Pope Francis said in an interview published Thursday that the Roman Catholic Church must no longer focus on abortion, contraception and gay marriage. Trouble is the American Roman Catholic Church is being manipulated by some very extreme people. They will not be happy!

Robert George, (the Princeton professor behind the extreme recent rightward tilt of the American Roman Catholic bishops and, according to the New York Times one time mentor to Glenn Beck) Antonin Scalia, and the other “Natural Law” extremists who have made the Roman Catholic Church in America into the plaything of the Republican Party, must be wonderfully angry this morning. Good!

These were the authors of the so-called Manhattan Deceleration, that married the (mostly) Protestant religious right to the American bishops by more or less calling for an anti-Obama, anti-government “moral” revolution. These are the people who called President Obama anti-religion because he wanted women to have access to insurance coverage for contraception.

The pope just told the American Catholic religious right to shove off. He said that the political game they’ve been playing on behalf of people like the Koch brothers and Tea Party — in the name of morality — threatens, the moral structure of the Church.

The Pope just told the right wing extremists to cool it. The logic of what they and people like the folks running First Things (that labeled the pope a “pacifist” and denounced him on that score) will make the Church “fall like a house of cards” if it does not find better balance.

The Pope acknowledged in the interview that he has been criticized by people like George, and the editors of the far right First Things magazine, for not speaking more about those three issues, but he rebuked them — without naming them — and said that the church must “talk about [litmus test social issues] in a context.”

On gay rights, the Pope said that he used to receive letters in Argentina, where he was a cardinal before his elevation, who were “socially wounded” and felt that the church had condemned them. “But the church does not want to do this,” he said. “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.” He went on: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

While the teaching of the church on those subjects was clear, Pope Francis said, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

The Pope is making headlines with America Magazine, where he said the Church must not be obsessed with issues related to gay marriage or contraceptives. He called for new balance, warning that if the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t make changes, it will fall “like a house of cards.”

It sounded like the Pope was directly and pointedly rebuking Cardinal Dolan, who is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB lobbies Congress and has been fixated on fighting the so-called contraception mandate.

“The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives,” the Pope said, and that, the Church “is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people… We must not reduce the bosom of the universal Church to a nest protecting our mediocrity,” he said.

The Pope’s remarks draw a sharp contrast with both the doctrinal George/Scalia/First Things in-the-bedroom-pawing-through-the-underwear focus and with the bishops in the United States and around the world who have urged him to speak more publicly against homosexuality, abortion and birth control. In other words the Pope is refusing to join the Tea Party/Republican far right, just because some activists and bishops have. As E.J. Dionne Jr wrote in the Washington Post, “To say that this could have wide repercussions for the Church’s public ministry (and for politics) is an understatement.”

“We have to find a new balance,” the Pope said in the interview, published in Jesuit journals across the world. “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. He added: “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Pastors “must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue. . . . The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials,” Francis said.

Heaven forefend the Pope is sane!

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is And God Said, “Billy!” Click HERE to buy it for only $3.99 on Kindle (available in paperback too).


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About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.