Pope's blunt remarks pose challenge for bishops

Pope Francis looks on during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis looks on during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

— In recent years, many American bishops have drawn a harder line with parishioners on what could be considered truly Roman Catholic, adopting a more aggressive style of correction and telling abortion rights supporters to stay away from the sacrament of Communion.

Liberal-minded Catholics derided the approach as tone-deaf. Church leaders said they had no choice given what was happening around them: growing secularism, increasing acceptance of gay marriage, and a broader culture they considered more and more hostile to Christianity. They felt they were following the lead of the pontiffs who elevated them.

But in blunt terms, in an interview published Thursday in 16 Jesuit journals worldwide, the new pope, Francis called the church's focus on abortion, marriage and contraception narrow and said it was driving people away. Now, the U.S. bishops face a challenge to rethink a strategy many considered essential for preserving the faith.

"I don't see how the pope's remarks can be interpreted in any other way than arguing that the church's rhetoric on the so-called culture war issues needs to be toned down," said John Green, a religion specialist at the University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. "I think his language calls for less stridency on these issues."

The leadership of the American church is composed of men who were appointed by Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI, who made a priority of defending doctrinal orthodoxy. Over the last decade or so, the bishops have been working to reassert their moral authority, in public life and over the less obedient within their flock.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned Catholics that voting for abortion-rights supporters could endanger their souls. Church leaders in Minnesota, Maine and elsewhere took prominent roles in opposing legal recognition for same-sex marriage in their states. Bishops censured some theologians and prompted a Vatican-directed takeover of the largest association for American nuns by bringing complaints to Rome that the sisters strayed from church teaching and paid too little attention to abortion.

Terrence Tilley, a theologian at Fordham University, said Francis wasn't silencing discussion of abortion or gay marriage, but indicating those issues should be less central, for the sake of evangelizing. But he noted that bishops have independence to decide how they should handle local political issues.

"Although Francis is sending a clear signal that he's not a culture warrior, that doesn't mean the bishops will follow in lockstep," Tilley said.

Few of the U.S. bishops who have commented so far on Francis' interview indicated they planned to change.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, head of the bishops' religious liberty committee, said in a phone interview, "Issues do arise and we cannot always control the timing." However, he added, "Every time I make a statement about one of these things I will certainly take another look at it and ask, 'Does this really lead people back to the heart of the Gospel?'

"That's what he's asking us to do. I think that's a fair question. "

Lori said he expected no changes in the bishops' push for broader religious exemptions from the contraception coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act. Dozens of Catholic charities and dioceses, along with evangelical colleges and others, are suing the Obama administration over the regulation. The bishops say the provision violates the religious freedom of faith-based nonprofits and for-profit employers.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, head of the bishops' defense-of-marriage committee, said in a brief statement, "We must address key issues and if key issues are in the minds of those who are talking with us we will address them."

"In San Francisco, these issues are very relevant to daily life for the people of this archdiocese," said Christine Mugridge, a spokeswoman for Cordileone. "As long as the people of the archdiocese have particular talking points that are pressing upon them, the archbishop will respond to those talking points."

Francis, the first Jesuit elected pope, said in the interview, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods." He said the church should instead act like a "field hospital after battle," to "heal wounds and to warm the hearts" of people so they feel welcome in the church.

The day after the article appeared, Francis denounced abortion as a symptom of a "throw-away culture," in an address to Catholic gynecologists. He encouraged the physicians to refuse to perform abortions. But in the interview last month, conducted in Rome by the editor of the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, Francis said "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops' conference, said he thought the pope was telling everyone — inside and outside the church — to focus less on polarizing debates on sex and morals.

"I don't know if it's just the church that seems obsessed with those issues. It seems to be culture and society," Dolan said on "CBS This Morning." "What I think he's saying is, 'Those are important issues and the church has got to keep talking about them, but we need to talk about them in a fresh new way.' If we keep kind of a negative, finger-wagging tone, it's counterproductive. "

During the 2004 presidential election, then Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis launched what was dubbed "wafer watch" when he said he would deny Communion to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, a Catholic who supported abortion rights. Other bishops followed suit or suggested that abortion-rights supporters refrain from the sacrament. (Benedict later appointed Burke head of the Vatican high court and elevated him to cardinal.)

By 2007, the bishops revised their moral guide for Catholic voters to put a special emphasis on the evil of abortion, so the issue wouldn't be lost amid other concerns such as poverty or education. The document, called "Faithful Citizenship," warned voters that supporting abortion rights could endanger their souls.

In the 2012 campaign season, it was much more common to hear bishops warning Catholics that voting for a particular candidate would amount to "formal cooperation in grave evil." Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., compared the policies of President Barack Obama to those of Hitler and Stalin. At Mass on the Sunday before the presidential election, Jenky instructed his priests to read a letter saying politicians who support abortion rights reject Jesus.

Theologically conservative Christians disagree over how much, if anything, needs to change in response to Francis' comments. Mark Brumley, chief executive of Ignatius Press, a theologically conservative publishing house that Pope Benedict XVI chose as his English-language publisher, was among those who said, "I don't see a major shift."

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., just last week had said in an interview with his diocesan newspaper that he was "a little bit disappointed" that Francis hadn't spoken out about abortion. On Friday, in a statement responding to the pope's remarks, Tobin said he admired Francis' leadership.

"Being a Catholic doesn't mean having to choose between doctrine and charity, between truth and love. It includes both. We are grateful to Pope Francis for reminding us of that vision," Tobin said.

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Comments » 10

MIOCENE (Inactive) writes:

It is true that the Church Fathers and many theologians have spoken against abortion.
However, there is more:

1. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, wrote in “On Exodus” (ca. 415) Abortion should not be regarded as homicide in a body which is not being fully formed.
2. Thomas Aquinas, “The Truth of the Catholic Faith“, book II, ch.89; delayed hominization; In the beginning, the embryo lives the life of a plant, not an animal. Confirmed by the Council of Vienne 1312.

3. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) considered only the abortion of an "animated" fetus as murder.
4. St. Jerome (circa 340 - 420) wrote in a letter to Aglasia:
"The seed gradually takes shape in the uterus, and it [abortion] does not count as killing until the individual elements have acquired their external appearance and their limbs"

5. In 1140, Gratian compiled the first collection of canon law that was accepted as an authority within the church.
Gratian's code included the canon Aliquando, which said that "abortion was homicide only when the fetus was formed. (4) If the fetus was not yet a formed human being, abortion was not homicide.

6.The Apostolic Constitutions 400 AD (7:3)"Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, for "everything that is SHAPED, and has received a soul from God, is unjustly destroyed."
Notice the word "SHAPED".

7.Pope Gregory XIV (1535-1591): He taught by the "quickening" test, which he determined happened 116 days into pregnancy. This Pope said abortion before "quickening" was not murder.
8. Pope Innocent III agreed that abortion before "quickening" was not murder.

9. Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) said it was not homicide to kill an embryo of less than forty days since it was not human.

10. Pope Innocent III stated that a monk who had persuaded his mistress to have an abortion was not guilty of murder as long as the fetus had not yet been animated.

There, of course were many writings AGAINST abortion, but those are the only ones the Bishops ever talk about.

Oddly enough, the Church did not arrive at its last position against abortion until around 1869.(pope pius IX)

Up until then, and for 1500 years; the church debated the gravity of the sin of abortion relative to the different stages of embryonic development; the Greek studies in which the church hierarchy was well aware of; as well as the guidance of the so-called “holy spirit”

Although the church had always considered abortion a “grave sin”; it had waffled back and forth for centuries about when and if abortion was “murder”.

Now I checked out these facts through a number of websites; and I welcome others to do the same.

The Church claims that it's position of anti abortion is a MORAL one; but it is not.
Hidden behind this veil of morality is nothing but POLITICS; as the church has been using the issue of anti abortion to strengthen itself in a growing secular world over the last 140 years.

ajm3s writes:

Nice! And may I add the Pope, a Jesuit is a reformer by historical standards, but in the end.......the Society of Jesus as founded by Ignatius....is a society.

MIOCENE (Inactive) writes:

in response to ajm3s:

Nice! And may I add the Pope, a Jesuit is a reformer by historical standards, but in the end.......the Society of Jesus as founded by Ignatius....is a society.

Let’s compare the Catholic Church with Jesus the religious dissident:

Jesus had only three main objectives:
1. Elevating the poor through the redistribution of wealth.
2. Spiritual equality between the peasants and the high priests.
3. Separating Judaism from the entanglements of (Roman) Government.

Anything added on after the death of Christ; by so-called Fathers of the Christian Church and centuries afterward; was intended to control people through fear and guilt; including taboos against abortion and homosexuality.

If Jesus ever DOES return, he is going to quite annoyed at what the Roman Catholic Church did to his efforts.
1. The Church became filthy rich on the backs of the peasants.
2. It formed a hierarchy of “high priests”; the higher one goes, the closer to god; the exact opposite of what Jesus intended
3. The Church formed Holy Alliances with secular governments, entanglements and special interest groups (modern-day college of cardinals); which would have made Jesus “throw up”.

By virtue of its actions over the centuries; the Catholic Church has become the ANTI CHRIST with one thing in mind; -accumulating power and wealth; as did the Jewish High Priests of old; who Jesus hated.

You See: The Church could never have achieved its power and wealth if it stuck to the original teachings of Christ . That’s why the Church had to MODIFY the original teachings so it could grow in a CAPITALIST world.

The Church is all politics; hidden behind a veil of morality.

MORALITY is saved for the peasants; who support the Church and its millions; as the Church controls the Catholic Peasant by keeping him snapping at the dangling carrot of eternal salvation.

MIOCENE

ajm3s writes:

in response to MIOCENE:

Let’s compare the Catholic Church with Jesus the religious dissident:

Jesus had only three main objectives:
1. Elevating the poor through the redistribution of wealth.
2. Spiritual equality between the peasants and the high priests.
3. Separating Judaism from the entanglements of (Roman) Government.

Anything added on after the death of Christ; by so-called Fathers of the Christian Church and centuries afterward; was intended to control people through fear and guilt; including taboos against abortion and homosexuality.

If Jesus ever DOES return, he is going to quite annoyed at what the Roman Catholic Church did to his efforts.
1. The Church became filthy rich on the backs of the peasants.
2. It formed a hierarchy of “high priests”; the higher one goes, the closer to god; the exact opposite of what Jesus intended
3. The Church formed Holy Alliances with secular governments, entanglements and special interest groups (modern-day college of cardinals); which would have made Jesus “throw up”.

By virtue of its actions over the centuries; the Catholic Church has become the ANTI CHRIST with one thing in mind; -accumulating power and wealth; as did the Jewish High Priests of old; who Jesus hated.

You See: The Church could never have achieved its power and wealth if it stuck to the original teachings of Christ . That’s why the Church had to MODIFY the original teachings so it could grow in a CAPITALIST world.

The Church is all politics; hidden behind a veil of morality.

MORALITY is saved for the peasants; who support the Church and its millions; as the Church controls the Catholic Peasant by keeping him snapping at the dangling carrot of eternal salvation.

MIOCENE

Excellent! No disagreement with regard to your comments about the Church, however if I understand the teachings of Christ I regard his teachings as a simple message....man is sinful, God forgives and loves all and offered His son incarnate to spread His word. I honestly never reviewed Christ's teachings as objectives you outlined....but very interesting.

I recently had conversations with my older brother about the Church and had similar comments....except filled with expletives. Having attended parochial schools during our formative years with a heavy dose of Church doctrine, we recognize our "sins".

My claim, if we were on Earth during the Second Coming I do not believe the Church would recognize Him as Savior...as during his time on earth in Roman times. Today, I believe He would be living amongst the homeless, drug addicted prostitutes. While the organized Churches would be still preaching his eventual return. I confess, I would also be blind to his presence, but I am always trying to be more Christ-like...but I fail and ask for forgiveness.

The Church, on the other hand, is a reflection of man and his foibles, with a structure to harness power and control.

.....somewhat analogous to the Federal government by extension?

WMissow writes:

Someone writes, some edit, others believe, many die, some get rich, too many struggle.

.....and history repeats itself over and over!

MIOCENE (Inactive) writes:

Thanks for responding AJM3S.

I went to Catholic School too.

It's interesting how those who visit St. Peter's Square have no idea that the gold and riches they see; were stolen from non-believers exterminated by Popes over the centuries in hand with Catholic Emperors. (ie Charlemagne)

It's all plunder; built upon the skulls and bones of those who disagreed with the Church; and wanted to worship differently.

No one cares because "History is written by the winners".

MIOCENE

MIOCENE (Inactive) writes:

in response to WMissow:

Someone writes, some edit, others believe, many die, some get rich, too many struggle.

.....and history repeats itself over and over!

Yes.

You might be interested in this quote by Harry S Truman.

"The only thing new in the world is the history you (we) don't know."

WMissow writes:

in response to MIOCENE:

Yes.

You might be interested in this quote by Harry S Truman.

"The only thing new in the world is the history you (we) don't know."

Do you think Harry S was predicting the course of the presidency?

Sort of sounds like he was talking about our present POTUS and spouse, doesn't it now?

26yearsonmarco writes:

in response to WMissow:

Do you think Harry S was predicting the course of the presidency?

Sort of sounds like he was talking about our present POTUS and spouse, doesn't it now?

It sounds like the Folks above were so outspoken about their Church, they were sent here to Marco H*LL, and are being forced to live here for the rest of their miserable lives.

I am having a hard time trying to figure what I did wrong to be forced to live a life of H*LL under ObamaCare.

Konfuzius writes:

in response to 26yearsonmarco:

It sounds like the Folks above were so outspoken about their Church, they were sent here to Marco H*LL, and are being forced to live here for the rest of their miserable lives.

I am having a hard time trying to figure what I did wrong to be forced to live a life of H*LL under ObamaCare.

If the great idea for health care for every American of excellent President Barack Obama is hell you posted, I am happy when I die on time.
Paradise can not outnumber this epoch concept. I guess even the devil will salute. Even if he has to wait much longer for his customers. But he get them much healthier.

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