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Pope, in sweeping interview, compares Church with 'field hospital' for wounded society

September 19, 2013

In a broad-ranging interview, Pope Francis has underlined the need for the Church “to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.”

"Ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all,” the Pope insists in the course of a 12,000-word interview. Conducted by Father Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, the interview was translated and published simultaneously by other Jesuit publications, including the American magazine America.

Stressing that the Church must respond to the needs of a society with several spiritual needs, the Pope likened the Church to a “field hospital” dealing with gravely wounded patients. “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars,” he said. “You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

In a portion of the interview that immediately commanded headlines in the Western world, the Pontiff said that Church leaders should not confine their public statements to controversial social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. The Church’s stand on those issues is already well known, he said. More important, he added, the primary goal of the Church is to preach the fundamental Gospel message. He spoke of the need to speak about “what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.”

“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. He observed that if people are attracted by the Gospel message, they will naturally be sympathetic to the moral principles derived from that message.

Regarding homosexual persons and others who are living in objectively sinful situations, the Pope said that Church ministers should approach them with a loving attitude. “In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.”

Throughout the long interview, Pope Francis returned repeatedly to the need for a fresh, new, and attractive presentation of the Gospel. “The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” he said.

The Pope observed that the “young” Catholic churches—the communities in which the Church is experiencing her first period of growth—have very different experiences and outlooks from the older Catholic communities. He suggested that both are necessary to help plot the future of Catholicism, just as both young and old people are essential to the vitality of any society. “They build the future: the young ones with their strength and the others with their wisdom.”

Regarding the future of Catholicism, the Pope said that he would not use the term optimism, “because that is about a psychological attitude.” He opted instead for the word “hope,” which is a theological virtue. “God does not mislead hope,” the Pope said.

The interviewer, Father Spadoro, began the questions by asking: “Who is Jorge Maria Bergoglio?” After a pause, the Pope replied, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition.”

Father Spadaro commented, in his own introductory remarks, that the interview proved challenging because the Pope produced a “volcanic flow of ideas that are bound up with each other.” At times, he said, the Pontiff interrupted one question to elaborate on his response to an earlier one.

In other portions of the interview, the Pope commented on:

  • His membership in the Jesuit order, saying that he was “a witness myself to the misunderstandings and problems that the Society has recently experienced.
  • Marian devotion, saying that popular devotion captures the attitude of the Church. Regarding the Virgin Mary, he said, “If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people.”
  • His decision to live in the Casa Sanctae Marthae. The Pope said that while the papal apartment is not luxurious, “it is like an inverted funnel,” with a small entrance leading to spacious rooms. He preferred a wider access, he said, explaining that “I cannot live without people.”
  • Reforms at the Vatican. Although he did not speak about reform of the Roman Curia in any detail, the Pope stated his general position: “The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.”
  • The traditional liturgy. While saying that the decision by Pope Benedict to broaden the use of the extraordinary form was prudent, Pope Francis said that he worries about the “ideologization” and “exploitation” of the traditional Latin Mass.


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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: jeanneg117438 - Oct. 01, 2013 7:26 PM ET USA

    The sad truth is that few people, even Church-going Catholics, know why the Church teaches what she does about homosexuality or contraception. The Church has not explained, has not taught. In the past 35 years, I have heard one sermon on contraception, and that was at a conference on sexual issues! The church's position on contraception is not taught in our parish high school religious education, not even mentioned in the marriage preparation (!!) program, not mentioned in the adult RCIA classes

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Sep. 22, 2013 12:44 PM ET USA

    I read the interview in America and thought it was wonderful! It's like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. We've been given permission to Change the Subject! Anyone who doesn't know the truth about the 'hot-button issues' doesn't care to know!(my opinion). So talk about them only within context from now on. Focus on Our Lord and preach the Gospel from the street corners! God Bless Pope Francis!

  • Posted by: tturner3998 - Sep. 20, 2013 8:25 AM ET USA

    There has been an abject and universal failure on the level of the parish church to teach aganst contraception for two generations. This is a fact. The problem is not that the church has limited its teaching to this hotbutton issue. The problem is that the Church has preferred a "more pastoral approach" and veered away from explaining these things.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Sep. 19, 2013 4:51 PM ET USA

    The model which Francis is following is that of Blessed Pierre Favre SJ. Pierre Favre believed everything that Pope Innocent III had believed before him but his approach in Reformation Germany was to avoid doctrinal arguments with people and focus on their moral lives and devotions. Christopher Dawson has an excellent analysis of Favre's approach in his book, The Division of Christendom.