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.