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St. Thomas theologian Faggioli Q-A: Pope’s comments might worry some conservative Catholics

His take on interview: “I think of this as his first encyclical, in a way. It’s a very personal statement.”

Pope Francis said the Catholic Church shouldn’t focus so intently on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and contraception and instead should work harder at being welcoming to all.
REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

In a long, wide-ranging interview published Thursday, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church shouldn’t focus so intently on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and contraception and instead should work harder at being welcoming to all.

He said he recognized that some conservative Catholics will be unhappy that he doesn’t plan to spend time on those issues.

While the message from Rome might be heartening to liberal Catholics in many ways, the pope did reiterate the long-standing ban on women priests. And he did say that women must play a key role in church decision.

The 12,000-word interview was published in America; The National Catholic Review, a Jesuit magazine in New York.

The interview was conducted in Italian, with a few words in Spanish and then translated by independent experts.

Massimo Faggioli

One of the translating teams was Massimo Faggioli, an assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Faggioli said his wife, Sarah, who teaches Italian at St. Thomas, also helped with the translation, which took all weekend.

The Catholic Church in Minnesota has been very active on social issues, with  Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis at the core of support for a proposed state constitutional ban on gay marriage. That measure was defeated by voters last November, and in spring, the Legislature legalized gay marriage with the first weddings held Aug. 1.

MinnPost talked Thursday with Faggioli, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Turin and is considered an international expert on papal matters.

MinnPost: What’s the major message in this new interview from Pope Francis?

Massimo Faggioli: This pope is a pope who acknowledges his personal faults in his life as a priest, and in the interview he admits: ‘I made many mistakes. I’ve been wrong. I’ve hurt people.’

And he said that the Catholic Church as a whole cannot spend all its time talking about sex, about gays, about abortion. The church has a wider mission and can’t spend its whole time on these issues.

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MP: Are there things that are new, maybe startling?

Faggioli:  He explicitly recognizes that there are Catholics who are not happy with him. That there are Catholics disappointed that he’s not obsessed with these sexual issues. I think that’s remarkable for the pope to say, ‘I know I’m going to be criticized for not being outspoken on these sexual issues.’

It’s important, he says, for the church to take a more general view. He said he sees the church as a field hospital, where the first task is to welcome people and heal their wounds, and not turn away if it’s not the patient you’d like to have.

He’s calling for a more welcoming church that is not compromising on the teaching, but is much more aware of the complicated nature of human life.

I think of this as his first encyclical, in a way. It’s a very personal statement.

MP: What impact will the interview have on American Catholics and Catholics in Minnesota?

Faggioli: It’s going to be interesting. He said things that might be worrying for some conservative American Catholics, things that may now make them like him even less. We’ll see what impact it has.

MP: Are there particular things conservatives won’t like?

Faggioli: When he says, he’s never been a right-winger, and I’m quoting here. And his thoughts on dealing with gays, abortion and sex.

He’s taking a much more international tone, much less ideological, and that’s something that may not be welcomed by some conservatives.

MP: Will this create a dilemma for clergy, particularly those who might have worked hard the gay marriage ban?

Faggioli: They already know something is going on in Rome. They have noticed that there’s a new pope in town. It will be interesting to see how they lean in this adjustment in language.

MP: Might there for some Catholics be a sense of betrayal from Rome?

Faggioli: I hope not, but I don’t know. I am sure that there will be difficulty in making the adjustment for some Catholics who thought some of these issues were settled forever, in content and in language. The pope here is not changing the content, but he is changing the language.

MP: What message will liberal Catholics take from the interview?

Faggioli: They will like it all except maybe the part on women. There is not a big concession from Pope Francis to the liberal arguments about women in the church. Liberal Catholics might be disappointed on the women and gender issues.

But I think they will like the pastoral message of this pope.