.- While Pope Francis’ mention of the Church’s priorities in a recent interview grabbed worldwide attention, few remember that Benedict XVI said substantially the same thing seven years ago.
Pope Francis' interview with La Civiltà Cattolica published Sept. 19 led to headlines such as CNN's “Pope Francis says religion does not have the right to interfere spiritually in the lives of gays and lesbians” and the New York Times' “Pope Bluntly Faults Church's Focus on Gays and Abortion.”
Among other things, the Roman Pontiff had said that the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods … when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.”
He continued, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus … the proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
The Pope's words echoed those of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who had made similar comments to the bishops of Switzerland on Nov. 9, 2006.
At that time, Benedict recalled that when asked for interviews in the 1980s and '90s, he knew the questions in advance, as they “concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.”
“We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details,” he said, “but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity.”
“If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions,” Benedict said.
“We give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith,” adding that we must never be diverted from that highlight.
This continuity between Benedict and Pope Francis was noted by Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, in a Sept. 22 essay in National Review Online. He pointed to a misleading “media narrative,” in which Pope Francis is portrayed as “a progressive, taking the Catholic Church in a profoundly new direction – uninterested in Church teaching on moral issues.”
“Benedict, we are told, is conservative, doctrinaire, and old-fashioned — focused on moral issues,” according to the media narrative.
Anderson concluded that “neither narrative is true, because each leaves out half of the story.”