Pope’s remarks pose challenge for American bishops

A report by the Associated Press said Pope Francis’ call to focus less on divisive social issues poses a challenge for US bishops.

Catholic leaders in America have adopted a more aggressive style of defending the faith in recent years. They said they had to because society was moving so far from traditional beliefs on marriage and other issues.

But on Thursday, Francis said the church was putting too much emphasis on abortion, gay marriage and contraception. The pope said it’s driving people away.

“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,” the report quoted 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,” Green said.

Terrence Tilley, a theologian at Fordham University, said the pope wasn’t silencing discussion of abortion or same-sex marriage but indicating those issues should be less central, for the sake of evangelizing.

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

Few of the US bishops who have commented so far on Francis’ interview indicated they plan 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?'”

Lori said he expected no changes in the bishops’ push for broader religious exemptions from the contraception coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act.

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.”

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.”

Sources

AP/Fox News

AP/The Denver Post

The New York Times

Image: Reuters

News category: World.

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