Voices from Russia

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Pope Francisco Bluntly Questions Catholic Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

00 Pope Francisco Bergoglio. 19.09.13


Pope Francisco Bergoglio, in the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic Church was “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, and that he chose not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics. In remarkably blunt language, Francisco sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a “home for all”, not a “small chapel” focused on doctrine, orthodoxy, and a limited agenda of moral teachings. He told Fr Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal whose content is usually in line with the Vatican, “It’s not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church aren’t all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry can’t be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. 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”.

Fr Antonio conducted the interview in Italian during three meetings in August in the pope’s austere quarters in Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse; a team of translators rendered it into English. Francisco chose to live at the Domus Sanctae Marthae rather than in what he said were more-isolated quarters at the Apostolic Palace, home to many of his predecessors. On Thursday morning, 16 Jesuit journals around the world simultaneously released the interview; it included the pope’s lengthy reflections on his identity as a Jesuit. Fr James Martin, an editor-at-large of America, a Jesuit magazine in New York, said that Pope Francisco personally checked the transcript in Italian. America and La Civiltà Cattolica together had asked Francis to grant the interview, which America is publishing in magazine and e-book formats. Fr James said, “Some of the things in it really surprised me. He seems even more of a free-thinker than I thought… creative, experimental, willing to live on the margins, push boundaries back a little bit”.

Most probably, the new pope’s words shall have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the USA, often appear to make combating abortion, gay marriage, and contraception their top public policy priorities. He said that these teachings are “clear” to him as “a son of the church”, but one has to teach them in a larger context. “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives”. Instead of such focus, from the outset of his papacy in March, Francisco chose to use the global spotlight to concentrate on the Church’s mandate to serve the poor and marginalised. He’s washed the feet of juvenile prisoners, visited a centre for refugees, and hugged disabled pilgrims at his audiences. According to recent surveys, his pastoral presence and humble gestures made him wildly popular. However, there’s a low rumble of discontent from some Catholic advocacy groups, and even from some bishops, who’ve taken note of his silence on abortion and gay marriage. Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence RI told his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed in Pope Francisco” because he hadn’t spoken about abortion. The bishop was quoted as saying, “Many people have noticed that”.

The interview is the first time Francisco explained the reasoning behind both his actions and omissions. He also expanded on the comments he made about homosexuality in July, on an airplane returning to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, where he’d celebrated World Youth Day. Then, in a remark then that produced headlines worldwide, the new pope said, “Who am I to judge?” At the time, some questioned whether he was referring only to gays in the priesthood, but in this interview, he made it clear that he’d been speaking of gays and lesbians in general. He told Fr Antonio, “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”.

The interview also served to present the pope as a human being, who loves Mozart, Dostoevsky, and his grandmother, whose favourite film is Fellini’s La Strada. The 12,000-word interview ranged widely, and it might confirm what many Catholics already suspected… that the chameleon-like Francisco bears little likeness to those on the Church’s theological or political right wing. He said that some people assumed that he was an “ultraconservative” because of his reputation when he served as the superior of the Jesuit province in Argentina. He pointed out that he became superior at the “crazy” young age of 36, and that his leadership style was too authoritarian, saying, “However, I’ve never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems”. Now, Francisco said, he prefers a more consensual leadership style. He’s appointed an advisory group of eight cardinals, a step that he said the cardinals at the conclave recommended to him. They demanded reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, and Francisco added, “I want to see that this [group] has a real, not a ceremonial, advisory function”.

The pope said that he found it “amazing” to see complaints about “lack of orthodoxy” flowing into the Vatican offices in Rome from conservative Catholics around the world. They ask the Vatican to investigate or discipline their priests, bishops, or nuns. He said that such complaints “are better dealt with locally”, or, else, the Vatican offices risk becoming “institutions of censorship”. Asked what it meant for him to “think with the Church”, a phrase used by St Ignatius de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, Francisco said that it didn’t mean “thinking with the hierarchy of the Church”. He said that he thinks of the Church “as the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people”, he added, a notion popularised after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which Francisco praised for making the Gospel relevant to modern life, an approach he called “absolutely irreversible”.

Whilst he agreed with the decision of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI Ratzinger, to allow the broader use of the traditional Latin-language Tridentine Mass, he said that the more traditional Mass risked becoming an ideology and that he was worried about its “exploitation”. Those who sought a broad revival of the Tridentine Mass are amongst Francisco’s harshest critics, and those remarks aren’t likely to comfort them. In contrast to Benedict, who sometimes envisioned a smaller but purer church… a “faithful fragment”… Francisco envisions the church as a big tent, noting, “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 mustn’t reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity”.

19 September 2013

Laurie Goodstein

New York Times


Editor’s Note:

Pope Francisco ain’t teaching anything new… it’s the “Same Old Thing”. There’s been a tempest on the right since the 60s… it’s about time that we started to push back. The Church has always been the Big Tent Fulla Sinful Ginfuls… we’re not sectarians, after all, who fancy themselves the Little Flock of the Justified and Saved. Look, everyone knows “who’s who” and “what’s what”… homosexuality was NEVER was one of the hot buttons amongst Orthodox or Catholics. We knew that some people were that way, and if they were cool about it, so were we. Everybody knows who the gay blades are. One of the Cabinet told me how they get irritated every time one of the konvertsy brings up the fact that Mark Stokoe’s gay. Big deal! Everybody knows it; Mark’s made no secret of it. As one of my older informants put it, “It’s why he wasn’t ordained. Mark’s never hid the fact that he’s homosexual”. Bishop Job had no problem with it… Fr Ted Bobosh has no problem with it… his fellow parishioners have no problem with it… give it a rest, willya?

By the way, both HH and Pope Francisco are singing from the same score on this one. As HH said, “We respect all human choices, including those of sexual orientation. We reserve the right to call a sin a sin, though”. Both HH and Pope Francisco are telling the hardheads to go jump in the lake, jump in it now, and don’t shilly-shally about doing it. It looks like sanity reigns at the top, but can we bring it down to the grassroots, too? Maybe, just maybe, if the leadership makes it clear that it won’t tolerate witch hunts, maybe, we can muzzle the Angliochians and those like them. Now, that’s worth lifting a glass to… as a Cabinet member told me about this interview:

Our right-wingers are probably choking.

Yes sir, that’s precisely what we’re hearing… God, that’s music to my ears (and to many others, too)…



19 September 2013. What Life Magazine Thought was a “Traditional Russian Breakfast” in 1972

00 traditional russian breakfast. 1972. 19.09.13


In 1972, Life magazine published a series of photographs on the subject of breakfast. This acquainted readers with traditional breakfast items in different parts of the world. How close the creators of this collection came to the truth, well, one can tell from the description of the “traditional Russian breakfast“. It was something out of a 19th century Russian novel… not at all like a contemporary breakfast in Russia today. The “traditional Russian breakfast” included dark bread, sour cherry jam, blini, smoked fish, kisel, tea, and kasha. That would be nice… if one could get it…


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