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Pope’s interview evokes both shock and awe

27 September 2013

REUTERS

Papal wave: Pope Francis arrives to meet the poor and prisoners at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, in Cagliari, Italy, last Sunday, where he made sharp criticisms of the global economic system

Papal wave: Pope Francis arrives to meet the poor and prisoners at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, in Cagliari, Italy, last Sunday, where he m...

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 reactions.

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 words.

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 Christ."

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 Church.

"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 ground-breaking."

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