UPDATE: Some more perspectives on what the pope said:
Pope Francis has done another interview, this time with an atheist at an Italian newspaper. While the controversy over the last interview can in large part be attributed to selective reporting by newspapers, there are some legitimate concerns from Dr. Janet Smith, Catholic Answers and others. The latest interview is problematic because there really isn’t any way to claim that the pope was ambiguous. His statements were concise and in some cases, repeated. The only things that can possibly be claimed are that the interview as published wasn’t complete or that the translation is bad. Here are some examples:
It’s a joke I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me. He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
Unless the pope knows some definition of proselytism that isn’t in the dictionary, “the great command” of Christ was to proselytize all nations and here the pope calls it “solemn nonsense.” He seems to give a little hope at the end by mentioning “the Good” but quickly crushes it in the next questions:
Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is? “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.” Your Holiness you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that’s one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope. “And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”
“We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good”?? I would expect that from any moral relativist but it certainly isn’t Catholic teaching. The Church teaches that people need to be encouraged to learn what is “the Good” and move towards it, not to move towards what they think is good. His next response is even more bizarre. Every dictator in history thought he was doing what was best for his country, even while murdering millions. The pope is either not saying what I think he is saying, or he is naive.
Is the Church doing that? “Yes, that is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is?” Yes, I know. “It is love of others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one’s neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good.”
Christian love has always been about bringing others to salvation. It seems here that the pope is reducing love to a worldly thing separate from salvation. By setting love and proselytizing as things opposed, he seems to be discounting what true love really is about. Later in the interview he brings this up again which really makes it hard to not say that he sees Christian love and the desire to save souls as opposed to each other.
You Christians are now a minority. Even in Italy, which is known as the pope’s backyard. Practicing Catholics, according to some polls, are between 8 and 15 percent. Those who say they are Catholic but in fact are not very are about 20%. In the world, there are a billion Catholics or more, and with other Christian churches there are over a billion and a half, but the population of the planet is 6 or 7 billion people. There are certainly many of you, especially in Africa and Latin America, but you are a minority. “We always have been but the issue today is not that. Personally I think that being a minority is actually a strength. We have to be a leavening of life and love and the leavening is infinitely smaller than the mass of fruits, flowers and trees that are born out of it. I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”
At the very beginning of the interview is a quote from the pope that isn’t in context which makes it seem that the published interview isn’t complete but is still pertinent to the tone of the interview as a whole. This quote may have come from the letter the pope sent to Eugenio Scalfari, the interviewer.
“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crashed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”
Really? Youth unemployment and loneliness among the elderly? The “most serious evils”? A twenty-something who can’t get a job and is living with his parents is confronting a worse evil than millions of aborted babies? (Oops, I’m obsessing.) The pope says some good and interesting things in the interview such as ” The Church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies.” but since the pope seems to be saying that seeking conversion is bad, what’s the point of concern for the soul? It is disturbing that every time the pope speaks, reams of virtual paper are wasted to try and explain that what the pope said is really the same as what the Catholic Church teaches. The pope is supposed to be the shepherd that clearly leads his sheep. Unfortunately, our current shepherd seems at least as likely to misguide his sheep as to lead them with his vague and questionable statements. The last thing we need right now, when the entire secular sphere is arrayed against the Church, is a shepherd who can’t clearly articulate the basic tenets of the Faith in public.
If you don’t think that the pope’s comments are being used for evil, I have two examples. First, I attended a debate last night on when, based on science, a human being is a person. The debater who said that being a person was a legal definition that starts at birth and ends at death was a doctor who’s testimony in Canada helped convince the Canadian government to expand legal abortion through the second trimester. His closing argument was that this whole debate was really pointless since the pope had said we shouldn’t be obsessing about contraception and abortion. Second, a Catholic college in Minnesota is going to be welcoming to openly homosexual staff and their “spouses”. Again, because of what Pope Francis supposedly said.