Do you remember the initial shock of that Jesuit magazine interview with Pope Francis back in September 2013? The one where the pope seemed to be saying the Church should pull back from her perceived emphasis on “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods”?
An analysis of his own addresses on those subjects since that Jesuit magazine interview shows some interesting trends. But first to what he actually said.
The most heart-stopping stuff for me from that interview was this paragraph:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Taking a look at his speeches and homilies it seems that, while not “all the time,” the pope chooses to raise the life and family issues in some form at least once a month. There are also a number of other trends in the pope’s way of addressing these controversial issues. This includes blunt, but unconventional and unsettling language; avoidance of hot-button terms, but not the concepts; frequent mention of the devil or a spiritual approach; use of powerful gestures; and frequent reference of mercy and compassion.
Going by the pope’s example, it seems priests might want to raise life and family issues in their homilies at least once a month. If they want to avoid the hot-button words, so be it, as long as they clearly spell out what they mean.
Most of these approaches can be seen at work in his speech earlier this month, where he addressed the contraceptive mentality that underlies the anti-life culture. On June 2, 2014 he spoke against the contraceptive mentality, albeit without ever mentioning the word ‘contraception.’ But while he may have avoided the hot-button word, he sure did lay in to the issue with blunt, and even controversial language.
He spoke of the “culture of comfort” that leads people to forego children for vacations, and even took a poke at those who would opt for dogs and cats as an easier option than kids. He said bluntly that “Jesus does not like” the practice of rejecting fertility by choice for the sake of comfort.
On June 1, 2014, Francis spoke of how the devil “attacks the family so much. The demon does not love it and seeks to destroy it.”
Earlier, in May, 2014 Pope Francis had expressed public support for 40 Days for Life, saying that the group’s “prayer, fasting and sacrifices are saving countless lives and giving glory to God.”
On April 25, 2014, during his visit with the Bishops of the South African Bishops Conference, Pope Francis emphasized that “abortion compounds the grief of many women” and that marriage, which he said is a "lifelong covenant of love between one man and one woman," is “disintegrating under tremendous pressure from the secular world.”
The pope also noted with concern that “Catholic families have fewer children, with repercussions on the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”
Here too the Holy Father urged the bishops to preach on these issues. As for a way forward in such a “sea of difficulties,” the pope proposed that “we bishops and priests must give a consistent witness to the moral teaching of the Gospel.” He added, “I am confident that you will not weaken in your resolve to teach the truth ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Tim 4:2), sustained by prayer and discernment, and always with great compassion.”
On March 6, 2014 Pope Francis praised Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which had famously reiterated the traditional Christian teaching against contraception, hailing it as “prophetic” and praised Paul VI’s “genius.”
Paul VI, he said, “had the courage to place himself against the majority, defending the moral discipline, exercising a culture brake, opposing present and future neo-Malthusianism.”
In both January 2014 and December 2013, Pope Francis spoke of abortion using the concept of “the throwaway culture.”
“Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary’,” he said in January. “For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day”
In December, he warned that the “throwaway culture” risks becoming “the dominant mentality,” adding that, “the victims of such a culture are precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings – the unborn, the poorest people, sick elderly people, gravely disabled people... who are in danger of being ‘thrown out,’ expelled from a machine that must be efficient at all costs.”
On November 26, the Pope released The Gospel of Joy, his first apostolic exhortation. In it the Holy Father addressed abortion, writing, “the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question.”
“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us.” He lamented that, “Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.”
“I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations’,” he said.
“Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right.”
“It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” he wrote.
In a Nov 18 homily he warned similarly against the desire to “be like everyone else” and what he called an “adolescent progressivism”. “Lord,” the pope prayed, “give me the discernment to recognize the subtle conspiracies of worldliness that lead us to negotiate our values and our faith.”
In October the pope’s gesture was stronger than words. He received a former abortionist who surrendered the tools of his trade to the Holy Father. According to the former abortionist, Pope Francis said to him, “This evening I will pray. This [the instruments] I have to bring with me to my room to Santa Marta.”
“Then he laid his hands on me, and said, ‘You are blessed and fight for life.”
On September 13, 2013 Pope Francis said the Church offers the world a vision of the family, founded in the Scriptures, that presents “unity in the difference between man and woman, and the fruitfulness of this complementarity, and we recognize it as an asset for all, as the first natural society.”
“The family understood in this way remains the first and principle building block of society and of an economy on a human scale,” he said. He added that the “consequences” of family policy and breakdown “touch upon the various areas of the life of a society and a country.”
Going by the pope’s example, it seems priests might want to raise life and family issues in their homilies at least once a month. If they want to avoid the hot-button words, so be it, as long as they clearly spell out what they mean. Hopefully they too will have the courage to be blunt in challenging the faithful to be open to life and family.