What the pope said

La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit publication, got an exclusive interview with Pope Francis. America: The National Catholic Review, the major Jesuit periodical in the U.S., published an English translation of the interview here.

New media are making a big deal out of this interview, because in it Pope Francis says that the Roman Catholic church should place less emphasis on its opposition to “gay marriage,” abortion, and contraceptives; for although he says that he still fully supports Catholic teachings on those topics, he feels that Roman Catholicism should focus on what he calls “the essentials, the necessary things”; and the most necessary thing, he says, is “the proclamation of salvation.” I would have guessed that the most necessary thing on which we should focus would be poverty and social justice; this is what I get from Jesus’ teachings; and to my mind, this change in emphasis — putting “proclamation of salvation” before opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraceptives — is slight indeed. Nevertheless, the media have pounced on it as if it is a complete change in Catholic teachings. Pope Francis is a bit of a media darling, isn’t he?

I was more interested in the pope’s seeming willingness to consider that the institution of the Catholic church should grow and evolve over time. When asked about the “enormous changes in society,” the pope replied, in part:

“…Human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.”

While the pope does not go as far as the process theologians, who would assert that God actually grows and evolves, he nevertheless makes an important point: that a religious institution must grow in understanding, as the world grows and changes around the institution; and that a religious institution must draw upon “the other sciences” (which I understand as a broad category that includes both the natural sciences, and other areas of systematic human inquiry such as philosophy, etc.) to move towards ever greater maturity of judgment.

It is this point — rather than the pope’s rather weak statement on same sex marriage, abortion, and contraceptives — that I find to be the most compelling point in the interview. For this leaves open the door that someday, probably in the distant future, the Roman Catholic church could find its way to a greater maturity of judgment on, for example, its view of women.

One thought on “What the pope said”

  1. A hopeful and welcome change of heart for the biggest and longest living monolith, Dan. Thanks for bringing the good news!

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