News / Europe

Wide Praise for Pope’s Rejection of Focus on Sexual Issues

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sept. 18, 2013.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sept. 18, 2013.
Pope Francis, who recently said he would not judge homosexuals, has once again stunned Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  He conceded in an interview this week that the Roman Catholic Church had become “obsessed” with sexual and reproductive issues.  And he warned that the Church’s moral authority could “fall like a house of cards” unless it offered a more loving approach to dissenters.  The message is winning widespread praise.

The interview given to an Italian Jesuit publication was titled “A Big Heart Open to God,” and in it Francis talked about his faith and his vision for the papacy.  But it was the pope's criticism of the Church’s focus on abortion, contraception and homosexuality that won over many liberal Catholics.

“Absolutely groundbreaking,” said Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice, who says the pope is rejecting the notion that Catholics who disagree with dogma have no place in the Church. “It’s not as though we’re talking about having a left wing pope.  It’s that Pope Francis is going back to Catholic teaching.  He doesn’t want the Church to be a small Church.  He wants the Church to be a broad Church that allows those who have different emphases on teaching to all be together.”

While Francis has spoken at length about poverty and social justice - especially during his trip to Brazil earlier this year, he has not been as vocal on reproductive issues.  But a day after the interview, in an apparent gesture toward conservatives, the pope issued a statement urging Catholic doctors to refuse to perform abortions.

Geoffrey Strickland of Priests for Life, a vociferous anti-abortion group, says he is willing to give Francis a chance.

“He’s breaking down some walls a little bit that might lead to a more coherent dialogue," he said.

Still, the shift is nothing short of dramatic, says Stephen Schneck of the Catholic University of America.  It reminds him of times in Church history when the hierarchy became too focused on doctrinal purity and a new pope saw the need for an opening.

"This isn’t a pontiff that wants to turn inward," he said. "This isn’t a pontiff that wants the Church to focus narrowly on rules and dogma and so forth, but wants the Church to be this wide-armed, welcoming mother - he would say - to everyone and that’s what’s so breathtaking about him and the interview that he’s done."

Francis is not only reaching out to dissenting Catholics.  He has also been making overtures to other faiths, notes Father Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter.

"Religion has been too divisive in the world today," he said. "And I think he wants to lower the volume, lower the rhetoric and call on people to travel together on this journey of faith, learn from each other, dialogue, have conversation, and seek God together, instead of excommunicating each other."

The pontiff's efforts seem to be having the desired effect, especially in his own faith.  A poll by the National Catholic Reporter found that only four percent of Roman Catholics in the United States are unhappy with Pope Francis.

It is a popularity rating, Reese points out, that politicians in Washington and elsewhere would "kill for."

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs