State of the Question: Excerpts from online commentaries on “A Big Heart Open to God,” by Antonio Spadaro, S.J. (9/30)

Opening Doors

The Francis factor, so to speak, is his focus on opening doors. How will anyone be open to Catholicism if they cannot get past knowledge of some of the prohibitions, without knowledge of the context, without invitation, without a love that compels them radiating from Christians?

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Never Prouder

Reading this interview gave me greater insight into my Jesuit vocation and into our Jesuit pope. What is clear is that he does not think like a classicist who sees the world in unchanging categories. He is a storyteller like Jesus, not a philosopher. He thinks in narrative, not philosophical principles. He thinks like a pastor understanding the history of the church but wanting to move with God’s people confidently into the future. He trusts that the Spirit is alive and well in the people of God.


I have never been prouder to be a Jesuit or prouder of my church or more surprised by the Spirit.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

A Shower in the Desert

This was a day the new pope proved how remarkable he is—simply for speaking the way Jesus spoke. No ideologies, no rigid certainties, committed to community, engaged with the margins, speaking of mercy, mercy, mercy. Readers will, I hope, forgive me for some of the gushing. But those 12,000 words—after such a long, dark period of rigid enforcement of orthodoxy, after the hideous conflation of the great truths of the church with the political agendas of the far right, after an American hierarchy obviously more interested in control than in love—came like a shower in the desert. All the intimations we had seen since his papacy began, the hints and guesses, emerged in language as powerful as it was accessible.

Andrew Sullivan
The Dish (9/19)

Journalistic Gold Mine

An extraordinary moment in journalism. That’s the only way to describe the Sept. 30 issue of America magazine. 

How the Jesuits sat on this interview, done over three days in August, is amazing in the nothing’s-a-secret-world of Wikileaks. As I read the interview, I kept saying, “Wow! This is incredible.”

“Pope Francis: The Exclusive Interview” is a journalistic gold mine. It may stand as America magazine’s greatest moment in its 104 years of publishing, a tribute to the Jesuits and the Catholic press and journalism overall.

Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M.

Radically Christ-Centered

It’s going to take some time for both the church and the world to grow accustomed to an evangelical papacy with distinctive priorities.... Jorge Mario Bergoglio is determined to redirect the church’s attention, and the world’s attention, to Jesus Christ. In this, his papacy will be in continuity with those of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Pope Francis is going to be radically Christ-centered in his own way, though, and some may find that way jarring.

George Weigel

Francis’ Personality

People are focusing, I think, too much on the [passages about] abortion and contraception. The church is not going to change its views on that.

What we should focus on is the personality of Francis, a remarkable personality. I really recommend everybody reads this, a gorgeous personality of humility, of spirituality, of religiosity. If you just read that interview, you see a man you tremendously admire, who I think is going to have a tremendous effect on the world.

David Brooks

Home of All

What Francis is saying is not that liberals are up in Rome right now and conservatives are down—haha, now see how you like it!—but on the contrary that labels and tiny little boxes have no place in a faith that is so much bigger than that. Francis is not a “right winger,” but he’s not a winger at all.... He is speaking to all of us when he says that the Catholic Church “is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.”

Melinda Henneberger

A Useful Lesson

[Pope Francis] didn’t right past wrongs. Let’s be clear about that. Didn’t call for substantive change to church teachings and traditions that indeed demand re-examination, including the belief that homosexual acts themselves are sinful. Didn’t challenge the all-male, celibate priesthood. Didn’t speak as progressively—and fairly—about women’s roles in the church as he should.

But he also didn’t present himself as someone with all the answers. No, he stepped forward—shuffled forward, really—as someone willing to guide fellow questioners. In doing so he recognized that authority can come from a mix of sincerity and humility as much as from any blazing, blinding conviction, and that stature is a respect you earn, not a pedestal you grab. That’s a useful lesson in this grabby age of ours.

Frank Bruni

Hard to Refute

To be sure, many Catholics wholeheartedly embraced the change in tone and spirit in which the pope discussed difficult questions like abortion. Unfortunately, some deeply involved in the prolife movement have taken those remarks as a rebuke. That is an overreaction and misinterpretation of what the pope said.

Obviously, Francis was objecting to the uncompromising and confrontational rhetoric of some Catholic activists. Why? Because that approach is simply not working. Worse, it is preventing the larger gospel message from being heard both within and beyond the Catholic community. With a third of all baptized Catholics abandoning the church, and those who remain increasingly divided on ecclesial, cultural, and political questions, the pope’s diagnosis is hard to refute. Is it not time, as Francis urged, to “find a new balance” in presenting the church’s teaching to an often doubting flock and a sometimes hostile secular world?

The Editors

Naïve and Astute

The Holy Father is trying to find his way—we’re all trying to find our way—in a sometimes (but not always, as he rightly emphasizes) hostile secular culture. That Francis will make mistakes is certain. He says as much himself. I think he has in this interview.

Perhaps this and other mistakes are to be expected. He warns us that we all must risk mistakes if we’re to bear witness to Christ in the world. We must sow the seed of the Gospel and see where it grows, which is how I read the spirit of his remarks in this interview. To a certain degree we must be a bit naïve to scatter seed promiscuously, hoping it will take root even as we know the soil rocky. But I don’t doubt Pope Francis is also a bit astute. He’ll see what’s fruitful and tend the fragile shoots of faith where the Gospel takes root.

R. R. Reno

Francis Needs Correction

In St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, he wrote that he rebuked the first pope, St. Peter, “to his face because he clearly was wrong.”

Even if given the most charitable reading, Pope Francis’ recent interview with Jesuit publications was alarming in its spirit-of-Vatican II liberalism.… Indeed, the need for a St. Paul to correct him grows with each passing week as his pontificate emboldens the church’s enemies and undercuts her friends and most loyal members. 

George Neumayr

Rejection of Patriarchy

[The pope’s] comments on “female machismo” stood out as his most provocative statement. Francis rejects a female machismo grounded in an essentialist vision of men and women. Machismo is the Spanish word used to describe the particular incarnation of sexism in Latino/a and Latin American communities. It is often mistranslated to mean “macho” or “manly.” This is not the case. While it has a history of evoking chivalry and gallantry, today in Spanish it is most often used to describe the patriarchal structure of life in Latin America.

By evoking the word machismo, Francis is not only taking a critical stance against social hierarchy; he is also reminding us of his Latin American roots. He is rejecting this patriarchal, essentialist understanding of women that limits their full humanity and the full humanity of men as well, reducing them to gender stereotypes.... Francis calls us into a deeper conversation about the authority of women grounded in a theology of women. This will lead, he seems to imply, to finding an authoritative role for women.

Michelle A. Gonzalez

Correction: Because of a production error, a sentence in “A Big Heart Open to God,” by Antonio Spadaro, S.J. (9/30), was inadvertently omitted. In the section on Women in the Life of the Church (page 28), the beginning of the pope’s response should read: “He answers: ‘It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that...’” etc. The first sentence was accidentally deleted during the editing of the sentence that follows it. America regrets the omission, and we thank The National Catholic Reporter for bringing the matter to our attention.


This is what matters—>MT @chrislhayes: Seriously, he keeps this up, and I’m gonna start going to Mass.  
Joshua McElwee @joshjmac43m
Plea: please read the actual @Pontifex interview, not a media writeup. The instantaneous spin is dizzying.
Michael Bayer @mbayer1248
What an amazing interview. Worth reading in its entirety, even if you’re not Catholic, even if you’re not religious.
pastordan @pastordan19m
As Pope Francis said today: “I am a sinner.” There is something cathartic about saying that out loud to yourself. We should all try it.  
Arsalan Iftikhar @TheMuslimGuy30m
New pope says he doesn’t want to focus on controversial opinions, the Internet cheers. Ignoring that he still holds those positions.
Michael Pruitt @neoookami4m
Hey, guy at Vatican who has to explain what the pope “really means,” you’ve got another item on your desk.
Robert Trishman @RobTmanJr7m
Hey Holy Spirit: good job with the most recent pope pick. #highfives #snapsforHS.
Jordan Haynie Ware @GodWelcomesAll33m
Pope Francis is either the world’s coolest pope or the world’s most conservative hippie.
God @TheTweetOfGod
Just when I thought the church and I were done, Francis comes along. Intriguing.
CarolineWasmund @CaroBearista2h
These are additional excerpts from online commentaries not included in the Oct. 14 print issue of America:

Message for All

The pope is right that single-issue Catholics need to rise above their immediate concerns. He did not say we should not address abortion or homosexuality; he simply said we cannot be absorbed by these issues. Both the left and the right should heed his message.

Bill Donohue
The Catholic League (9/19)

More To Explain

Yes, most people know that the church opposes contraception, abortion and homosexuality. But very, very few, including the vast majority of Catholics, do not understand why Christianity opposes these things.

To me, Francis is right about clergy needing to get out of their chanceries and parishes and expensive institutions and going out to bring the people back to God. However, at the same time, I think he greatly underestimates the severe need for much preaching, teaching and especially encouragement that is still needed directly on the life and family issues and movements.

Steve Jalsevac
LifeSiteNews (9/19)

The Heart of Christ

In his interview in La Civiltà Cattolica, and America magazine, our Holy Father confirms what has been apparent during these first six months of his papacy: that he is a man who profoundly believes in the mercy of a loving God, and who wants to bring that message of mercy to the entire world, including those who feel that they have been wounded by the church. As a priest and bishop, I particularly welcome his reminder that the clergy are primarily to serve as shepherds, to be with our people, to walk with them, to be pastors, not bureaucrats! It is becoming more evident every day that we are blessed with a pope who is a good shepherd after the heart of Christ.

(Cardinal) Timothy M. Dolan
Archdiocese of New York (9/19)

Gospel Light

Will one man, however popular, be able to erase centuries of bigotry toward gay people in the Catholic Church and heal the trauma overnight? Absolutely not. Nor will his comments, however pastoral, cause American bishops to drop their campaigns [about] same-sex marriage and other issues important to the gay community. And yet, when the pope, leader of over a billion Christians, asks us to rely more on mercy than judgment, it gives people like me hope. It allows me to imagine a church where God’s love is central and where the Gospel shines.

Michael J. O’Loughlin
Religion News Service (9/19)

A Remarkable Man

[Francis] makes a broader point about intellectual rigidification and self-deception, using Wagner’s works as points of reference. [...]

These are surprising analogies, to say the least. If I’m not mistaken, Pope Francis is comparing “decadent Thomist commentaries” to Klingsor’s magic garden—a seductive illusion covering a wasteland. Could the pope’s emergent philosophy of unadorned compassion have been influenced in some small way by “Parsifal,” that attempted renovation of religious thought through musical ritual? “Through pity, knowing”? “Redemption to the Redeemer”? Possibly, but there are limits to his aestheticism: “Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing.” This is a remarkable man.

Alex Ross
The Rest is Noise (9/19)

A Magenta Catholic

Only in a world dominated by our lazy liberal/conservative, red/blue binary could Francis be considered “liberal” simply because he doesn’t fit into “conservative” categories. Quite rightly, Francis is a magenta Catholic—unburdened by the totally inadequate secular political categories that almost everyone is once again using to discuss and judge his papacy. And he gives every sign that he will continue to confound the wisdom of our time—but this, of course, is precisely what we should expect from the Gospel.

Charles Camosy
Catholic Moral Theology (9/20)

Good Advice

The pope’s approach [to the question about homosexuality] is one familiar to any reader of the Gospels. Pharisees try to discredit the Gospel by trapping its teacher; the teacher refuses the terms of their question and raises the spiritual stakes. The point here is not to compromise on or back away from truth, but rather to reject its caricature. This is good practical guidance. If it’s what he meant in his broader remarks, then those remarks offer wise advice well worth taking.

Matthew Schmitz
First Things (9/20)

Francis, the Prophet

There is no doubt that something is different with this pope. Why can he say what his predecessors say, yet make it sound totally different? Why is he touching the hearts and minds of those whom John Paul and Benedict could not reach? One answer might be that he is a prophet, while they were teachers.

Prophets preach through action as much as words. Hence Francis’  careful use of prophetic acts, from washing the feet of imprisoned teenagers to promising to baptize an unwed mother’s son. Prophets make us uncomfortable. They do make a mess, but thereby lead us to sanctity. Prophets also are easily misunderstood. As a colleague of mine put it, the prophetic voice leaves much to be fleshed out. It is easy to read many things into the broad strokes with which Francis paints. But Francis has given us keys for understanding his papacy: sin, mercy, discernment, journey, and prophecy. We must meet Francis with the openness for which he asks, not fitting him into our own agendas but ready to receive the Gospel even when he preaches it in unexpected ways.

Nathaniel Peters
First Things (9/20)

Love the Sinner, But…

For as long as I can remember, at least, we have been accustomed to a certain way of talking about difficult moral issues, the kind that Francis faced head-on in this interview. “Hate the sin, love the sinner”  is the well-worn truism frequently trotted out in these situations. These words are true, so far as they go, but they almost never go far enough. Often, these words are offered as a kind of respectable prelude to condemnation; the obligatory fine print to be read quickly before a justifiable and agreed-upon denunciation. “Love them, but…”

We are still waiting for the “but...” from Pope Francis. Perhaps one will come, and yet—and who can deny that this is more challenging?—none seems forthcoming. For we crave (or I do, at least) the sanctuary of air-tight moral precepts and royal roads to salvation. And yet we know that the line between “sinner” and “righteous” is a dotted one, and that the sweep of “sinner” includes us all.

Many of us, myself included, have piously uttered the words “love the sinner.” The question Francis is asking is: do we really mean it?

Tim O’Brien, S.J.
The Jesuit Post (9/21)

Content and Form

The editors at America prudently include Father Spadaro’s own narration of the inner movements that guided each series of questions and each cluster of Francis’ responses. There are repeated references to “thoughtful silences.” The net effect lets us feel as if we’ve been invited onto the couch alongside these two men, invited into a place and a period of time, to listen to a story unfolding. In both content and form this is a remarkable interview.

This is no interrogation room. This is no dissertation defense. This is no cross-examination. This is a man in love with Jesus Christ, his church, and his humanity. This is a man working to put words to his own experience of God. This is both autobiographical and catechetical. This is dialogic. Perhaps most moving is how the reader can play a part in this conversation. The narrative form effectively invites us into our own memory, into our own sense of God’s work in our lives. It’s both informative and encouraging.

Brendan Busse, S.J.
The Jesuit Post (9/21)

A New Painting

What Francis has urged…is a new painting. Black and white is vital, but the true picture can only be understood through a whole variety of colors. So this is a pope of nuance and backstory, of delicacy and empathy of delivery. Truth needs to be sung rather than shouted, and he is telling the world—and particularly those who have left the church and those who hide behind its rules instead of being liberated by them—that while we cannot compromise on truth, we must not compromise on love.

Michael Coren
New York Daily News (9/22)

Priority of the Person

Pope Francis’ blunt, conversational, subversive, disarming, humane, self-critical interview in the Jesuit publication America amounted to a sort of extemporaneous encyclical. …Just as clearly, this pope intends to be a disruptive force; the Vicar of Christ as troublemaker.

This teaching—to always consider the person—was disorienting from the beginning. The outsiders get invited to the party. The prodigal is given the place of honor. The pious complain about their shocking treatment. The gatekeepers find the gate shut to them. It is subversive to all respectable religious order, which is precisely the point. With Francis, the argument gains a new hearing.

Michael Gerson
The Washington Post (9/23)

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