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Pope Francis takes issue with church focus on gays, abortion

September 19, 2013|By Tom Kington
  • Pope Francis waves to the faithful in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday. He said in an interview, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods."
Pope Francis waves to the faithful in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican… (Riccardo De Luca / Associated…)

ROME -- Pope Francis has warned that the Roman Catholic Church could lose its way if it focuses too much on enforcing rules against contraception, abortion and homosexuality, instead of throwing open its doors and making the church more merciful.

In a candid interview with an Italian Jesuit magazine, Francis also reiterated conciliatory comments he made this summer about not judging gay people.

"A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he told La Civilta Cattolica. “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," Francis continued. "In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing."

Francis said his comments did not veer from church teachings on treating gay people with respect. But he has created a stir with his tolerant tone, telling reporters in July, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about the sexuality of priests.

In the 12,000-word interview, which was published in English by U.S. Jesuit magazine America, Francis listed Mozart as one of his favorite composers and cited Caravaggio and Chagall as among his preferred painters. His favorite film, he said, was Fellini’s “La Strada.”

Turning to doctrine, he appeared to differ with his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who believed that the Catholic Church could survive only by sticking to its core values, even at the risk of shedding adherents.

Francis warned, "The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

"We have to find a new balance," he said. "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."

That meant a change of style, he said.

"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," he said. "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."

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