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September 19, 2013 11:45 AM A Less Political Pope

By Martin Longman

Whenever Pope Francis I speaks publicly, I begin to worry about Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online’s The Corner. When I read that the pope had said “that the Roman Catholic church had grown “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics,” I just got the feeling that K-Lo’s blood pressure might be getting dangerously high.

After all, just three days ago, Ms. Lopez wrote a piece in which she compared the images of dead children killed in the 8/21 sarin attacks in Damascus to “the stories of babies, survivors of abortion, who are left to die at clinics and hospitals right here in America.” I think that is a rather explicit example of the kind of obsession with abortion that the pope is dispensing with. In other words, K-Lo’s approach is under direct fire:

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” the pope told the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal whose content is routinely approved by the Vatican. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “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.”

Of course, this is not all about Ms. Lopez or even abortion. The pope included “gay marriage” and “contraception” in his list of overemphasized issues. Remember that in late July, the pope made news with this:

When questioned on what his response would be upon learning that a cleric was gay, though not sexually active, the Argentinian-born pontiff said he wouldn’t judge gay priests and explained, “You can’t marginalize these people.”
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he said.

Pope Francis I isn’t changing any doctrine with these kinds of remarks, but he is making a rather clean break with his two most recent predecessors, whose tone and emphasis was much more in tune with the Reaganite Right in this country.

The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, often appeared to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. These teachings are “clear” to him as “a son of the church,” he said, but they have to be taught in a larger context. “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”

I can’t say for sure how this new pope will influence American politics, but as a liberal I can say that it is a relief not to feel like the Vatican is fighting on behalf of my political opponents anymore. That’s not a comfortable feeling.

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