Nothing new, nothing improved, except the packaging

I’m all for a more open-minded Catholic church led by a more welcoming Pope, but I’m still surprised at the interpretations given to Pope Francis’ recent comments and interviews. To wit, that he is somehow “softening the church’s stance” towards issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, atheists, homosexuality and contraception.  He’s not the liberal-minded reformer some people seem to desperately want to make him out to be.

Let’s be clear: he has done no “softening” of any sort, other than in the delivery. In fact, he mentioned specifically that “the teaching of the church… is clear” on those matters. What he did do in his most recent interview was just decry the fact that people are focusing so much on those particular issues. His complaint is NOT that representatives of the church are misunderstanding or misrepresenting the church’s positions, or that those positions need to change… but that people are talking about them too much, which is bad PR for the church.

Well yes, it is. Exposing these official church positions IS bad PR for them. For good reasons.

But lest we think we have now turned some sort of corner and we are witnessing a major change, in the past few days (post-interview!) we have seen:

  • Pope Francis denounce abortion and tell Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them (even when the life of the mother is in danger and the fetus is not viable)
  • The Vatican excommunicate a priest in Melbourne for his support of women priests and gay people (not exactly the loving approach one would expect from the person interviewed a couple of days earlier)
  • A damning report from MPR on how Minneapolis Archdiocese leaders KNEW about inappropriate sexual conduct from one of their priests covering over a DECADE, and yet failed to do anything about it until after the priest had sexually abused several boys. Way to provide moral leadership, Archibishop Nienstadt.

Sounds like same old, same old to me. Just because the Pope doesn’t want to talk about it any more, doesn’t mean he disapproves, and doesn’t mean the church is changing its position. I’m just surprised people are reading so much more into his statements, when it’s been clear in the past that he has not intention of changing church doctrine. It’s a more sugarcoated message than in the past, sure; but our issues have not really been with the delivery of the message: it’s the content itself that concerns me.