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

REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
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.

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.

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.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/19/2013 - 03:05 pm.

    More are “more Catholic than the Pope” today.

    Life is lived on many levels other than “below the belt”.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/19/2013 - 07:54 pm.

    Why Am I Not Surprised That It Now Becomes Obvious

    That our “conservative” Catholic friends who have been telling everyone ELSE that they were not faithful Catholics because they were not falling in line behind very conservative popes John Paul and Benedict,…

    now reveal themselves to be complete hypocrites when Pope Francis takes positions with which THEY disagree.

    They’ve been telling other Catholics that it was their duty and obligation to agree with whatever the current Pope might say,…

    but now they seem unable to do their OWN duty and meet their OWN obligations when the Pope doesn’t agree with them.

    I can only assume that each of these “conservative” Catholics really is a Pope in and of themselves, but I don’t see how that fits in with the hierarchy of their church nor their own previous positions (let alone the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/19/2013 - 11:15 pm.


    Religion, no matter what its stripe, is just plain weird. Just live your life as a decent person, be nice to others, and you have all the bases covered. Stop trying to dictate to other people what they can and cannot do.

  4. Submitted by mark wallek on 09/20/2013 - 06:50 am.

    No Curia Toady

    Perhaps Francis will actually be the unstoppable force that shatters the hold the material minded Curia has had on dogma after the assassination of JPI. The church will not be changed overnight, but a pope smart enough not to move into the papal rooms and eat at public venues bodes well for his longevity.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/20/2013 - 09:03 am.

    End of obsession

    It is good news that this pope is going to tone down the rhetoric on abortion, homosexuality and contraception. It’s nice to think one can be a “good person” by just being nice but the truth is that people hunger for faith and meaning which is something religion can and does provide. I find the analogy between the church and a field hospital to be spot on.

    For centuries, the church took the same attitude toward divorce as it does toward these other issues.This even had Biblical support on the Gospel in the words of Jesus himself. Officially, divorce and remarriage is still a “sin”. But the church has quietly adjusted its position with a liberal annulment policy that allows otherwise faithful people to divorce and remarry within sinning. If the church can allow individuals to divorce and get remarried without sinning in their consciousness, it shouldn’t be too hard to not excommunicate followers who use contraception or have had an abortion, or, as in most cases, believe that it’s none of their business what others do about this.

  6. Submitted by jody rooney on 09/20/2013 - 10:53 am.

    If conservative Catholics think they have a personal

    relationship with God doesn’t that make them Lutheran. Hey I am just asking.

    When I was growing up my entire neighborhood was Catholic except our family. I remember the joy when Kennedy was elected (they were also all union) and the depth of their sorrow at his assassination. The other thing I remember was Pope John XXIII who even to a Lutheran 12 year old came across as the personification of goodness and kindness.

    It sounds like this new pope is in that mold and I wish him well the world can always use kind people.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/21/2013 - 09:01 am.

      Not At All

      The very first part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God created us to first be in a relationship with Him and second with each other.

      Great question.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/20/2013 - 03:19 pm.

    I don’t have any problem falling in line with the Pope…mostly because the only thing he said is he will not focus on these issues. He didn’t change the church’s position on them one iota; nor will he or can he.

    Also, there is no proscription for other priests to avoid the issues, nor will there be.

    A quote from the interview that may dissapoint liberals has been completely (willfully?) ignored by the secular press: “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.”

    Besides being the spiritual leader, the Pope has the duty and authority to direct the church’s focus as he wishes. Francis is Franciscan; they have always focused on helping the poor; no conflict there. It’s all good.

  8. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/22/2013 - 06:31 pm.

    We have seen this before…

    We have seen this pattern before….

    Many of the mainline denominations forsook precise doctrinal statements long ago and have fashioned “religion” designed to satisfy their human concepts about God and revelation.

    Perhaps the same pattern will be repeated in the Catholic Church. We maybe left with one catholic church that believes something because of an authority outside itself and another catholic church that believes nothing except what it invents to believe.

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