Pope Francis Criticizes Focus On Abortion, Contraception, And Gay Marriage

Pope Francis

Pope Francis criticizes focus on abortion, contraception, and gay marriage.

As someone who has never met a religion I really liked, I find myself in the very odd position of really, really liking the new pope. Maybe even loving him. And that’s bad news for the religious right.

The basis for this new-found affection is epitomized by an interview Pope Francis gave to the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica and which was simultaneously published on Thursday in 16 other Jesuit journals around the world. The pope personally approved the Italian version, so there would be no mistake about how his views are represented.

The most striking feature of the interview is Francis’ insistence that the Church not dwell on small-minded issues and moral judgments, consistent with his response in July when asked by a reporter about his reaction if he found out a cleric was gay. He answered, “Who am I to judge?” That was fair warning to the faithful that things were about to change.

In the interview, he expanded greatly on similar themes, saying:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods … 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.

But, of course, conservative Catholics and others on the religious right focus almost exclusively on these ‘dogmatic teachings’, looking for punitive ways of enforcing their views on the rest of society. The pope is obviously aware of the dangers of such an approach. He’s not much concerned with the small details of doctrinaire teachings that don’t convey the big picture, the ‘heart’ of the faith, as he sees it. Rather, he expresses more concern for the integrity and survival of the Catholic Church, saying:

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards …

He then attacks three pillars of the religious right’s foundation: authoritarianism, a desire to recreate the past, and the desire for promotion and wealth. His own early, authoritarian governing style created many problems, including the erroneous perception that he was a right-winger, which he denies ever having been. Over time, he has become more open-minded:

Now I hear some people tell me: ‘Do not consult too much, and decide by yourself.’ Instead, I believe that consultation is very important.

Further, he says:

If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.

Could this be any clearer in thinking about popular evangelists like Pat Robertson or Joel Osteen? It’s equally relevant when the pope addresses those who cling to the past, insisting that such adherence holds all the answers:

Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.

In other words, faith becomes a rigid and fossilized way of thinking rather than a living, breathing instrument for helping its followers cope with their lives.

Francis’ warnings to the ambitious, while aimed at his own flock, are some of his most forceful words and have particular meaning to those who observe the manipulations of the far right. Those warnings were issued twice on Thursday — first, in the published interview, when he said:

We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised.

How many of the religious right, including Catholics, fill the halls of Congress, lobbying for political influence? Or run for state and local offices with the goal of imposing a ‘moral’ agenda? Or pour money into campaign coffers in order to pursue ‘religious’, and punitive, goals?

Also on Thursday, Francis addressed a gathering of new bishops from around the globe wherein he repeated some of his warnings. After challenging them to serve with humility, he warned them about becoming:

 … ambitious men, men that are married to this Church, but hoping for a more beautiful or a richer [Church]. This is a scandal!

The pope’s words are a lot for the faithful — as well as someone like me — to absorb, because he breaks from the traditions of his immediate predecessors. Many conservative Catholics have become accustomed to aligning themselves with the rest of the religious right to make ‘moral judgements’ on narrowly defined issues — especially on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. This has little to do with the pope’s idea of the true expression of faith. For him, the right spiritual attitude is:

 … the feeling that you are moving along the good path of understanding and affection toward things and situations. Profound peace, spiritual consolation, love of God and love of all things in God—this is the sign that you are on this right path.

Pope Francis has just turned the pursuit of power for so-called ‘spiritual’ ends on its head, undermining the coalition with the rest of the radical right that many in his flock joined.  A change of this enormity may not be immediate, but, hopefully, it will mean that it’s the right wing’s ‘house of cards’ that comes tumbling down.

As for me, I’ve decided: I love this pope!