While Pope Francis has successfully reached out to typical critics of the Catholic Church, including atheists, conservative members of his own flock feel left out, The New York Times reports.
“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” Bridget Kurt told The Times. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”
Many Catholic commentators were concerned about comments Francis gave in an interview the Jesuit publication La Civilta Cattolica two months ago. The newly elected pope seemed to downplay more conservative beliefs.
But much of what Francis said was misinterpreted by the secular press, those commentators argued at the time.
Francis urged the church’s pastoral ministry to “find a new balance” and said it “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods.”
In October, Francis told an Italian atheist, “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good . . . Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”
He also referred to proselytizing as “solemn nonsense.”
That was enough for the website beforeitsnews.com to headline the article: “OH SNAP! Pope Says NO Moral Absolutes!”
Defenders say that wasn’t the intent at all, but it has left American conservatives in the church unhappy nonetheless.
Conservative Catholic blogger Steve Skojec wrote of the statements: “Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”
Other conservatives have examined his words and say that none of them go against Catholic teaching, The Times reported, but many of them call what he has said “naive” and “imprudent.”
Two Catholic state legislators in Illinois who recently voted in favor of same-sex marriage quoted Francis’ words’ “Who am I to judge?” when speaking of their votes.
“When a pope makes a statement off the cuff or in an interview, it’s not an infallible statement,” Chris Baran, who is on the board of a preganancy center run by nuns in Georgia, told The Times.
“I’m not sure if he cares about being accurate,” Robert Royal, president of the D.C. think tank Faith & Reason, told The Washington Post. “He gets into an [evangelizing] dynamic with people and that seems to be the most important thing. . . . In some ways it makes people very anxious. If you do this, what’s the next thing?”