Pope Francis, in a widely-publicized interview, says he wants to see a change in how the Church proclaims and lives the Gospel.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Pope Francis, in a widely-publicized interview, says he wants to see a change in how the Church proclaims and lives the Gospel.

September 30, 2013
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

In a lengthy interview with an Italian Jesuit publication, Pope Francis has said the Church must avoid locking itself up in "small-minded rules" and must focus on the essentials of faith so it does not lose "the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."

The Church must find "a new balance" in its proclamation, the pope said in the interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the journal La Civilta Cattolica. "The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant."

Pope Francis said the Church must not talk about moral issues "all the time" and when it does, it must do so within a context.

"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."

The interview was published simultaneously in 16 Jesuit publications and drew extensive mainstream media coverage.

Instead of being "obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently," Pope Francis said the Church must see itself as similar to a field hospital after battle. "In pastoral ministry, we must accompany people and heal their wounds."

MOTHER, SHEPHERDESS

The greatest call to the Church today "is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful: it needs nearness, proximity," he said. The people want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats. "I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess."

The Church, the pope said, must "step outside of itself" and go to those who do not attend Mass or who are indifferent.

"A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. 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?'"

The Church must accompany people with its mercy, "starting from their situation," he said.

In the sacrament of Confession, the confessor evaluates on a case-by-case basis, seeking to discern what is best for the person who is seeking God's grace. "The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which God's mercy motivates us to do better."

Pope Francis said structural reforms in the Church are secondary to its mission of mercy. Change occurs slowly. "I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment."

The pope said he is wary of decisions made hastily. He criticized himself for being authoritarian in his stint as the superior of the Jesuits in Argentina when he was a young priest. "I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing."

"My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative," he said. "But I have never been a right-winger."

Consultation, he continued, must not be "token consultation," but real consultation. Consultation itself is only part of discernment.

"Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor."

JESUIT DISCERNMENT

The style of the Jesuits, he said, is shaped by such discernment. Unfortunately, the Society of Jesus has sometimes been characterized by "closed and rigid thought" that is not mystical.

"The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking."

The chief characteristic of religious orders, he said, is to be prophetic. Being prophetic does not mean opposing the Church's hierarchy, but "the prophetic and hierarchical structure do not coincide. A religious must never give up prophecy."

The various departments of the Roman Curia, known as dicasteries, "run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship" if they are not functioning well, he said.

The pope said "it is amazing" to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that are sent to Rome. Such cases should be dealt with by local bishops' conferences, which can get help from Rome if they need it. "These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally."

He also suggested that it is time to change the World Synod of Bishops whose "current method is not dynamic." On this matter of synodality and collegiality, the Catholic Church can learn much from the Orthodox Church.