Pope: priests should not be cold, dogmatic bureaucrats
Friday, September 20, 2013, 00:01 by Reuters
Pope Francis has stressed the need for mercy and understanding by priests. Photo: Reuters
Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality or risk the collapse of its entire moral edifice, “like a house of cards”.
In a dramatically blunt interview with an Italian Jesuit monthly, Pope Francis said the Church had locked itself up in “small things, in small-minded rules”.
Its priests, he said, should be more welcoming and not cold, dogmatic bureaucrats stuck in confessionals that sometimes resembled “torture chambers.”
Pope Francis, the first non-European Pope in 1,300 years, the first from Latin America and the first Jesuit Pope, did not hold out the prospect of any changes soon to such moral teachings.
But, in the 12,000-word interview with Civiltà Cattolica, he said the Church must find a new balance between upholding rules and demonstrating mercy. “Otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards...”
His comments were welcomed by liberal Catholics; but they are likely to be viewed with concern by conservatives who have already expressed concern over Pope Francis’s failure to address the issues stressed by his predecessor, Pope Benedict.
In the interview with the magazine’s director, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, he also said he envisioned a greater role for women in the 1.2 billion-member Church but suggested it would not include a change in the current ban on a female priesthood.
In a remarkable change from his predecessor Pope Benedict, who said homosexuality was an intrinsic disorder, Pope Francis said that when homosexuals told him they were always condemned by the Church and felt “socially wounded”, he told them “the Church does not want to do this”.
He re-stated his comments first made on the plane returning from Brazil in July that he was not in a position to judge gays who are of good will and in search of God.
In the interview released yesterday, he added: “By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free. It is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”
The Church, he said, should see itself as “a field hospital after a battle” and try to heal the larger wounds of society and not be “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently”.
Pope Francis’ approach contrasts starkly with his conservative predecessor Benedict, who stepped down in February.
The interview was not didactic and formal, such as those of past popes, but easy-going, familiar and friendly. He even spoke of his favourite author, Dostoevsky, painter, Caravaggio and composer, Mozart.
John Gehring, Catholic programme director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in the US, said:
“This Pope is rescuing the Church from those who think that condemning gay people and opposing contraception define what it means to be a real Catholic. Francis is putting a message of mercy, justice and humility back at the centre of the Church’s mission. It’s a remarkable and refreshing change.”
Just last week, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, spoke for many conservative Catholics when he said he was disappointed that the Pope had not addressed “the evil of abortion” more directly in order to encourage anti-abortion activists.
Pope Francis stressed that while not tampering with Church teachings, he suggested the Church had many other things to concern itself with.
“But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. 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,” he said.
Speaking specifically of homosexuals, he said: “We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies people, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual tendencies are not sinful but homosexual acts are.
In several parts of the interview he stressed the need for mercy and understanding by priests.
“The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better,” he said.