Pope Francis recently surprised many people when he told a magazine that the Catholic Church is too obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and contraception.
As part of an extended interview with the Jesuit publication America, the pope said the church should be more inclusive than in the past; he said he worries that it has become overly focused on a handful of politically tinged issues.
“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” Francis said. “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.
“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “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.”
These comments immediately caused a stir among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Not all observers were pleased that the pope appeared to be softening on long-held church dogma.
“Nobody should try to use the words of the pope to minimize the urgent need to preach and teach about abortion,” the Rev. Frank Pavone, the far-right national director of Priests for Life, said during a Vatican conference.
The following day, in what may have been a nod to staunch conservatives like Pavone, the pope denounced abortion, calling it a symptom of modern “throw-away culture.”
“Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord,” he said.
Francis also urged Catholic doctors to listen to their consciences.
“Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things,” the pope said.
But that wasn’t the end of papal controversies. Not long after the America interview, Francis spoke with an editor of an Italian newspaper called La Repubblica. During the interview, the pope insisted that the church is not a political entity.
“I have already said that the church will not deal with politics,” Francis said. “Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres. All my predecessors have said the same thing, for many years at least, albeit with different accents.”