Pope’s welcome shift from negative focus on sexuality

By Savi Hensman
September 20, 2013

The Roman Catholic Church should focus less on preaching against abortion, contraception and homosexuality and more on its ministry of mercy, Pope Francis has said.

In an interview with Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolicato, he warned that "We have to find a new balance; 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."

In his view, the Church had become tied up in "small-minded rules", but "The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all.''

He explained that “the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!”

His views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality remain traditional but “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.'' This is in contrast to recent popes, whose stance on sexuality and authoritarian treatment of dissenting theologians alienated many Catholics and the wider community. He has already hit the headlines for his simple lifestyle, commitment to the poor and refusal to be judgmental about gays.

When asked “What should the church say to divorced and remarried people, and homosexuals?” he showed a welcome awareness of the hurt which all too many people have experienced as a result of the relentless negativity of some church leaders.

“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 replied. “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.”

He also spoke out against false claims to certainty: “If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him.” Indeed “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God.”

There is still a long way to go before the Vatican is fully open and inclusive. However Pope Francis appears to be opening the door to dialogue and making efforts to include many who have felt alienated by the Catholic Church and Christianity overall. If he continues to move forward and does not get put off by the backlash from those most strongly opposed to change, he can achieve much through promoting greater openness to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

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