Pope Francis, who has inspired both affection and controversy with recent remarks on homosexuality and atheism, made headlines again last week. In an interview with the editor of the leading Jesuit journal in Rome, the pope criticized the Catholic Church’s focus on “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

Without a “new balance” in the church’s approach to these issues, he said, “even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Two prominent Catholic members of the Harvard Divinity School community shared their thoughts on Francis’ comments. Professor Francis X. Clooney, S.J., and the writer James Carroll, HDS ’97, HDS ’99, expressed enthusiasm for the pope’s desire to refocus church hierarchy on the core message of the gospel and away from what Francis called “small-minded rules.”

Clooney said that the pope’s remarks clearly distinguish him from his two predecessors.

“If you compare what he is saying in this interview with either [Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul II], they wouldn’t have said anything the way that Francis did,” Clooney asserted. “The ability to criticize the inward, narcissistic church, harping on certain issues out of context again and again … the previous popes simply wouldn’t have said anything like that, even if deep down they recognized the same problems.”

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