to defend without nuance
or different understandings" was "wrong".
Structural reforms are "secondary" to those of attitude, he
asserted. What the Church needed most of all was "the ability to
heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful". He spoke also
of reaching out "to those who do not attend mass, to those who have
quit or are indifferent".
There are also many references in the interview to a less
hierarchical style of governance, to "thinking with the Church",
which should be "the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold
only a small group of selected people". After defining himself as
"a sinner", he described how, as a Superior of a province of the
Society of Jesuits, he had an "authoritarian and quick manner of
making decisions". The experience taught him the importance of
consultation, he said.
Last week, the Roman Catholic journalist Andrew Sullivan said
that the interview had left him "reeling . . . I can barely believe
that these words - so redolent of Jesus - are coming from the new
Bishop of Rome, after so long an absence."
The RC Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, described
it as a "breath of fresh air. . . If the Church comes off as a
loving, em- bracing mother, who periodically has to correct her
children, then we will be effective."
The senior editor of The American Conservative, Rod
Dreher, told The New York Times that the Pope had
"decisively undercut the efforts of American Catholic politicians
and Catholic bishops on issues related to abortion, same-sex
marriage, contraception - and ultimately, religious freedom". He
had "effectively sandbagged" them.
On Tuesday, Sr Judith OSB, of Turvey Abbey, described the
interview as "inspiring and hopeful. I'm moved by his humility and
his openness. I like the stress on mercy and compassion, and his
commitment to collegiality, consultation, and dialogue within the
"As far as I can see, everything he said is already part of
Catholic teaching, so it is more a change in emphasis and nuance
than anything else. In many ways, I think the Pope is reminding the
Church of the best we can be, and challenging us to become that. If
the people of God can rise to that challenge, it will be