In an interview with Antonio Spardaro, SJ, Pope Francis addressed the question of “irregular or somewhat complex” situations, in which some Christians “live with open wounds.” His answer was (in)famously reported as a rebuke to those Christians who are “obsessed” with the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception.
Among those amplifying this version of events, I found none who had actually read the excerpt, let alone the whole interview. Here’s what Francis said:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. 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. We have to find a new balance; 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 proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
It would be unseemly to obsess even about this – as Francis says, we ought to emphasize the essentials – but one might note: the Holy Father is not saying that we can not or should not talk about these issues. He is not even downplaying them as issues Christians should be passionate about (contra NARAL, et al).
Rather, by implication, he is saying the whole discussion is a bit warped. That many, on both sides, have emphasized abortion as a single issue, and not as a reality which is treated comprehensively by a right ordering of one’s principles. Any organization focused on a single issue is missing the point even as they try to make it. Francis simply acknowledges that Catholics, by their faith, ought to know better.
Indeed, the well-catechized Catholic rests upon an expansive understanding of moral issues, which confidently takes up the cause of the unborn among many others. One thinks of euthanasia, and the death penalty, and war, and sex, and poverty quite readily for their strong, tensile connections to the unborn.
It’s even more impressive than that: One realizes, when he examines the moral edifice of the Church, that the significance of all moral issues is brought to bear on each moral issue. Failing to do otherwise is like drawing a human face with only one eye, or spanning a river then cutting the rope bridge anyplace along the way. Something is missing, and it turns out to be integral to the whole.
When you have a complete human face, you realize the entire beauty of that face is somehow embedded even in a single eye; when you have a complete web, you realize the strength of the whole web lies at every point. Even the furthest flung end is lending strength to it.
Such is context. So let us begin: I aim, primarily, to give you a sense of that moral edifice which guides and supports the Church’s teaching on the unborn. I hope, furthermore, that you will be persuaded of its truth, elegance, and breadth.
At bottom, I plead – I beg you – to spare the life of the most vulnerable.