More on That Interview

Stephen White writes perceptively here about the Pope’s interview. Commenting on the Pope’s reluctance to talk about abortion, contraception and gay marriage,

The Church’s moral teachings flow from the Gospel. The Church’s moral teachings are a consequence, not the cause, of Christian faith. They rooted in Him and lead us back to Him. The moral teachings of the Church are important precisely because (and ONLY because!) they are rooted in the Truth about man, revealed in Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, who sends His Holy Spirit upon His bride the Church.

“We have to find a new balance,” Pope Francis says in the interview, “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. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

Outside of this “context,” Christian morality makes little sense and all our evangelical efforts hit a dead end. Thus, as Pope Francis says, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. 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.”

The challenge for the Church, as the Pope seems to see it, is not that people are unaware that the Church considers, for example, abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts to be sinful (everyone knows this); the problem is that they don’t understand why the Church teaches what it does. The Church’s moral teachings are known, but because they are taken out of context, (or presented without context) they are seen as arbitrary, ad hoc, and unreasonable—as Pope Francis put it, as “a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Can anyone deny that this is a fair description of how the world (and many Catholics, for that matter) perceives the Church’s moral doctrines?

The “new balance” will be difficult because we are in a post-Christian world. Evangelization has never faced the challenge of a culture that has known the gospel and rejected it.

On the other hand, I am impressed by the study of how the Christian gospel spread in the Roman Empire. It seems that Christianity was attractive to people not only because of the gospel of forgiveness, but because of the example of early Christians. They loved one another and they loved their neighbor and it showed. A radiant manifestation of God’s love shining from human beings reveals the sin of mankind for what it is and also reveals the answer.


  • Chesire11

    I think this hits pretty close to the heart of the matter.

    We are all aware of the dangers of a tepid, insipid Catholicism that is too meek to condemn sin. There is another danger, though, that is often overlooked. It is the danger of a “narrow” Catholicism that distorts the fullness of the faith by almost exclusively focusing on the fruits of faith, and not their source.

    Good works are essential to salvation, they are both the product of a lively faith, and it is through them that we accept the grace that makes that faith possible. If allow those works to eclipse the rest of the message, however, they become an obstacle to faith, they become an end in themselves. For Pete’s sake look at the Catholics who are so narrow that they practically revere the Latin more than the Mass itself, and hasten to insist that nobody less narrow than they are authentically Catholic.

    Modern Catholicism is being torn apart right now between the shallow and the narrow. What we have in Francis is a Holy Father who appears to be inspired with the Holy Spirit to heal this rift.

    • Gordis85


    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      ‘Shallow and the narrow’. Love it!

  • DeaconsBench

    As Bishop Frank Caggiano said the other day: the greatest incentive to conversion is witness. What we do, and how we live, will change the world.

    • johnnyc

      Peter converted 3000 with words.

      Acts 2:38-41

      • Strife

        Yeah, and let’s look at Peter’s words. He sounds positively “obsessive” about sin and repentance:

        Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.” – Acts 2:38-41

        See that? The Charity is in the firmness of his “obsession” with sin.

        • johnnyc

          Uh….your kidding right?…….repent?…..forgiveness?… yourselves?…..corrupt? What do you think he is referring to if not sin?

    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      I agree!

      But sadly, what most well-meaning, but badly catechised, people in our congregations ‘hear’ when they read that, is that we should be the ‘Church of Nice’. So they try even more to be ‘tolerant’.

      That said, I have to be honest and admit – if I had to choose – that I would have to choose that over the ‘Church of Nasty’, over in Vorisville, however…

  • Veritas

    I can understand some of the argument in support of the Pope’s comments.

    once again he has made statements that are hugely misunderstood by our
    secular world. They see him as distancing himself from the traditional
    doctrines of the Church. They see him as “going soft” on homosexuality,
    abortion etc. They are having a great time using this to come down on
    those Catholics who are seen as too conservative and not tolerant

    To suggest, in any way at all, that
    Catholics should be less focused on the evil of abortion is appalling.
    Millions of pre born human beings are being murdered each year.
    Similarly, it has been discovered that almost 85% of the clergy sex
    abuse scandal is in fact homosexual in nature i.e. directed against
    young boys.

    These two topics alone are worthy of our absolute attention and action. In no way should we go quiet about them.

    we must live and preach Christ crucified the One Who loves us and died
    for us. Sure we must try to get the secular world to see the reality of
    God and from that come to understand why abortion and homosexual
    behavior are so wrong.

    However, Our Lord never once, in
    His talking to people while He was on earth, “pulled His punches”. He
    told it as it is. If something was evil He said so straight out. He
    didn’t try to present a nice “sugar coated” religion to draw people in
    before He told the “real” facts! While talking about the love of God He
    also talked about sin, He talked about Hell, He talked about judgement,
    He talked about the narrow way, He talked about the total commitment
    need to follow Him.

    The Pope’s comments are more and more seeming to be dangerously capable of misinterpretation.
    They are feeding the secular, anti Catholic media and providing
    incredible ammunition for the progressives in the Church who have spent
    the last 50 years trying to destroy it from within.

    • Chesire11

      It’s not about sugar coating, it is about understanding that abortion and same sex marriage are wrong because they conflict with Christ crucified and risen. It isn’t a matter of “sure, we need to talk about that stuff too…” but that if we want the world to accept our conclusions we must first propose the reason, and that starts with Christ.

      If we consistently lead with the moral teaching it will be construed as heartless condemnation, and the message of mercy will be ignored, if we lead with mercy – AUTHENTIC mercy that meets the sinner where he is, offers the hope of forgiveness and leads him out of sin – then we are leading with Christ. Will the message be misconstrued by secularists? Of course, but the fact that it is the source, rather than a conclusion makes the light of Truth therein more difficult to ignore, and a more potent reminder that we are hungry for something more.

      Don’t fool yourself, the enemy will intentionally misconstrue what our Holy Father says to avoid the need to repent. It misconstrued Benedict XVI’s statements, and it will misconstrue Francis’ statements as well.

      Finally, stop looking for the enemy within. Our progressive brothers are misguided in many ways, but not because of malicious nor infernal intent, but because of almost half a century of poor faith formation in our parishes. They aren’t “trying to destroy the Church from within.” That sort of rhetoric is overwrought, self-righteous, divisive of the Mystical Body, and profoundly lacking in Charity.

    • FW Ken

      What they see is their problem, not the pope’s. Don’t you think the Catholic Faith is strong and powerful enough to piece the hearts of men? And make no mistake: the pope is leaving the Catholic Faith. Which if you read all the interview, you will realize.

    • oregon catholic

      “He (Jesus) didn’t try to present a nice “sugar coated” religion to draw people in before He told the “real” facts!”

      Exactly! Jesus spoke with love but He also spoke with authority and firmness and people recognized He was speaking Truth to hearts. People will lay down their life for a leader that they know would never lie to them, no matter how hard the truth is. A too soft message will cause suspicion. To say that we don’t need to speak all the time about the murder of abortion, the worst holocaust the world has ever known, stuns me.

  • Thomas Leo

    “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.”

    I understand where he’s coming from, but isn’t he doing this exact thing? He keeps bringing up these issues in interviews, and the media keeps taking them out of context, because he never fully explains the context in these interviews.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Whenever I begin to feel out of sync with many in the blogsphere, you post, Fr. L.

    This last flurry is superb.

  • Paolo Pagliaro

    What I see, not only in the papers I read (I am Italian) but also from my colleagues’ comments, is that they aren’t getting this message at all: what they understand is that the Pope is closer to the normal people, e.g. that the traditional teachings of the Church are not so important because what matters is being compassionate to what the majority considers real problems. As the principal Italian newspaper – Il Corriere della Sera – wrote some days ago: “This Pope understands that it is normal to marry and divorce, to beget and abort. It is just normal.”

    I don’t see – I am sorry – any insight by the people about an higher call, only that the Church is more “tolerant” so they can live just as they already do, now also in good conscience. In other words, many are glad that the Church is eventually in the process of adopting more modern views and is less inclined to annoy normal folks with outdated theological trifles; conversely, many faithfuls are confused, especially those who promoted in respectful terms the Catholic view about homosexuality and abortion, and are now told they have been “divisive” and legalistic all along: apparently we didn’t even try to present these issues in the right religious and cultural context, but only in the most arrogant and obtuse manner. Very, very disappointing.


    • Athelstane

      “This Pope understands that it is normal to marry and divorce, to beget and abort. It is just normal.”

      Yes – that is becoming a typical reaction in too many places, alas.

      Many of the atheist activists of today like to make the point that the truly courageous decision is recognize that God does not exist – that there is no comfortable reassuring myth to lean our backs on, but that we go on living the best we can anyway. In point of fact, however, I would suggest that it is living as if there is a God – a God of revelation and salvation, not just a Watchmaker God that is the courageous conviction. To live as if there is no God means that there’s no judgment or justice for any of the bad acts you’ve committed, no larger penalties. This may not lead to lawless lives for most of the godless, but it does clear the way for the erection of a utilitarian society that imposes on your moral acts as little as possible.

      But now we also see the rapid growth of a phenomenon that has always existed throughout the Christian era, typified by Corriere della Serra – people who will concede the existence of God, or even a Christian God, but who in point of fact live as if He did not exist. In this universalist conception of God, they gain the best of both words – assured mercy and no judgment in any future life, and freedom to live as they will in this one. Though it’s clearly not what he intends, this is a spin that Pope Francis will have to fight being imposed on his words when he talk in terms like these.

  • Ma Tucker

    “Can anyone deny that this is a fair description of how the world (and many Catholics, for that matter) perceives the Church’s moral doctrines?”

    Yes, I will deny it. The world is not interested in understanding why the Church teaches what She teaches. The world cares nothing for right or wrong, it cares only to do it’s own will. This is it’s nature, the nature of the liar and the murderer to which it is wed. The Church must be a public point of contradiction. The world will NEVER accept Her teachings. The contrite and broken-hearted however, will find their way to Her because they will have remembered that She was the one voice crying out Truth in the wilderness, in season and out while they were being deceived and abused by the world. She was the one voice calling them to a different way and they, at some point, with God’s grace will give Her an ear.

  • oregon catholic

    You made two points that hit right at the problem we face. This is a post-Christian world. Much of the world has already rejected the Gospel of Jesus in favor of the Gospel of Relativism. Christians are so divided and so far from actually living the Gospel example that we are rejected as hypocrites of a failed idea that can’t work in the real world. I’ll add my point that we can lay a good portion of the blame for hypocrisy at the feet of Bishops and Princes of the Church. Too bad there was nary a word on that front from the Pope.

    I hope he doesn’t think the world will/has forgiven that and he can just move on. He needs to speak out in a very big way on that topic – repentance and reconciliation come before mercy. He might just be the Pope that can convince the world to give the Church another chance at moral authority if he will lay it all bare and beg forgiveness on behalf on the shepherds who left their lambs to be devoured by the wolves and then hid and protected the wolves.

  • Athelstane

    Though attempting to understand this Pope can be a source of frustration at times, it must be noted in fairness that he has spoken out on abortion on numerous occasions – even going so far as to appear personally at a pro-life march in Rome back in May (something I can’t recall any previous Pope doing). For the secular media, of course, these are “dog bites man” stories, and they have gained much less attention. And today, in his meeting with Catholic gynecologists in Rome, he spoke out once again in defense of the unborn:

    “Each one of us is invited to recognize in the fragile human being the face of the Lord, who, in his human flesh, experienced the indifference and loneliness to which we often condemn the poorest, either in the developing nations, or in the developed societies. Each child that is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born experienced the rejection of the world. And also each old person and – I spoke of the child, let us also speak of the elderly, another point! And each old person, even if infirm or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the “culture of waste” proposes! They cannot be discarded!”


    • Gordis85

      He spoke today on the importance of life…if only more folks were paying attention especially those who comment that he does not say enough about life.

      • oregon catholic

        The mistake, from the perspective of what media does, is to separate the messages. It gives the media a chance to promote the one and ignore the other. His naivete is in giving the media a chance to edit him and thereby misconstrue his message. He needs to give the entire message, mercy and moral teaching together.

  • Jasper0123

    I haven’t heard a homily about abortion or gay marriage in about 10 years or so. So let’s stop obsessing about it !!