Pope Francis propagated new controversy Wednesday inside the Catholic Church upon the release of his first published interview as pope. In the interview he remarked on the Catholic Church's fixation on abortion, gay rights, and contraception and his desire for the Church to focus its efforts on demonstrating mercy and love.
"We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel," Francis told the Jesuit magazine, La Civilta Cattolica.
Francis said that the church has become too concentrated on the trivial rules and has thus ignored the overall message of the church; to love and include everyone, especially the poor and downtrodden.
He likened the Catholic Church to a "hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars," he said. "You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else."
Francis's contemporary perspective on the church's role will no doubt bring displeasure and criticism from Catholic clergy, who have already expressed their disappointment in the pope's failure to speak out against gay marriage and abortion. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island told AP news that while he can appreciate Pope Francis' candid approach, he will continue to speak out on gay rights and abortion.
With deep and unchanging traditions that the Catholic Church has relished in for over two millennium this kind of reaction from priesthood members comes as no surprise. Francis' methods are quite modern, especially with comparison to his predecessor Benedict, who passionately preached against gay marriage.
Some believe that these statements represent the beginning of the path Pope Francis will follow throughout his papacy.
"The overall picture is a Church that is not imposing a test on people before they even think of staying or leaving."Massimo Faggioli, theologian at the University of St. Thomas, told Reuters, of Francis's instruction for the church.
Some see this rehabilitation of the Catholic Church as a good and necessary step for an archaic establishment that wants to remain relevant in the 21st century.
"I thought it was progressive and long overdue," Eucharistic minister, Cynthia Whalen of Chicago told the Chicago Tribune.
"I think people of reason will concur with him," she said.
Rev. Brian Paulson, a rector at Loyola University Chicago, pointed out that Francis' remarks did not contradict Catholic dogma; it only pointed out that loving others should be the church's foremost priority.
"He is saying proclamations of the saving love of God come before moral and religious imperatives," Paulson said.