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Papal interview: Web reaction roundup

Unfiltered! Extraordinary!” - The Washington Post

“Blunt!”The New York Times

“Confessional!”The Daily Beast 

“Explosive!”Religion News Service

“Cool!” -

Those were some of the insta-responses to the interview of Pope Francis in America, an exchange that just about every media outlet—regardless of slant or the specific blurb-like language deployed—at least could agree was wide-ranging (and at 12,000 words, not counting the internal monologue of the questioner, it should be). Elizabeth Scalia calls it that, too, before noting the trouble with instant responses: “Expect all kinds of fireworks and fallout before people even read through the thing [her boldface and italics].” She also makes a reasonable suggestion: “Read it before allowing anyone else’s reactions to influence your own thinking.”

But given the effort dedicated to influencing others’ thinking, it would be a shame to let it go unnoted. So, here’s some roundup.

Kathryn Lopez in the National Review cites the long passage that includes these lines: “The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ,” and writes “That’s very much the Evangelical Catholicism George Weigel talks about, using that same Emmaus-road image, by my quick read. It’s the call of the Catholic to know Christ and make Him known, to set hearts ablaze.”

The Guardian sums up its take with this headline: “Pope Francis sets out vision for more gay people and women in 'new' church.”

Andrew Sullivan sees nothing less than "a rebirth of Catholicism": 

I can barely believe that these words – so redolent of Jesus’ – are coming from the new Bishop of Rome, after so long an absence. Although the Pope is unfailingly respectful of his predecessor, let no one doubt the sharpness of Francis’ turn away from the dead end of Benedict. His message is as different as the context. Where Benedict, draped in ornate vestments, spoke from the grand edifice of the Vatican, Francis is in the same simple hostel in which he was ensconced during the Papal Conclave.

Martin Longman at Washington Monthly eagerly senses a less political pontiff:

Pope Francis I isn’t changing any doctrine with these kinds of remarks, but he is making a rather clean break with his two most recent predecessors, whose tone and emphasis was much more in tune with the Reaganite Right in this country. 

Damon Linker at New Republic: The pope’s comments are not a “revelation.”

Consider what the pope did not say. He didn’t say that homosexual acts are morally permissible. He didn’t say that abortion can be morally acceptable in certain (or any) circumstances. He didn’t say anything to indicate he was interested in revisiting Pope Paul VI’s 1968 reaffirmation of the church’s ban on artificial contraception. He didn’t imply that he’s interested in revising the church’s strictures against married priests. He certainly didn’t indicate an openness to permitting the ordination of women. The interview contains no sign that the pope is willing to budge on any of the items on the progressive Catholic wish-list of reforms.

If you’ve been able to ward off any undue influencing, but still may not be able to read the whole interview yet, then this site might be for you. It lists the sixteen most important quotes from the exchange, with no analysis, spin, or snark attached (although it still calls the interview "incredible").

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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More and more, I’m doubting the idea of the papacy of Pope Benedict as a ‘dead end’. Perhaps the past few decades was the Holy Spirit making a ‘best and final offer’ to people who wanted all of us to believe the Church began at the Council of Trent.  In addition, Pope Francis seems to have taken seriously the concept of ‘to preach as Jesus preached”, judging from the reactions of Christians and non-Christians to his statements.


The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.     Piece on Pope Francis

“When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself.     Pope Francis


Pope Francis’ honeyed words and show time gestures endearing as they are,  -- are only a starter. He has now moved to the entrée.  No, monolith. Si, human-constructed validity. This means studying the best expertise and evidence and embracing appropriate action.  A powerful intellectual repertoire is out there in the world and must be used to bring us out of our world crisis. We must understand ourselves as evolutionary creatures, yes, even in the matter of faith and morals. We must be open to the possibility of profound change, to a giant leap for our species  --  to attempt to help bring people and planet back into balance as much as we are able, given the cosmic counter forces we face. Even today I viewed in the media some of the great minds of our day. We are in global stagnation. There are many reasons for this.  Our grand opportunity has arrived!



My 2  quotes above re Pope Francis are from America The National Catholic Review. Their comments site is temporarily disabled. 

A Big Heart Open to God

September 30, 2013

Antonio Spadaro, S.J.

The exclusive interview with Pope Francis

Pope Francis shows himself to be a Jesuit extraordinaire in this interview.  He thinks like a Jesuit, he answers questions like a Jesuits, He prefers to think rather than offer answers on the spot.  Imagine that, "thinking" coming back to Catholicism after  the last two Popes banished it. He "discerns" like a Jesuit.  He has a Jesuit imagination that tends towards narrative, composition of place and entering into the scene.  His thoughts on thinking with the Church are fimly grounded in the proper understanding of what that means; very Ignatian.  He has Jesuit concerns for the well being of humanity, and he has strong preferential option of the poor, as well as for finding God in all things. His whole perspective is informed by cura personalis and the Jesuit "way of proceeding."  He has the power to move the right towards the center as they discover the freedom that lies at the heart of Jesuit and Catholic spirituality.   Ignatius must be immensely proud of this Pope.

Actually, man is not the measure of all things, especially when it come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I think the guy from The New Republic got it about right; metaphysical and theological Catholics are in for a rude awakening.  But they never learn, because they think with their libidos and emotions.

Ditto, Alan Mitchell. Well said.

Yes, good interview. We must be cautious though of the elevation of the papacy to represent the breadth of what Catholicity is all about. There are many important perspectives and the pope, it goes without saying, is not the Church nor even the centre of the Church.

I think we must also be cautious of getting lulled into a cult of personality. Great stylistic points but I see little evidence to none of women assuming key Curial posts. This he could certainly do, as even Benedict admitted the possibility.

All of that is not to say that I do not value symbols nor even do I think style and messaging is not important. It is and I give him credit.

An accessible and populist pope is good to see but everybody has clay feet! The next one may not be the same but the church continues.


A pope who loves Knappertsbusch's Parsifal and quotes Turandot and denounces restorationism and says the CDF should lay off and be mediators rather than managers is a pope we can do business with!

Joseph O'Leary: Is it now become an article of faith that Furtwängler's recording is the best  Ring cycle there is?

His comments on abortion and contraceptives should be noted especially because they are preeminently women's issues. Men are big and loud about it. Women suffer the consequences.

No one has commented on the point that this was a huge boost for Jesuit publications. The America magazine website did on one day cumulatively more than it has done since it opened.

@ Joseph S. O'Leary:  Interesting that your turn of a quote "a [pope] we can do business with" is actually a paraphrase of what Maggie Thatcher once said of Mikail Gorbachev, the last of the Communist General Secretaries of the old Soviet Union.

Are you suggesting that Papa Francesco may well take the Roman papal feudal monarchy into the mists history just like Gorbi did for the Soviet Union? 

The interview projects a very alive, in the moment, perspective.  Very Jesuit, and promising, (despite his lamentable lack of appreciation of women's full humanity). One of my favorite bits is this one, quite different from the view of the Church as the guardian of Christian memory and judge of all things new that one might have picked up from Lumen Fidei:; The Pope comments: 'St. Vincent of lLerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church's teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong."

Sorry about the typos in the above. My ferociously protective Webroot refuses to let me cut and paste into your comboxes. The price of progress?

Susan Gannon


Wonderful reflection with which I agree.  I like the fact that you distinguish exegetes from theologians.



May I also recommend this take from Andrew Brown in the Guardian, who looks beyond the "headline-grabbing stuff" to the broader vision for the church that Francis articulated and sees a repudiation of "the fortress Catholicism of the last two popes" and in its place "a programme of decentralisation, of hope, and above all of realism and truth to experience." He notes how this interview already frees priests to follow the agenda of mercy and inclusiveness that Francis outlines: "what he has done here is to make it impossible for reactionary bishops to demand that their priests clamp down on sexual sin among the congregation.... The parish priests are now freed to act as their consciences tell them."




“The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching.” Pope Francis



“The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s” willingness to learn.  It is cultural evolution. The axial age church as a religion evolves into a post-axial age faith and moral agency phenomenon. The advance of human knowledge i.e. relevant expertise and evidence are our teachers. The entire Roman Catholic infrastructure from governance to doctrine to practice has to be revised based on this expertise and evidence. Are the hierarchy and people ready to accept this and recover genius? Hopefully, because it’s all we have and imperative for people and planet to evolve, not spiral to extinction. The Divine search continues.





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