Oct 3, 2013
This past August, two men sat and quietly discussed major issues facing the world and the Church. Rev. Antonio Spadaro and Pope Francis. The one, the editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal based in Rome; the other, the head of the Catholic Church, the world’s largest Christian Church. On Sept. 19, their thought-provoking and engaging conversation ignited a media explosion. The New York Times headlined its story: “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.’ ” The Guardian tagged its story “Pope Francis sets out vision for more gay people and women in ‘new’ church.” CNN blog happily announced “Pope Francis: Church can’t ‘interfere’ with gays.”
It is very clear from the pope’s remarks in this latest interview, as well as in his July 29th interview on the plane trip back to Rome from Brazil, that the Holy Father is urging all, Catholics and non-Catholics, not to condemn gay people, divorcees and women who have had an abortion. Nonetheless, the media response’s to such an evangelical approach is astonishing. The embrace of our Holy Father of all people, saints and sinners, is the message of Catholicism. Why, then, is the media predicting that Pope Francis is launching a major reformation of Catholic teaching on these issues?
In his most recent interview, the pope himself gives us the key to understand his remarks. He said, “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.” Following his advice, we need to look carefully at the context in which these issues are being discussed.
First, the context of the Church in society. There is a general perception of Catholicism that is engendered by the media’s issue-focused reporting. Most often, the media spotlights the Church’s teaching on right to life, human sexuality and gender equality as out of touch with a society that tolerates and, in some circles, vigorously promotes abortion, sex relationships outside the marital union of a man and a woman and radical feminism. By highlighting how the Church is out of step with the new laws on these important areas of human life, the image of the Church as a rule-based institution becomes the context in which the issues are presented.