In one of the first lengthy interviews he has given since ascending to the papacy in March, Pope Francis said he believes the Catholic Church has grown too “obsessed” with social issues like abortion, birth control, and gay marriage. The pope’s statement is a sharp departure from many of the other leaders in the Church, who have recently been pressuring him to take a stronger stance on those issues.
“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” Pope Francis told an Italian outlet. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”
U.S. Catholic Bishops have been criticized for focusing almost exclusively on social issues — like advocating against marriage equality and fighting against Obamacare’s birth control benefit — at the expense of the Church’s other teachings on social justice issues.
But the leader of the Catholic Church said that the religion needs to “find a new balance” on the moral teachings that it prioritizes. “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 pope explained.
In the United States, Catholic laypeople tend to disagree with the stance that the Bishops have staked out on social issues. Most Catholics support marriage equality, and a full 82 percent of Catholics think birth control is morally acceptable. And 63 percent of Catholics support a woman’s right to choose and don’t favor overturning Roe v. Wade.
In recent months, Pope Francis has made a name for himself as somewhat of a populist leader. He has indicated he may welcome gay priests, personally called a rape victim to comfort her, condemned austerity policies for harming the poor, invited homeless people to eat with him at the Vatican, and gone out of his way to be welcoming toward atheists, Muslims, and women.
In the new interview, Francis pointed out that the Church should be “a home for all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”