Popes are famously believed to be endowed with infallibility, which is often misinterpreted to mean that they can never be wrong. In actuality, they are only considered infallible when it comes to the issuance of Roman Catholic doctrine.
Infallible or not, popes are not immune to dissent, disagreement, even ridicule. But it’s hard to find any of those sentiments in response to Pope Francis’ wide-ranging interview with a Jesuit magazine, which hit the Catholic world like a thunderbolt Thursday. Liberals, conservatives, the devout and the secular all seemed to find something to like -- but for widely divergent reasons.
Those on the liberal side of the church -- and outside of it -- were delighted with the pope’s complaint that the church has been unduly “obsessed” with issues such as abortion, contraception and homosexuality. They cheered his reiteration of previous comments in which he said he was in no position to judge a gay person.
Conservatives tended to say that the pope was saying nothing new -- that he was merely expressing Catholic doctrine and asserting the primacy of the Gospel. They said that those who focused on his remarks about homosexuality, abortion and contraception -- which constitute roughly 600 to 800 out of 12,000 words -- were missing the forest for a few trees.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the reactions to the interview:
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is considered a traditionalist, said in a statement that the pope “confirms what has been apparent during these first six months of his papacy: that he is a man who profoundly believes in the mercy of a loving God, and who wants to bring that message of mercy to the entire world, including those who feel that they have been wounded by the church.
“As a priest and bishop, I particularly welcome his reminder that the clergy are primarily to serve as shepherds, to be with our people, to walk with them, to be pastors, not bureaucrats! It is becoming more evident every day that we are blessed with a pope who is a good shepherd after the heart of Christ.”
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a prominent Catholic analyst who is considered relatively liberal, wrote in the National Catholic Reporter about his reaction as a member -- like the pope -- of the Jesuit order.
“Reading this interview gave me greater insight into my Jesuit vocation and into our Jesuit pope,” he said. “What is clear is that he does not think like a classicist who sees the world in unchanging categories. He is a storyteller like Jesus, not a philosopher. He thinks in narrative, not philosophical principles. He thinks like a pastor understanding the history of the church but wanting to move with God’s people confidently into the future. He trusts that the spirit is alive and well in the people of God.”
Concluded Reese: “I have never been prouder to be a Jesuit or prouder of my church or more surprised by the spirit.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez, a conservative Catholic commentator who is editor at large of National Review Online, complained on the Fox News website about news outlets -- she cited the New York Times -- that focused on the pope’s comments on social issues.
“Not everything in the world is about sex and politics,” she wrote. “That message may take the New York Times a few more homilies and interviews with Pope Francis to understand.” The interview revealed the pope’s thinking on a wide variety of issues, she said, and reflected the Catholic Church’s ability to “reboot” itself to be relevant to contemporary society.
“Whatever your politics,” she concluded, “be careful what you read into this. He’s talking to you. He’s talking to me. He’s reminding himself. The news isn’t that he isn’t ‘a right-winger,’ as he tells us. It’s that he’s a pastor. He’s a priest, not a politician.’
Bill Donohue of the conservative Catholic League wrote that the pope’s comments should not be misinterpreted.
“The pope is right that single-issue Catholics need to rise above their immediate concerns,” he wrote on his organization’s website. “He did not say we should not address abortion or homosexuality; he simply said we cannot be absorbed by these issues. Both the left and the right should heed his message.”
The Human Rights Campaign, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, hailed the pope’s remarks, saying they should lead to “transformative change” throughout the Catholic Church. It tweeted:
Pope Francis “If a homosexual person is of good will & is in search of God, I am no1 to judge” https://t.co/8vNPtXbNcV pic.twitter.com/S2HnlCvI0a— HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) September 19, 2013
And, finally, there was this:
Pope Francis is either the world’s coolest Pope or the world’s most conservative hippie.— God (@TheTweetOfGod) September 19, 2013