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A new era at the Vatican?

Pope Francis called the Catholic Church’s focus on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion “small-minded” and suggested that the future of his faith rests o
Papal Audience, St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Rome, Italy -
Pope Francis during a papal audience in St. Peter's Square of Vatican City in Rome, Italy on Sep 18, 2013

Pope Francis called the Catholic Church’s focus on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion “small-minded” and suggested that the future of his faith rests on finding “a new balance” that puts less emphasis on controversial social issues and more on emphasizing forgiveness and community.

“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” he said in an interview published by a Jesuit outlets Thursday.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” Francis told Rev. Antonio Sporado, S. J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica. The Pope did not go so far as to question Catholicism’s positions on the issues. “The teaching of the church…is clear and I am a son of the church.” However, he said, “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Since he became Pope in March, Francis, the first Jesuit Pope, has made social justice and ministering to the poor a priority. From remarks about the ills of the modern financial system to an Easter visit to a juvenile detention center, he has presented a stark contrast to his predecessor Benedict the XVI.

Pope Francis has also developed a habit of making telephone calls to church members who have written him letters asking for counsel. He recently phoned a woman who was worried about becoming a single mother, promising to baptize her child if she could not find a priest willing to do it.

While some religious leaders, particularly in the United States, have criticized the Pope for not speaking out on these issues sooner, progressive groups hailed his statements. “The pope’s statements are like rain on a parched land for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics and their supporters,”a statement released by Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups that works on LGBT issues. “Pope Francis has sent a clear signal that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and organizations like the Knights of Columbus need to end their multimillion dollar campaign to marginalize LGBT people in the church and the wider society and commit themselves to gaining a deeper understanding of the lives, beliefs and ministries of LGBT people, their families and their friends.”

Francis also spoke in the interview about the role of women in the church, although he did not suggest any specific changes. “We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church….The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.”

Without a broad vision for the church, Francis said, “even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”