“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that,” he told the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, an Italian Jesuit, who conducted the interview.
“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.”
But even without disputing Catholic doctrine, Francis went further than before in critiquing the institutional church, promoting a more accessible, lay-
centered Catholicism than his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
The first thing the church needs, he said, is an adjustment of “attitude.”
Pastors “must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue. . . . The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials,” Francis said.
The interview appeared likely to fuel a debate that has persisted since Francis was elected pope this spring in Rome. Can he hold on to the millions of Catholics who occupy both ends of the spectrum: left-leaning Catholics who might be inspired by his inclusive speech and gestures, along with traditionalists who might not approve?
Some progressive and gay rights groups quickly praised the interview, saying the pope was affirming their emphasis on poverty and tending to the marginalized over hot-button issues such as gay marriage and contraception.
“I’m giddy,” said James Salt, director of Catholics United, which put out a statement titled “Pope to Right-Wingers: I’m Not One of You.”
“Pope Francis is saying what every faithful lay Catholic knows: To be effective in the modern world, the Church must refocus on what Christ actually taught us: to proclaim God’s love and good news for the poor, the vulnerable and the forgotten,” Salt wrote in a statement.
Several prominent traditional bishops who have expressed public criticism of Francis rare for church officials declined to comment Thursday. Calls to abortion opponents including the March for Life were not returned.
But Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the interview “an extraordinary moment in journalism,” saying previous papal interviews were done for books and were often less “blunt.”