Skip to main content

Don't be shocked by Pope Francis

By William Donohue, Special to CNN
updated 4:39 PM EDT, Fri September 20, 2013
Pope Francis makes some <a href='http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/29/pope-francis-on-gays-who-am-i-to-judge/'>unexpected comments on issues facing the Roman Catholic Church</a> on Monday, July 29. He spoke on the record to journalists on a flight back back to Italy from Brazil after finishing his first international trip as pontiff. Among the topics he addressed were homosexuality, the church's alleged "gay lobby," the role of women, abortion, divorce and the Vatican Bank. Pope Francis makes some unexpected comments on issues facing the Roman Catholic Church on Monday, July 29. He spoke on the record to journalists on a flight back back to Italy from Brazil after finishing his first international trip as pontiff. Among the topics he addressed were homosexuality, the church's alleged "gay lobby," the role of women, abortion, divorce and the Vatican Bank.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Donohue: Pope Francis seeks to provoke and shake us out of our comfort zone
  • Donohue: But he is not about to turn the Catholic Church upside down, inside out
  • He says Pope Francis unequivocally rejects both abortion and same-sex marriage
  • Donohue: Pope is right that single-issue Catholics need to rise above their concerns

Editor's note: William Donohue is president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and author of five books, including "Why Catholicism Matters: How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the 21st Century."

(CNN) -- Not in my lifetime have I witnessed a pope who has so quickly succeeded in making more Catholics, and non-Catholics, hyperventilate than Pope Francis. Indeed, some are ready to jump off the bleachers. They all need to calm down.

Pope Francis is delightfully frank, and that is what makes him positively engaging. He is also provocative in the best sense of that word. He seeks to challenge us and shake us out of our comfort zone. But he is not about to turn the Catholic Church upside down and inside out. Such talk is pure lunacy.

In a three-part meeting in Rome with Catholic journalists last month, Pope Francis offered his thoughts on a wide range of subjects; they were published Thursday by America magazine, the Jesuit weekly. Everyone should read it for themselves.

William Donohue
William Donohue

There is nothing new about ripping what a famous person said out of context, and that is exactly what is going on now with Pope Francis. The breaking news alert by The New York Times is titled, "Pope Bluntly Faults Church's Focus on Gays and Abortion."

In the Times alert, it says the pope discusses how "the Roman Catholic Church has grown 'obsessed' with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception," and that he has been criticized for doing so.

It also quotes him saying the Catholic Church should be "home for all" and not a "small chapel" that is "focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings."

Regarding the pope's statements on abortion and gay marriage, here is what he said: "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible." He also said, "when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context."

What the pope said makes eminently good sense.

For example, when I became president of the Catholic League 20 years ago, I visited the chapters around the nation and found that many were single-issue entities.

Some focused exclusively on abortion; others were obsessed with homosexuality; still others demanded we just concentrate on medical ethics. I shared many of their concerns, but I also told them we are an anti-defamation organization and should not become preoccupied with other matters, no matter how noble.

President of Catholic League speaks out
Dissecting the pope's in-depth interview

The pope is right that single-issue Catholics need to rise above their immediate concerns. He did not say we should avoid addressing abortion or homosexuality; he simply said we cannot be absorbed by these issues. Or any others.

Laurie Goodstein's article in The New York Times on the pope's comments says U.S. bishops will feel the pinch of these remarks as they often appear "to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities." This is inaccurate.

It is not the bishops who have made these issues front and center -- it is the Obama administration. It would be more accurate to say the pope would find fault with the bishops if they did not resist these state encroachments on the religious liberty rights of Catholics.

The Times alert was wrong to characterize the pope's "small chapel" remark as a criticism of focusing on "doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings."

In the previous paragraph, he speaks about "the sanctity of the militant church." In the following sentence, the pope says, "[W]e must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity." Excellent.

Then, in the same paragraph, he cites the "negative behavior" of priests and nuns, saying their conduct is that of an "unfruitful bachelor" and a "spinster." He most emphatically did not say what the Times attributed to him.

Pope Francis unequivocally rejects abortion and gay marriage. Elsewhere, he has said, "[T]he moral problem with abortion is of a prereligious nature because the genetic code of the person is present at the moment of conception. There is already a human being." Similarly, he says, his opposition to gay marriage "is not based on religion, but rather on anthropology."

Pope Francis wants us to oppose abortion. He also wants us to reach out to women who are contemplating one, and to help women who have had one to find peace with God (that's why the Catholic Church has Project Rachel).

He wants us to oppose same-sex marriage. He also doesn't want us to reject lesbians and gays because they are homosexual. This is sound Catholic teaching.

Kudos to Pope Francis.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Donohue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT