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Pope Says Church Too Focused On Gays, Abortion, Birth Control


This is ALL THING CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Pope Francis is proving to be a very different kind of pope. Since moving into the Vatican, he's captured the attention of Catholics, the public and the press. A comment during World Youth Day in July in Rio prompted raised eyebrows when, in reference to gay people, the pope remarked: Who am I to judge?

After six months in the papacy, Pope Francis gave his first extensive interview in which he elaborated on that comment. At one point, he said: We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.

Joining me now is Father James Martin of America magazine, which published the full interview today in English. Welcome to the program.

REV. JAMES MARTIN: Thank you. My pleasure.

CORNISH: Tell us a little bit more, some of the highlights of what the pope had to say.

MARTIN: Well, in addition to the quote that you talked about, he talked about the church not being too turned in on itself and obsessed with rules. He said that people who are looking for certainty will not find it in the church and in the world itself. And he basically was trying to help us go out. He said the church needs to be more of a field hospital, you know, where people can feel cared for. It's a very wide-ranging interview, but I think it was notable for its candor and its bluntness, too.

He's also said that he was reprimanded - he didn't say by whom - for not talking more about issues like gay marriage, abortion and homosexuality. But he said: I can't talk about those things all the time.

CORNISH: He also talks about people sort of looking into his background and maybe deciding that he was going to be quite conservative. Did you see him in this interview distancing himself from that perception?

MARTIN: Absolutely. He's very blunt. He says that the way that he made decisions when he was a Jesuit provincial in Argentina was rash and authoritarian. And as a result, people had this image of him. But he says, quote, "I have never been a right-winger." You know, he's very blunt about that. So it was a kind of misconception based on the way he made decisions.

CORNISH: It's odd to hear a pope throwing around a term like right-winger. Can you talk about how sort of significant his language is, especially for Western audiences who may, at this point pretty much, identify the Catholic Church with socially conservative attitudes.

MARTIN: Well, he's being honest, and he's also distancing himself somewhat, you know, from what he sees as a false representation. And, by the way, we had five Italian scholars look at that, and they said, yes, right-winger is what he's saying, even in the translation. So he's being pretty blunt. And I think he wants people to know this about himself.

CORNISH: What's the sense of how Catholics around the world could read these comments?

MARTIN: Well, I think bishops and cardinals and priests, as well as sisters and brothers, take their cues from the pope. Just last week, the archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Gracias, I think, said that his priests needed to treat gays and lesbians more sensitively. So I think people take their cues from the pope. And I think they're also just delighted to see someone who is so relaxed and who can speak in such a conversational tone and also be so honest about himself and so transparent. So I think it will change the way things are done in the church.

CORNISH: So, Father James Martin, was there anything in the interview that surprised you? I mean, it was long and far-ranging.

MARTIN: One of the things that was most surprising was how blunt he was about his failure as Jesuit provincial or regional superior in Argentina and the way he talks about it saying that he made authoritarian and rash decisions was incredible. And then at one point, he says, I was Jesuit provincial when I was 36 years old, quote, "That's crazy." I read that, and I thought, that's wild. I've never heard a pope be quite so blunt and quite so colloquial. So I found that just very endearing, and I think a lot of the readers will as well.

CORNISH: Father James Martin, he's a Jesuit priest and editor-at-large at America magazine. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARTIN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.