Pope Francis was speaking to U.S. bishops this week when he said in his latest remarkable interview that the Catholic Church was too obsessed with condemning abortion, contraception and gay marriage and needed to adopt a more positive, constructive approach. The pope is intent on making dramatic changes to the church, changes that will benefit the church in America if embraced by the hierarchy.
In an interview published by major Jesuit publications from all over the world, the first pope from the Jesuit order declared the church had to "find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards," adding that there was too much focus on the social issues cited above and "small-minded rules." In Massachusetts and the United States, the Catholic Church’s fixation on abortion and contraception is transparently contradictory, as birth control will reduce abortions, and its opposition to civil gay marriage, as the church hierarchy was in Massachusetts in its futile attempt to block it, is mean-spirited and the kind of political issue that a tax exempt organization should avoid. The hierarchy’s scolding was off-putting to many Catholics at a time when the church was losing members and closing church buildings.
The pope isn’t suggesting any changes in church doctrine, only a shift in focus. In his brief tenure as pope, Francis has made it clear that his focus will be on economic justice and on helping those in poverty throughout the world. This was long a strength of the Catholic Church, but helping the poor and speaking out on economic unfairness were de-emphasized over the years as the church grew more conservative and more fixated on what it was against rather than what it was for.
Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air for his church and the world at large, as his principles of compassion and caring are universal. The church hierarchy in the state and nation should take heed.