A Critique of the Pope's America interview:
When NARAL-namely the National Abortion Rights Action League-thanks a Pope for anything you know that something went seriously wrong somewhere.
This "thank you" is just one of the outrageous and incredible responses the secular world and the enemies of life have made in the last 5 days to certain statements Pope Francis made in his America magazine interview. See link to that whole, very lengthy article at end of this memo. I urge a full reading.
Before I go any further in this critique-there is much good in what the Holy Father says. Moreover, let me also say it right now-I honor and respect this pope-I believe he is a true holy man of God and his pontificate (still very new) has the potential to bring about great good for the Holy Catholic Church and the world.
However, it does absolutely no good to ignore or try and put a positive spin on the horrific media fallout -or to just blame the secular enemies of the Church for their exploitation of the pope's interview. A simple "google" search of media coverage of the interview will bring in a harvest of hideous captions and headlines that blast:
"Pope Faults Church-Lay off Gays and Abortion"
and "Pope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church's Obsession" Huffington Post
"Pope: Church too focused on gays and abortion" with sub-headline: "We have to find a new balance instead of being obsessed with those issues"
"Pope Francis...church had become 'obsessed' with abortion, gay marriage and contraception." Photo caption,New York Times
"Pope Bluntly Faults Church's Focus on Gays and Abortion"
New York Times-online edition
"Pope faults 'small-minded' rules"followed by sub-headline: "He says church shouldn't be 'obsessed' with gays, abortion, and contraception."Chicago Tribune
"The Pope Confesses Church's 'Obsession' With Gays, Abortion"
The Daily Beast
"Pope Francis Is a Liberal: It's not just homosexuality or birth control. He's profoundly anti-conservative." Slate Magazine-which even stated (referring to the Galileo case) that according to Francis' idea of the "development of doctrine" the Church's "rules" on abortion and gay sex will change over time!
I think you get the idea. The Church-hating media has had a field-day with this interview. But what did the pope really say? In other words, are the enemies of the Gospel justified in their interpretation of the pope's remarks?Did the pope throw pro-lifers, those fighting gay "marriage" and Catholic dissent on contraception under the bus?
The following paragraphs from the interview are the ones over which the current fiasco are most centered. There are other statements that the media are exploiting-but these are certainly at the heart of the controversy. I have highlighted in blue the statements most exploited.
"The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. 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....
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
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. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also 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 proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
"I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor's proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ."
Let me make an attempt to distill the pope's message that lessens its ambiguity: The pope is saying: "Christ the Lord founded His Church for the salvation of souls. Thus the Church's primary mission is to preach the good news to all men in all situations in which human beings find themselves. The Church needs to reach out to mankind with the love, mercy and forgiveness of God-to bring all people to the love of God. This is primary. We can't be overly preoccupied with only certain doctrines, social causes, or only certain sins or moral evils-but first must come the preaching of the love and mercy of God."
If, instead of saying: "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible." not long after he faulted the Church for being "locked up in small-minded rules," what if Pope Francis had said something like: "The killing of the unborn, attacks on the sanctity of marriage and the widespread use of contraception are grave evils and it is the mission of the Church to preach the truth about these things and the Church needs to support those fighting the good fight-but first must come the proclamation of the saving love of Christ-preached to all." Well-I venture to say that if the pope had stated his views this way, much of the horrific media distortion would have been prevented.
But what did the media do? The media took the pope's message: "The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules." and associated this with the pope's statement that the Church can't: "insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods"-and tied that in with a Church: "obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently" that "do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ."
Put this all together and you have headlines that say: "Pope Faults Church-Lay off Gays and Abortion".
I am not arguing that the pope deliberately intended to disenfranchise, delegitimize or discredit the work of pro-lifers. But, there is enough ambiguity in his statements and delivered with a certain tone-that sadly this is one of the consequences of this interview. I am sure that as a pro-life activist leader I am not alone in my sensing that I have been left in the lurch in the very already difficult task of ending legalized abortion-certainly not only because of the pope's interview but, of course, because of the way pro-lifers were-deliberately or not-thrown to the wolves.
I was afraid, for example, for my dear husband, Edmund Miller, founder of Guadalupe Partners, who, as he does every week, stood this Saturday in front of an abortion clinic in Detroit to persuade the most needy pregnant women on earth from killing their babies. I could just hear the abortion center manager say to him: "Hey Miller, what are you doing here?-even your pope doesn't think abortion is any big deal."
My soft-spoken sister-in-law, a devout Catholic, opposed to abortion-and a Cornell University graduate, said that she was afraid of encountering her secular-minded colleagues at the university where she teaches-afraid that they would think that even her pope had discredited her views.
These are REAL TIME consequences of the pope's interview and I am probably just scratching the surface. Even if the long-term discrediting of the pro-life movement doesn't happen-just having to be concerned about it is wrong, unjust and unfair.
Let's just face the facts! Has there ever been an instance in the 2000 year history of the Church when a sworn enemy of all that the Church stands for-i.e. NARAL-actually thanked the pope?! NARAL is guilty of a shameful exploitation. Nonetheless, does the Holy Father not bear at least some measure of responsibility for providing the enemies of the Gospel with their sense of entitlement, however horrifically distorted, to confidently and publically disparage pro-lifers and their "obsession" with abortion?
By the way-if anyone wishes to accuse me of being "obsessed" with abortion-I stand guilty. I think when a whole people group is named non-persons and by sanction of law put to death by the 10s of millions-this is something any real Christian-or even any person of good will for that matter-should RIGHTLY BE OBSESSED ABOUT!
And this is not an obsession despite the love of Christ or without the love of Christ, but is at the very center of the love and mercy and truth of Christ.
Before I end this critique-there is one particular statement of the Holy Father that is also seriously ambiguous and subject to misinterpretation.
In discussing how homosexuals expressed to him how they feel unwanted by the Church-Francis stated:
"During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person."
Let me point out that the Church's moral doctrines are not "opinion" but nonetheless the pope's statement could be interpreted that: Religion-like Catholicism for instance, has a right to teach its doctrines that serve its people-but the inner spiritual life is completely private. It is between that person, their conscience, and God and may not be interfered with."
Let me just say this-whenever a pro-lifer tries to talk a woman out of an abortion, he or she is seriously "interfering" in the spiritual life of that person. Whenever (however rarely) a pro-abortion Catholic politician is admonished by his or her bishop-that bishop has "interfered" with the spirituality of that politician. I hope for a lot more of that type of "interference."
Dare I say-that certain moral decisions have such dire consequences that we have a duty to appropriately "interfere" with the spiritual lives of others-to lead-as the disciples of Christ-people from darkness into light.
The doctrines of the Church are not inert teachings-they engender spiritual life and lead to eternal life. If Francis means by "interfere" that we cannot force others to accept the truth and make life-giving decisions-yes, that is true. The truth cannot be forced-it has to be appropriated freely.
But Jesus came to interfere in the lives of all people-just ask the Pharisees.
Finally, I do wonder if Pope Francis is fully aware of the extent of the
injustice that abortion represents. I am not sure that he sufficiently appreciates what it costs pro-lifers to save babies from abortion. Here is an analogy to the fallout from the pope's remarks-it is as if Pope Pius XII told Oskar Schindler-"stop being obsessed about the Jewish Holocaust."
To pro-lifers, through whose hands the very broken bodies of the unwanted unborn have passed, the pope's ambiguity and the manner in which it has been exploited is nothing less than demoralizing.
But-no matter what-the pope's ambiguous, troubling statements and the media fall out is just something more God has asked us to suffer for His sake. Thus! do NOT be discouraged. Do your saving work. This is what God asks and we must be His faithful servants. Just carry on my friends.
Friday of last week, the very day after the negative distorted headlines appeared, the Holy Father addressed Italian gynecologists andcharacterized abortion as a product of a "widespread mentality of profit, the 'throwaway culture', which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many" These are his strongest words yet on this hideous and unjust practice.
These remarks, of course, did not appear on the front page of newspapers across the globe unlike his faulting of "small-minded rules"-yet his words served as a balm to this weary warrior-and I thank you Holy Father-and may God be with you.
Link to America magazine article--
Dr. Miller work has been quoted in numberous publications
Reprinted with permission:
Dr. Miller is the founder and president of Citizens for a Pro-life Society
and Professor of Sacred Theology & the Catholic Integrated Core-Curriculum at St. Mary's Collage, Madonna University
Dr. Miller is a regular guest on CRLT's "From the Median" radio program on Salem Radio 1220 The Word heard every weeknight at 9pm.