NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Cardinal Timothy Dolan said on Friday that sometimes the church “needs a good shock” and praised Pope Francis’ comments that the Catholic Church has become obsessed by “small-minded rules.”
The pope’s remarkably blunt message six months into his papacy was sure to reverberate in the U.S. and around the globe as bishops who have focused much of their preaching on such hot-button issues are asked to act more as pastors of wounded souls.
“This man is batting a thousand,” Dolan told CBS’s Kathryn Brown on Friday. “We wanted a man who had a heart, we wanted a man who could teach like Jesus, we wanted a man who could get us back to the essentials of the church.”
In interviews published Thursday in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, Francis said he had been “reprimanded” for not pressing church opposition to abortion in his papacy. But he said “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Francis said.
“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,” the pope said in the 12,000-word article, based on interviews conducted by a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Rome journal for the religious order.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” Francis said. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
The comments contained no change in church teaching, and the pope said reform should not happen quickly. Still, it was the pope’s clearest declaration yet of a break in tone and style from his immediate predecessors.
“The way he’s doing it is so fresh and is so captivating, but he’s not really changing anything of the essence of the church,” Dolan said.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals who now face making a dramatic turnabout in how they preach.
The admonition will especially resonate in the United States, where some bishops have already publicly voiced dismay that Francis hasn’t hammered home church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality — areas of the culture wars where U.S. bishops often put themselves on the front lines.
“I think what he’s saying is those are important issues, but we need to talk about those issues in a fresh, new way,” Dolan said on “CBS This Morning.” “Instead of talking about these hot-button issues, why don’t we talk about tenderness and mercy and the love we have or one another.”
U.S. bishops were behind Benedict’s crackdown on American nuns, who were accused of letting doctrine take a backseat to their social justice work caring for the poor — precisely the priority that Francis is endorsing.
Last week, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., said in an interview with his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed” that Francis hadn’t addressed abortion since being elected.
Two months ago, Francis caused a sensation during a news conference when he was asked about gay priests. “Who am I to judge?” about the sexual orientation of priests, as long as they are searching for God and have good will, he responded.
Francis noted in the latest interview that he had merely repeated Catholic doctrine during that news conference — though he again neglected to repeat church teaching that says while homosexuals should be treated with dignity and respect, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
But he continued: “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. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”
New Ways Ministry, a Catholic outreach to gays and lesbians that has been rebuked in the past by church leaders who accused ministry leaders of straying from church teaching, called Francis’ comments “a new dawn.” Equally Blessed, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian Catholics, likened Francis’ remarks to “rain on a parched land.”
“Catholic progressives are wondering if we’re dreaming and going to wake up soon,” said John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in Washington. “It’s a new day.”
The interview also showed a very human Francis. He seemingly had no qualms about acknowledging that his tenure as superior of Argentina’s Jesuit order in the 1970s — starting at the “crazy” age of 36 — was difficult because of his “authoritarian” temperament.
“I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems,” he said.
The key, he said, is for the church to not exclude.
“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. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity,” he said.
Not A Change In Doctrine But A Change In Emphasis
On Friday the pope encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform abortions, CBS 2’s John Slattery reported.
Pope Francis appeared to be offering an olive branch to the more conservative wings of the church. The suggestion came a day after an interview in over a dozen Jesuit publications in which the pope blasted the church for its obsession with what he called “small-minded rules”.
Still, many could not overlook the significance of the interview.
“This is a very candid interview and that’s unprecedented. His candor,” explained America Magazine’s Reverend Matt Malone.
Malone said that the pope hasn’t changed church doctrine but has instead changed the emphasis.
‘In the church’s engaging with the world we are not engaging with an idea, we are not engaging with public policy, we are engaging with social issues. We are engaging with human beings who are created and redeemed,” Rev. Malone said.
Local church officials praised the Pope’s comments.
“He’s doing it in a new way. Daring, innovating, a fresh way, but not changing anything in the essentials of the church,” Cardinal Dolan said.
Reverend Peter Pomposello of Holy Name Church in the Bronx cited the pope’s emphasis on healing.
“He puts new focus on the church as a field hospital and healing first,” he said.
The pope also emphasized inclusion of the “female genius”.
“I think that’s refreshing. It’s really exciting,” Lucy Joyner said.
The latest ripples could eventually spell further change.
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