What Did Pope Francis Really Say?


Yesterday we saw news that has cheered liberal Catholics and discomfited many of their conservative brethren. Pope Francis told an Italian Jesuit publication that the Church can’t be obsessively focused on a relatively narrow and – as he put it – disjointed grouping of Catholic doctrine at the expense of the fullness of the Christian message. He was explicitly talking about abortion, gay marriage and contraception.While we was clear that he was not questioning or changing the Church’s basic teaching on these issues, it also understates the magnitude of his statements to reduce them to simply a difference over ’emphasis’.

The reaction of Catholic conservatives and some traditionalists is telling, an effort to both coopt Francis’s statements (‘people are misunderstanding, he’s saying what we’ve always said, the media is misunderstanding’) and warning that his statements are risky or dangerous because they’re easily misunderstood.

This is from the Catholic conservative site CatholicVote.org

One final point. There are real risks that come with the way Pope Francis is talking about these things. He will be misunderstood–sometime through ignorance, sometimes through malice–and those who want to use his words to undermine the Church’s long-standing teaching will be given the opportunity to do so. One might ask, Is it worth risking all these confusions and pitfalls to say something (“Jesus, not the moral law, is the heart of the Faith”) that is not really news? Perhaps the simple answer is: Old news it may be, but it is very Good News, too.

I know some about Catholic theology and the history of the papacy and the Church. But I’m not an expert by any means and I’m not Catholic. So very significantly I speak as an outsider. But what I take Francis to be saying is that the Church has much more to say to LGBT people than that how they have sex is “intrinsically disordered”. Notably, he avoids using those words altogether. I think his metaphor of the Church as a ‘field hospital’ for souls after a battle captures a lot of this.

Here’s what he actually said, and it’s the context of his comments on these hot button social issues …

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

With all this quibbling, the best thing is probably to read what Francis actually said in full. No news article that pulls out a few quotes can match that. The interview was conducted in Italian. But there’s a scrupulous translation of it published in the American Jesuit publication America. If these things interest you, it’s a fascinating read. Here it is.

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