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 3:30 AM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT