(RNS) In a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with journalists from his own Jesuit order, Pope Francis makes a number of stunningly frank comments that are likely to rattle the church and cement his reputation as a leader more concerned with a pastoral approach than a doctrinal hard line.
Among other things, Francis said that while he has been reprimanded for not speaking much about abortion, contraception and homosexuality, he does not think it necessary to "talk about these issues all the time" and warned that the church can become "obsessed" with a few doctrines.
He also speaks about the need to treat gays and lesbians with respect and without condemnation, and he cautions against a "restorationist" mentality in the church and adds: "I have never been a right-winger."
Here are some other highlights from the 12,000-word interview, which was conducted at the Vatican over three sessions in August. It was published simultaneously on Thursday by 16 Jesuit publications around the world, including the New York-based America magazine, which has the full transcript:
"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 ... 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."
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”
"My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative ... but I have never been a right-winger.”
“We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”
“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.”
"I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
"The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?"
“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds ..."
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all."
“I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role."
"(W)e must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”
"The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost."
"The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths."
"If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation."
“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."
"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."
"The Story Behind the Story," by America editor, the Rev. Matt Malone, SJ, on how the interview came about and how it unfolded.
And "Listening to the Pope," reflections on the interview by the Rev. James Martin, SJ, an editor at America and a popular author and commentator.