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Pope’s blunt remarks on gays, abortion pose challenge for outspoken bishops

Sunday, September 22, 2013

NEW YORK — In recent years, many American bishops have drawn a harder line with parishioners on what could be considered truly Roman Catholic, adopting a more aggressive style of correction and telling marriage equality and abortion rights supporters to stay away from the sacrament of Communion.

Liberal-minded Catholics derided the approach as tone-deaf. Church leaders said they had no choice given what was happening around them: growing secularism, increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, and a broader culture they considered more and more hostile to Christianity.

They felt they were following the lead of the pontiffs who elevated them.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops' conference, has been a polarizing figure in the same-sex marriage debate in the U.S.

Tina Fineberg, AP
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops’ conference, has been a polarizing figure in the same-sex marriage debate in the U.S.

But in blunt terms, in an interview published Thursday in 16 Jesuit journals worldwide, the new pope, Francis called the church’s focus on abortion, marriage and contraception narrow and said it was driving people away. Now, the U.S. bishops face a challenge to rethink a strategy many considered essential for preserving the faith.

“I don’t see how the pope’s remarks can be interpreted in any other way than arguing that the church’s rhetoric on the so-called culture war issues needs to be toned down,” said John Green, a religion specialist at the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “I think his language calls for less stridency on these issues.”

The leadership of the American church is composed of men who were appointed by Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI, who made a priority of defending doctrinal orthodoxy. Over the last decade or so, the bishops have been working to reassert their moral authority, in public life and over the less obedient within their flock.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned Catholics that voting for abortion-rights supporters could endanger their souls. Church leaders in Minnesota, Maine and elsewhere took prominent roles in opposing legal recognition for same-sex marriage in their states.

Bishops censured some theologians and prompted a Vatican-directed takeover of the largest association for American nuns by bringing complaints to Rome that the sisters strayed from church teaching and paid too little attention to abortion.

Terrence Tilley, a theologian at Fordham University, said Francis wasn’t silencing discussion of abortion or gay marriage, but indicating those issues should be less central, for the sake of evangelizing. But he noted that bishops have independence to decide how they should handle local political issues.

“Although Francis is sending a clear signal that he’s not a culture warrior, that doesn’t mean the bishops will follow in lockstep,” Tilley said.

Few of the U.S. bishops who have commented so far on Francis’ interview indicated they planned to change.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, head of the bishops’ religious liberty committee, said in a phone interview, “Issues do arise and we cannot always control the timing.” However, he added, “Every time I make a statement about one of these things I will certainly take another look at it and ask, ‘Does this really lead people back to the heart of the Gospel?’

“That’s what he’s asking us to do. I think that’s a fair question. ”

Lori said he expected no changes in the bishops’ push for broader religious exemptions from the contraception coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act. Dozens of Catholic charities and dioceses, along with evangelical colleges and others, are suing the Obama administration over the regulation. The bishops say the provision violates the religious freedom of faith-based nonprofits and for-profit employers.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, head of the bishops’ defense-of-marriage committee, said in a brief statement, “We must address key issues and if key issues are in the minds of those who are talking with us we will address them.”

“In San Francisco, these issues are very relevant to daily life for the people of this archdiocese,” said Christine Mugridge, a spokeswoman for Cordileone. “As long as the people of the archdiocese have particular talking points that are pressing upon them, the archbishop will respond to those talking points.”

Francis, the first Jesuit elected pope, said in the interview, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” He said the church should instead act like a “field hospital after battle,” to “heal wounds and to warm the hearts” of people so they feel welcome in the church.

The day after the article appeared, Francis denounced abortion as a symptom of a “throw-away culture,” in an address to Catholic gynecologists. He encouraged the physicians to refuse to perform abortions. But in the interview last month, conducted in Rome by the editor of the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, Francis said “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops’ conference, said he thought the pope was telling everyone — inside and outside the church — to focus less on polarizing debates on sex and morals.

“I don’t know if it’s just the church that seems obsessed with those issues. It seems to be culture and society,” Dolan said on “CBS This Morning.” “What I think he’s saying is, ‘Those are important issues and the church has got to keep talking about them, but we need to talk about them in a fresh new way.’ If we keep kind of a negative, finger-wagging tone, it’s counterproductive. ”

During the 2004 presidential election, then Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis launched what was dubbed “wafer watch” when he said he would deny Communion to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, a Catholic who supported abortion rights. Other bishops followed suit or suggested that abortion-rights supporters refrain from the sacrament. (Benedict later appointed Burke head of the Vatican high court and elevated him to cardinal.)

By 2007, the bishops revised their moral guide for Catholic voters to put a special emphasis on the evil of abortion, so the issue wouldn’t be lost amid other concerns such as poverty or education. The document, called “Faithful Citizenship,” warned voters that supporting abortion rights could endanger their souls.

In the 2012 campaign season, it was much more common to hear bishops warning Catholics that voting for a particular candidate would amount to “formal cooperation in grave evil.” Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., compared the policies of President Barack Obama to those of Hitler and Stalin. At Mass on the Sunday before the presidential election, Jenky instructed his priests to read a letter saying politicians who support abortion rights reject Jesus.

Theologically conservative Christians disagree over how much, if anything, needs to change in response to Francis’ comments. Mark Brumley, chief executive of Ignatius Press, a theologically conservative publishing house that Pope Benedict XVI chose as his English-language publisher, was among those who said, “I don’t see a major shift.”

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57 more reader comments:

  1. maybe he’ll drage them kicking and screaming into the 18th century.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:04pm
  2. Too little, too late, and still the Bishops will ignore him and still play politics and condemn people to what ever they believe hell is. The only way Francis can change things is retire all the bishops and appoint new ones. That will never happen.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:09pm
  3. While that's true, let's not kid ourselves. This IS positive. Francis is at least attempting to drag the Catholic Church kicking and screaming into the present, or at least something close to it. Better than bloody Ratbiter ever did, that's for sure, but then again he was in the Hitler Youth.

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:58am
  4. he might if he gets pissed enuf u never know - this pope has already done better then the last 2 popes ( not inc. benedict )

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 2:30am
  5. As evidenced by Pope Francis' condemnation of abortion soon after his remarks that the Church obsesses too much on abortion and birth control. Guess Francis remembers what happened to the reformer John Paul I!

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 6:43am
  6. It is time that we start loving each other as we love ourselves, after we Love God! These are the first two commandments. It is unchristian to stand between a person and their salvation. If a bishop says you will go to hell if you love a member of the same sex, and God welcomes you, is that God undermining the authority of the bishop? No! It is the Church spreading hate, and undermining God’s supreme authority, which is a His ONLY! Let us pray that God wins over this controversy. We will all go to hell if we turn our backs to God and His children, our brothers and sisters. No matter what they believe, or their infirmities. We are all flawed, and we need each other!

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:13pm
  7. Alex if you want to use a god as the basis of having love for all humankind - go for it. As a straight atheist, I dont need a god to tell me that I should love everyone, whether they are straight or LGBT.

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:38am
  8. He should of thought of that before he said it

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:14pm
  9. He does not need to think about anything honey! He is the Pope!

    Replied on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 8:00pm
  10. Yes priest and Bishop need to start right way talking abut what the Pop is saying we are all child of God and he is right tome for new change because we know how many of them are gay some come out talk abut the love of God for all od us LGBT

    Replied on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 11:10pm
  11. Yes, Pamela, but this has gone on for centuries, it’s a flaw that is deeply engraved in Christianity. I pray God heals these wounds, and gives us strength to make the changes that must be made.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:17pm
  12. Dont forget that gay marriage was around for over 2,000 years before christianity. It was christianity that outlawed it in 342 AD. Curious that you should ask the christian god to fix the problem that he (presumbaly deliberately) created - but go ahead - I wont stand in your way.

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:41am
  13. Well, they have to follow the Pope, whether they like it or not.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:28pm
  14. Do t get me started with bs. Its just a case if damned if you do damned if you don’t so stfu and just deal

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:48pm
  15. ha ha. hahahahaha.. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Well said, your Popalness, well said.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:50pm
  16. they need to sell some art and gold and feed and house some of the poor

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:55pm
  17. leaders in a hate group don’t like being told they need to change their way of thinking even if it comes from the boss. Maybe the Catholic church is on it’s way of becoming Christian!

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 6:57pm
  18. Well Pam why do we make a statement that says nothing. First of all whey do you let us know who HE is. Is it the Pope or the Bishop that the article is about?

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:03pm
  19. Get out of the way Bishops!

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:13pm
  20. I am Catholic and God created us all equal. I will stand in front of God and speak for my own actions. I do not need anyone else to explain my gay marriage or actions to God Our Father. Who sent his only begotten son to bear the cross on behalf of all of us.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:15pm
  21. Well spoken, but you must keep in mind that many "Christians" think/believe that"his"" Son" is "GOD". I was also raised as Catholic (alter boy and all) but have a hard time not believing in science??

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 8:43am
  22. sucks to suck asshole

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:17pm
  23. The hipocrocy! And I think everyone should know what I am refering to.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:32pm
  24. This man cannot exist without hating on the gays

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:36pm
  25. What a total turnaround!

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:38pm
  26. still feels nice to have a pope about service instead of getting off on condemning everyone to hell. Even if the bishops wont budge, its still comforting.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 7:48pm
  27. He just wants more $$ and boost the CC’s standing in politics playing the sheeple like a fool. I’m an ex-Catholic.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 8:16pm
  28. Good it should be a problem for some of them. Just because you a bishop it does not exempt you from being a bigot.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 8:26pm
  29. Dear Bishops: If what has been said poses a problem for you, it’s time you stepped down and get out of the church.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 8:30pm
  30. “The churches are the tombstones of God”
    Nietzsche

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 9:04pm
  31. And who or what is "GOD"? My best guess is, as "GOD" created in "his" image. Then the only thing that is common is ENERGY???

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 8:46am
  32. Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 9:12pm
  33. they will get over it…..

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 10:01pm
  34. Yes Roman Catholic Pedofile Priest s LOL

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 10:09pm
  35. Blunt? He said,”let’s talk about our strident views a little less than we normally do.” He remains anti-gay & anti-a woman’s right to choose.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 10:49pm
  36. maybe they aught to take his lead, if they spend more time helping people instead of playing politics, maybe people wouldn’t be turning away from them.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 10:51pm
  37. Archbishop Timothy Dolan should stick to preaching that genocidal Jesus :poop: in church and stop begging for gay bashing blood money to launder

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 11:12pm
  38. Only for the ones who are dickheads.

    Posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 11:46pm
  39. Talk and remarks are fucking cheap when I see the Pope turn in the hundreds of child molesters the church is hiding, comply with the European Union’s money laundering and racketeering laws, and finally cop to the Church’s role in the Holocaust, i.e., walk his talk, then my opinion of him and the Church might change.

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:03am
  40. I still have a hard time with people who run around in a dress and bling and complain about gays?

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:35am
  41. And Dont forget the mixed fabric part !

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:36am
  42. Along with those darling hats. :)

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:36am
  43. How about they start addressing molesting kids..

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:38am
  44. Not debating religion.

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:49am
  45. The pope is trying to make religion a recreation. Sorry bud, but even if you candy coat shit it’s still shit.

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 1:04am
  46. And If you hate, you are more wrong than though!! Pass judgement on thy self before you be judged. The Pope is a Priest, and a Priest is a Priest. If you see "him" as anything other than that, then you be dammed. You shall not worship symbols or objects.!!

    Replied on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 8:38am
  47. GOOD….maybe they will MOVE into this century now.

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 1:47am
  48. Pope Francis opened the door. Let’s pray that the bishops choose to go through it!

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 1:49am
  49. umm..NO ONE BELIEVES CATHOLICS…they have a very bad rep. well earned, for lying, denial, exclusion, separate and unequal..and for GODS sake NEVER let humans marry..JESUS CHRIST…they dont actually believe in ACTING LIKE CHRISTIANS..I suppose denying thy neighbor thy marriage is good Christian practice???? when the first gay couple is WELCOMED and MARRIED ina CATHOLIC CHURCH THEN THE WORLD WILL BE BETTER

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 2:39am
  50. but a priest in Melbourne was excommunicated this week because he spoke up for LGTBi people

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 2:45am
  51. he just sees us as sinners- women, gays/lesbians and anyone having an abortion or using birth control- he called us sinners and called for forgiving us- I am not a sinner

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 2:52am
  52. starting at the age of 6 years old, raped 18 times by gay men, I truly know what their all about, every time I said to stop, its against my religion, they continued….. I am no longer a child, I only come out of my closet to protect Marriage and the children,. I shouldn’t have to relive my past at the age of 44.. I was doing fine living not in the past,. LGBT has brought these nightmares back to me, and they are going to pay for it all!…

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 4:54am
  53. Mr Alex Stroud you are a breath of Fresh air. Wish I lived in the state where you fellowshipped. And the Pope is amazing. I am proud of him for standing up for people who are so harshly judged.

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 11:33am
  54. Big-mouth-bigot has been very quiet lately……..

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 1:23pm
  55. Instead of Catholics telling about the love of God they spend all their time with “you can’t”

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 1:50pm
  56. Because it was all a fucking LIE.

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 2:39pm
  57. what did Jesus call these pious snakes?? i think it was vipers, whited seplecurs white on the outside , full of dead mens bones on the inside.

    Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 2:49pm