The Catholic Church must not obsess about gay marriage, abortion and contraception and should not restrict its message to reprimanding people for their sins, Pope Francis said in an unprecedented interview Thursday.
Since his election six months ago, the Argentine-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio has made constant references to God’s mercy, while shying away from stern reprimands and surprising observers with remarkable displays of humility.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” Francis told a group of 16 Jesuit magazines, which published his remarks in several languages.
“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” he added.
“In Buenos Aires, I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this,” he said.
Francis referred to his first remarks on gays, which caused a furor in July. Speaking to reporters on the plane back from a trip to Brazil, he said: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Far from condoning homosexuality, he said no sin was big enough to drive people away from the church. “Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed of is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else, God is in this person’s life,” he said.
Elected with a mandate to reform church structures after a string of scandals, Francis said he wanted bishops from around the world to have more say in Vatican matters. He also indicated he wanted to be a cautious leader.
“I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. That is usually the wrong thing,” he noted.
He said he had learned from his experience of leading the Jesuits in Argentina, when he was “accused of being ultraconservative” because he had adopted an “authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions.” He insisted: “I have never been a right-winger.”
While keeping mum on radical reforms such as allowing female priest ordinations, he said women deserved a greater role in church affairs. “The feminine genius is needed whenever we make important decisions,” he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Francis discussed his taste in music, books, art and cinema. While making a theological point, he evoked “Turandot,” an opera by Giacomo Puccini, and said he liked listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and — to a lesser extent — Wagner.
Russian master Fyodor Dostoevsky, German poet Friedrich Hoelderlin and Italy’s Alessandro Manzoni were listed as his favorite authors; among painters, Caravaggio and Marc Chagall made the grade; and Federico Fellini’s La Strada and Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City were the top film choices.
Asked to describe himself, he replied: “I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naive. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”