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).


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.

  • Jeffrey

    How refreshing to have a high profile religious figure not a stooge of the right. Now, I do hope he has his birth certificate nearby.

    • Oswald Carnes

      I hope he has a food taster nearby.

  • rege1

    Frank Schaeffer seems so intimate with the affairs of the Catholic Church in America I had to look up his bio — to find that he’s not even Catholic!

    I’m always bemused by how just about everybody feels comfortable to tell the Catholic Church what to do in its internal affairs. As a Catholic, it wouldn’t even cross my mind to do the same to a Protestant or other religious denomination.

    To me, this demonstrates the validity of the Church’s claim to be “Catholic” (universal). Even its most strident opponents back-handedly acknowledge its authority when they presume to meddle in its affairs. Though most non-Catholics would never admit it, deep in their unconscious they recognize that the Catholic Church is Christ’s Church — love it or hate it.

    I hope Frank Schaeffer eventually comes to love the Church — and perhaps Pope Francis will be an instrument. If so, thanks be to God!

    • Peter Eng

      I will cease meddling in the affairs of a church I do not believe in when the church in question begins offering people who do not believe in it the same respect.

      • BillClintonsShorts17

        How exactly is the Church ‘meddling’ in your affairs Peter?

        • Peter Eng

          It isn’t.

          However, by letting its people try to legislate their morality on others, it is meddling in other people’s affairs. Restricting abortion? It isn’t my affair – but it isn’t the Church’s either, especially if the law affects a woman who has no interest in the religion.

          Why do you assume that I’m the only person that matters to me?

          • BillClintonsShorts17

            I didn’t see the Church ‘meddling’ in other people’s affairs here in the U.S. Trying to protect our right NOT to participate in a grave evil is hardly ‘meddling’ in other’s affairs. The Church hasn’t ‘meddled’. We citizens have, and are, and will continue to do so.

            Tell me. Would you have opposed the nascent Republican Party’s ‘meddling’ in the affairs of slave-owners? Should they have ‘respected’ the ‘rights’ of the slave-owners to own slaves?

            The SCOTUS told us in ‘Dred Scott’ that blacks were not human. The SCOTUS told us in ‘Roe v. Wade’ that a ‘fetus’ is not human life entitled to legal protection.

            All legislation has some moral understanding at its base. We outlaw murder because of our moral understanding. Other places don’t. They let people saw the heads off other people because of religious differences. How do you understand law apart from the codification of the moral understandings of a culture?

          • Peter Eng

            The debate over whether abortion is “a grave evil” in all cases, only after the first trimester, or at some other time yet to be determined remains subjective, unlike the objective evil of slavery. Even among pro-life groups, I’ve seen some difference of opinion.

            In comparison, outlawing abortion is known to be lethal, between cases where abortion is the only way to save the mother’s life, and people who decide to get an abortion any way they can, regardless of the risks of infection, bleeding out, or other possibilities.

            So far, I have not seen any version of restriction on abortion that is generally agreed upon within the pro-life camp.

            As for the Supreme Court, I do not understand your assumption that because a different group of people in the same job made the wrong decision, you can assume that the people who decided Roe vs. Wade was the wrong decision, simply because you don’t like it.

            And while I accept some moral understandings, I look more for ethical understandings. I find that morals are too inflexible to deal with a changing world.

          • BillClintonsShorts17

            Ethics have no relationship to morals? Who knew.

            Whether abortion is a ‘grave evil’ depends of course on your personal worldview. Your morality. Your ethics. If you are a Leninist then it is perfectly OK to put a bullet in the back of the head of a capitalist. If you are a NAZI then it is perfectly OK to put a bullet in the back of the head of a Jew. If you are an American slave owner in the ante-bellum South, then it is perfectly OK to separate children from parents and parents from each other and sell them down the river. If you are an American abortionist then it is perfectly OK to suck the brains out of a late term ‘fetus’ with a vacuum device. These evils all share one thing: Those being harmed have been de-humanized by the perpetrators and the evil inflicted upon them has been legitimized. None of these perpetrators have acted outside of the law. I assert that the authors of Roe v. Wade made the same mistake as did Justice Taney because they de-humanized human persons and allowed great evil to be perpetrated upon them. And, yes, I am going to be totally inflexible on this point: It is always and everywhere EVIL to intentionally take an innocent human life. Just as the institution of Slavery in the U.S. was EVIL from top to bottom.

  • Nelson Andrade

    “The Pope Must Die”, wasn’t that a movie? As much as I disdain religion in general, it is the choice of every individual to believe whatever they want. That said, those that follow Roman Catholic faith, it is a discipline like any other religion and it has specific canons. The bible, for those who care or have even taken the time to read, is very specific about Man laying with other Man. This Pope is not there to help the church, if he really wanted to be a modernist in the eyes of the popular status quo, perhaps he should consider an addition to the Vatican and call it Babylonian Catholics which would receive with open arms and hearts all those gays, lesbians, prostitutes, criminals (abortionists, rapists, thieves, etc.). The BC’s would grant the authority to marry those gay individuals, absolve the criminals (which they do now anyways), redemption for prostitutes and save the abortionists. Problem solved. Case closed.

    • wuzzi

      Just curious – who exactly did Jesus break bread with on earth?

      I always believed that as Christians we were called to carry on the ministry of Jesus, which would mean also dining with and loving all those terrible ‘sinners’ that so many seem so fixated on.

      We don’t need a separate ‘church’ to handle all those ‘sinners’ – that was what the first one was for all along.

  • Steve

    The Pope said the first priority is the proclamation of Christ’s saving work. That it cannot be lots in doctrine while ignoring that core message. That is far removed from “telling the religious right to shove off” and to not talk about moral issues.

    If you’d been paying closer attention, you’d know that he, in fact, took some time to condemn abortion today:

    I suggest you stop projecting onto the Pope your own inclinations.