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Pope Calls For 'New Balance' On Hot-Button Social Issues


Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis has stunned the Catholic world. In a long and blunt interview, the pope said that the Catholic Church should not be - as he put it - obsessed with abortion, contraception and gay marriage. The interview appeared yesterday in Jesuit journals across the world. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Rome. And Sylvia, do the pope's comments change church policies on issues of sexual morality?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: No - or at least, not yet. Francis says he needs time for reforms. What the pope does do, however, is offer a tone and vision of the church, and its relations with Catholics, that couldn't be more different from those of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. For example, he says: We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. He says church teaching is clear on these matters. He acknowledges he's been reprimanded for not speaking out on these issues but says it's not necessary to talk about them all the time. Rather, he says, we have to find a new balance; otherwise, the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.

MONTAGNE: In the interview, he also picks up on a remark he made last July when he said, "Who am I to judge people who are gay?" What about now - what's he saying now?

POGGIOLI: He says, "I was once asked provocatively if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?" And in the interview, Pope Francis adds, "It is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person."

MONTAGNE: And what about the issue of women in the church?

POGGIOLI: Well, Francis rejects the ordination of women. However, he says, women in the church are asking deep questions that must be addressed, and that women must be involved in top decision-making matters. In contrast to Benedict XVI - who wanted a small, pure church - Francis's vision is that of a big tent. His idea of the church is that it must be like a field hospital after battle, healing the wounds of the faithful and going out to find those who have been hurt, excluded or fallen away. He uses another medical analogy, saying it's useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol. You have to heal his wounds.

MONTAGNE: And Sylvia, given that this interview is bound to stir up controversy, how did it come about?

POGGIOLI: Well, it was conducted by Father Antonio Spadaro, who's the editor-in-chief of the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, in three sessions in August. The pope approved the Italian transcript, and it's been published in 15 other Jesuit journals. It also covers the pope's Jesuit education and his leadership style. Francis acknowledges that as a younger man, he was too authoritarian and that he has learned from his mistakes. But he insists that he was never a right-winger. He says he now wants more a consultative governance of the church. In fact, in an unprecedented move, he has appointed a committee of eight cardinals who will advise him. And he repeats John XXIII's motto: See everything, turn a blind eye to much, correct a little.

Francis also talks about his personal tastes in literature, art and movies. His favorite writers are Dostoyevsky, Cervantes and Borges. His favorite painters are Caravaggio and Chagall. And his favorite movie is Fellini's "La Strada."

MONTAGNE: OK. Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, speaking to us from Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.