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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid