MANKATO — The Rev. John Kunz of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Mankato looks to his bishop to set the tone of his church, but he also looks to the pope.
He used to read the daily reflections of Pope Benedict, and now he does the same with Pope Francis.
“The pope and the church really do have a strong voice,” Kunz said. “It does affect us. It does affect me.”
During his first six months as pope, Francis has earned a reputation as being a “pope of the people,” committed to helping the poor and living simply, and expressing somewhat liberal viewpoints. A recent in-depth interview with Francis included more of those viewpoints and had many people this week talking about his blunt language.
The interview was with the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal endorsed by the Vatican. Francis said he believes the Roman Catholic Church has become “obsessed” with preaching about three issues: abortion, gay marriage and contraception. Francis had chosen not to speak on those issues but rather to focus on creating a welcoming “home for all” tone for the church.
That message has resonated with Kunz. He said Francis believes in focusing on the larger picture because some have become so issue-oriented “that they have kind of pushed people away from Jesus,” Kunz said.
“These are important values, but Jesus is really (what's most important),” Kunz said. “He's really trying to open the door. … He seems so inviting and inclusive.”
In the interview, Francis didn't offer opinions on abortion, gay marriage and contraception, but said it's not necessary to discuss the issues all the time.
However, when speaking with Catholic gynecologists in Vatican City Friday, he denounced abortions as a symptom of today's “throw-away culture” and encouraged the doctors to refuse to perform them, according to CBS News. That seemed to contradict some of the statements of the previous interview, in which he said:
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. 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.”
Sister Regina Fox, communications director for the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province, said Francis' focus and viewpoints in the interview are in line with that of the SSND: to work toward unity of all people through education, with a specific emphasis on women, children and the poor.
“I think there's a general feeling among the sisters of gratitude for the pastoral stance that he's taken of those who are marginalized in this world,” Fox said. “I think the other thing that goes along with that is (the message is) something that can be embraced by anyone on the planet.”
Fox said Francis' direct language did not come as a surprise. His messages have been consistent with his history as a bishop and before.
“It's in the fiber of his being … ,” she said.
Sister Gladys Schmitz of the SSND in Mankato has been a nun 60 years and has a particular interest in social justice issues. She said she's seen the church change a great deal over the past six decades, and with where the church sits now, Francis is putting the emphasis in the right places.
“I've been pleased with his emphasis on working with the poor, and the emphasis on acceptance of everybody, and on God's love and mercy, and that primarily there shouldn't be so much judgment,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz doesn't support abortion, but she said the issue is more complex than is talked about in the church. And she said there are many other important matters to emphasize.
“It's the teaching of the church to be nonviolent, and they see abortion as violence against a helpless being,” Schmitz said. “But so is poverty a form of oppression and violence. And those are people who are right here. So I think we need to address a lot of (other) problems, including poverty and hunger and health care.”
Kunz said he hasn't received feedback from the diocese regarding the pope's interview, but he and other pastors soon will be meeting with the bishop, and he expects the interview to be discussed.