A recent interview with Pope Francis, published in La Civilitá Cattolica, has grabbed global headlines. While the pope touched on many fascinating topics, including the papal election and his Jesuit vocation, his comments on abortion and gay marriage set off a media firestorm.
He said, “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.”
Based on conversations I had last week, I am presuming many of us have questioned and been questioned about the pope’s thoughts. I offer here my own. In many of his homilies and speeches, Pope Francis has called us to the centrality of the Gospel — the salvation offered to each human person through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As essential as the moral teachings are to the faith, we must always make the effort to link them to the saving mercy, unbounded love and challenging truth of Jesus.
If we fail to hold up the whole context of God’s revelation, the content of our faith and belief can appear to be disjointed. Then, in the minds of some, the church is simply a moralistic naysayer or a social service agency or an elite country club. The pope challenges us to embrace and live the breadth and width of our Catholic faith.
In his interview, Francis likens the church to a field hospital after a battle where we heal, love and embrace each other’s wounds in the love of Christ. When we examine Jesus’ ministry, we clearly see that he always began by unconditionally affirming the dignity and absolute value of each person, loving them precisely in their sinfulness; this experience of divine love changed hearts, converted lives and formed disciples. Jesus was never reluctant to challenge and confront the sins of others, but he didn’t begin there.
Francis is calling us to know, love and serve others in the dignity and individuality of their humanity. People need to know and feel that, like Christ, the church loves them precisely in their sinfulness. No person can simply be defined as one who had an abortion, a homosexual, an NRA member, a criminal, a Democrat or a Republican. Our most basic identity is the startling truth that we are children of the Father.
Clearly, Pope Francis is not advocating any change in church teaching. In fact, the day after the publication of his interview, he addressed Italian gynecologists and characterized abortion as the product of a “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture’ which has today enslaved the minds and hearts of so many.”
Abortion is the grave sin of murder, the taking of human life in its most fragile and dependent moment and it is the church’s mission to help stop it and to help heal the people wounded by it.
While we affirm the absolute dignity and worth of every person and condemn any discrimination or violence against persons with a homosexual orientation, marriage between a man and a woman, called to be faithful and fruitful, is the sacramental expression of the love between Christ and his church. In natural law, we see the complementarity and procreative power of husband and wife as part of God’s revelation concerning human nature. By not saying much publically about abortion or gay marriage, the pope is implicitly stating that the teaching on these issues is clear and settled.
Is it so much that the church is obsessed with abortion and same-sex marriage or is it the media’s obsession? Many times, I have read or listened to a papal homily, a statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or a keynote speech at a Catholic assembly in which the subject material was rich, varied, nuanced and profound. Later, I would read the media commentary on the same document or speech and the only things mentioned would be abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception. Did we read or hear the same thing?
Because of the media, people think Catholics think and speak only about these controversial topics. When was the last time you heard a homily solely dedicated to these subjects? Because of the media’s obsession with these issues and our Catholic disagreement with their moral conclusions, we are painted as overly preoccupied with sexuality. Those who worship, work and actively live within the faith of the Catholic Church know that we value the deep beauty and truth of our human sexuality in the amazing context of God’s love and revelation concerning the human person, but it is not what we always talk about.
I encourage you to read the whole interview with Pope Francis because the context is important, and it will provide you with a clearer understanding of what our Holy Father said.