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Kevin ClarkeSeptember 19, 2013

The U.S. media stopped in its tracks to marvel at the words of Pope Francis this morning after a comprehensive interview was published here at America and other Jesuit publications around the world. The New York Times Web site had a top column report which seemed struck by the continuing “frankness” (sorry) of this new pope.

Perhaps predictably out of a 12,000 word interview, the Times, like many of the mainstream media reports, focused on what Pope Francis had to say about the church’s approach to gay and lesbian Catholics. The Times reported: “In the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic church had grown ‘obsessed’ with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.” The Times also ran excerpts from the interview.

Pope: I am a sinner” was the headline at Cnn.com in a lead story which focused on the pope’s personal life and vision for the church. The report described the pope’s sense that “the church has the right to express its opinions but not to ‘interfere spiritually’ in the lives of gays and lesbians,” describing them as “explosive comments.”

The interview was the lead story at USA Today and an Associated Press report, a top story on Yahoo news, focused on the pope’s vision for what the future of the church should be. AP quoted Francis: "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."

That “stands out,” according to AP, “primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals around the globe. Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.”

At National Catholic Reporter, Vatican reporter John Allen wrote: “Pope Francis once again has waded into hot-button questions such as homosexuality, abortion and the role of women, not breaking with traditional doctrine but trying to shift the church's emphasis from condemnation to mercy. ‘The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,’ Francis says. ‘Ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.’”

The Washington Post reported that in the interview the Pope set a “framework” for his papacy: “The leader of the global Catholic Church chided what he saw as the tendency of some church leaders to focus on ‘small-minded rules’ and instead insisted that ‘the church’s ministers must be merciful.’ Francis said, ‘the people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.’

At the National Review, Kathryn Lopez wrote: “The New York Times headline reads: “Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion.” Believe it or not, though, he talked about more than sex. 

“He talks bluntly about the urgency of a depth of discernment with Christ in decision-making, about the peace and darkness that overcame him when he realized he might be elected pope, too.

“In a long interview, Pope Francis has given his first extensive look into who this new pope, who just marked his sixth month in Rome, is. He’s a man who has in his room an icon of St. Francis, a statue of Mary, a crucifix, and a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. The Church, as he sees it, is about faces—each person with his dignity –in whom he sees the face of Christ.”

At the Dish, Andrew Sullivan called the interview a “revelation.” Sullivan writes: “Well, if the theocons hadn’t got the message by now, they can only blame themselves. The new interview with Pope Francis is a revelation. This Pope is not the Pope of a reactionary faction obsessed with controlling the lives of others – a faction that has held the hierarchy in its grip for three decades. He is a Pope in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, a Pope with a larger and more humane perspective than the fastidious control-freaks that have plagued the church for so long.” He called many of the Pope’s comments a “balm to so many souls.”

At Religion News Service, David Gibson called the pope’s comments “stunningly frank” and “likely to rattle the church and cement his reputation as a pastoral rather than a doctrinal leader.” The Irish Times likewise reported that “Francis used remarkably blunt language as he sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a ‘home for all’ and not a ‘small chapel’ focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings.

“ ‘It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,’ the pope told Fr Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal whose content is routinely approved by the Vatican.”

On Twitter the interview created a tweet-storm (I think I just made that up) Track #FrancisAmerica or #PopeFrancis or #hablafrancisco to get some idea of it. Here was my favorite though:

I suggest you follow Michael’s good advice.

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