In a historic interview published in part by the New York Times Thursday, Pope Francis said he thinks the Roman Catholic Church spends too much time talking about abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. During three conversations with Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, Pope Francis shared some of his thinking on these issues and explained why he has not discussed them in detail since he was ordained six months ago, despite criticism from some in the church. The interview was conducted in Italian, approved by the Pope, translated into English by a team of translators, and released Thursday morning to 16 Jesuit journals around the world.
As the Times reports, Pope Francis seeks to make the church more welcoming. “This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he said. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
While the Roman Catholic Church frequently focuses on issues like contraception and abortion, the pope himself thinks the church should take a step back. He told his interviewer, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
He added, “We have to find a new balance otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
During the interview, Pope Francis also explained comments he made about homosexuality in July, when he told reporters, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Though he was speaking in Italian at the time, he used the English word “gay.” In the new interview, he said this on the subject: “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?’ We must always consider the person.”
Many U.S. Catholics are reacting to the news with surprise and hope. Rev. James Martin, editor of America, one of the Jesuit journals that published the interview, noted in the Times, “He seems even more of a free-thinker than I thought—creative, experimental, willing to live on the margins, push boundaries back a little bit.”
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said in a press release, “This message resonates with so many Catholics because it reflects our personal experiences—Catholics are gay and lesbian; Catholics use birth control and Catholics have abortions.”