An Opportunity Missed

September 25, 2013 | 16 comments

I love our pope. Not just because he is pope, but because of the kind of pope he is. I love his focus on the poor and on poverty of spirit, his emphasis on the radicalness of the gospel, and his back-to-basics approach to evangelization.

As someone who has worked for the Church for twenty years and can be prone to both myopia and cynicism, I feel personally convicted by his warning against becoming a “self-referential Church.” He reminds me that our task is not to spend our time decorating our faith-bunker to make it pretty and hospitable, but to go out to the world. Why haven’t I ever told the random guy next to me on a plane all about Jesus? Pope Francis won’t let me evade the question.

Another part of Francis’s appeal is his frankness, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the publication last week of his interview with an Italian journalist (full text in America magazine here) sent sparks of controversy flying in all directions, lighting a hundred brushfires.

Did the pope say to stop talking about abortion, contraception, and gay marriage?

What did he mean by “obsession” with “disjointed” doctrines?

What is the “new balance” of which he speaks?

Only a handful of the 12,000-plus words in this informal and wide-ranging interview deal with the infamous “pelvic” issues, but that didn’t stop the secular media and their fellow travelers in Culture-of-Death advocacy from anointing Francis as the maverick pope—the modern reformer who would finally brush away the cobwebs of antiquated Catholic moral teaching. Liberal journalist Chris Hayes called Francis the “Best. Pope. Ever.” Professional vulgarian Chris Rock went a step further, naming him the “greatest man alive.” NARAL put up a banner ad giving thanks from pro-choice women everywhere.

Meanwhile there has been no small amount of fretting in the faithful Catholic camp. This is not the first time in his short pontificate that the pope seems to have chosen his off-the-cuff words imprudently. If nothing else, some have wondered, could Francis exercise just a little more care? Sure, the media will cut and paste his words to fit their agenda no matter what, but he doesn’t have to make it easy for them, right?

For my part, other than some mild cringing at expressions that you can tell from a mile off are fat meatballs that secular journalists will smack out of the park, I had but one point of chagrin: It seems like the pope missed a great opportunity.

God's Laws Show His Love

When in a former life I used to do marriage preparation and chastity education for a Midwestern diocese, one feature of my presentations that always resonated with people was the novel (to them) idea that God’s moral laws are not something distinct from his love, but rather expressions of it. This is because, like the Sabbath, morality is made for man.

As John Paul II wrote, the moral life is a both a response to and a result of “the gratuitousness of God’s love” (Veritatis Splendor 10).

Yes, when we break moral laws we give offense to the Lawgiver, and we create some kind of cosmic rift with the Eternal Law, but we also harm our natures. We deflect ourselves from the true object of happiness. God, who wills that we be happy, gives us commandments as a sure road map to that destination.

To a culture born and bred to view commandments as divine buzzkills, to mentally bifurcate gentle-loving-merciful God from commanding-judging-condemning God, this notion of a radical unity between love and law can be transformative. It’s a key that opens the door to an integrated Christian life. I’ve watched it happen.

And so I can only think it unfortunate that instead of taking the opportunity to affirm that integration (which he surely understands backwards and forwards) and add to it his own distinct touches, Pope Francis has given the appearance of undoing it. When he says that we need to find a “new balance”—which implies a zero sum game in which we’re either preaching God’s love or his laws—he seems to separate what should be joined. When he says that “the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperative,” however true that may be in a sense (although, in another sense the opposite is also true: John the Baptist preached repentance from sin as a prelude to the Good News), it likewise suggests distinct categories: there’s the saving love of God, and then there are moral laws.

Apart from downplaying the integrated view of love and law that can be such a great pastoral tool, this kind of language is also prone to being taken by some as a confirmation that—aha, we knew it!—all those faithful preachers and pastors, the NFP teachers and sidewalk counselors, the heroic family witnesses to Catholic moral teaching, have all this time been just a little out of whack in their law-obsession.

But we don’t need to find a balance that turns up one part of the gospel and turns down another. We need to proclaim them both at full volume, and in harmony.


Todd Aglialoro is the director of publishing for Catholic Answers Press. He studied theology at Franciscan University, the University of Fribourg, and the International Theological Institute. A New York native, Todd now lives in the San Diego area with his wife, seven children, and one small bird.

Comments by Members


Excellent essay. The Pope is scoring big points with media who despise him and the Church since they hope he is diluting Church doctrine and bringing it closer to their sectarian beliefs. Loyal Catholics may be dismayed. Should they stop praying outside abortion clinics and turn their efforts to evangelization instead? To paraphrase you, "'s not a zero sum game..." This will reaffirm ex-Catholics reasons for leaving and will not bring them back. It may cause the remining 25% to ask, "why bother?"

September 25, 2013 at 10:16 am PST
#2  Pascoal D'souza - Mumbai, Maharashtra

With all due respect to your knowledge, I feel it is best to leave it to the magisterium to interpret what His Holiness Pope Francis spoke. As the Pastor Aeternus, if he feels a 'new balance ' is necessary then there must be a cause for it.

With reference to "“the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperative,” however true that may be in a sense (although, in another sense the opposite is also true: John the Baptist preached repentance from sin as a prelude to the Good News)".

According to my simple understanding of the Sacred Scripture, Gods LOVE for us sinners, became the cause of OUR redemption through Christ in whom we believe. Therefore Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness, Peace, Goodness and also Morality are Fruits of HIS IMMENSE LOVE for us. Thus only when we ENCOUNTER HIS ""LOVE"" and can we respond to it in FAITH, LOVE, CHARITY, OBEDIENCE and obedience to the MORAL TEACHING, SPIRITUAL CHASTITY (moral and religious imperative).

When the Franciscans first came to India 5 centuries ago and also St. Thomas the Apostle, they proclaimed HIS 'love' for us and that HE gave us HIS only beloved SON, who was crucified for the remission of our sins, and that if we believe in HIM we shall have eternal life. Later as the believers grew in faith they imbibed the doctrinal and moral teaching through proper catechizes.

Thus HIS LOVE was proclaimed(1), we respond by repenting and believing in the Gospel (2), thus begins the operation (process) of our redemption(3) And again we are sent (Ite, missa est) to proclaim the LOVE of GOD and the GOOD NEWS of our salvation (4).

""thus the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperative"", does not seem to turn down or turn down any part of the Gospel but rather brings us down to the core message of Christian Evangelization and the ORDER of events. (Eg. Confirmation is not given before baptism, that doen does not mean confirmation is a lesser sacrament but they are administered at the proper time)

I pray no one should not be marginalized because of any sort of lobbying but that they must be integrated into society as our Holy Father says, who are we to judge those who seek God and

(I have been visiting this page quite often but never felt the need to comment but today was a different case)

minimus omnium fidelium.

September 25, 2013 at 10:16 am PST
#3  James Tavelli - Louisville, Kentucky

I will start by saying I trust the Holy Father. I trust his wisdom and I love that he challenges Catholics to make people aware of the saving love of God. I think we can all agree that should always be our top priority. But if in the "new balance" we detract or decrease in the moral voice of the Church, couldn't that be a problem. The Church is the ONLY voice left who is still crying out on these issues (at least in America). Just look at the press' handling of it! I can almost hear the people who support abortion saying "FINALLY!!". And even though the Church's teaching on these issues won't change, what happens if we're not talking about it. Other Christians have been talking about the saving love of God and evangelizing very effectively and yet their moral voice is almost non-existent especially on these issues. Many, many Catholic's already DONT believe in the Church's teaching on these issues. Doesn't this just confuse them more? My opinion matters for nothing I know and I will continue to trust Pope Francis and the Church and will rely on the wisdom of the magisterium. But I'm very confused and a lot of other Catholics are as well.

September 25, 2013 at 11:59 am PST
#4  Bill Monteith - Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

These are all such wonderful comments on a wonderful article that I feel that everything has been covered so I will just add a smudge more salt to this delicious topic. We who are faithful Catholics must not despair on how the"pagans" react to our Pope in his capacity as interview subject. Nothing he has said whether in the America magazine article or on the Pope plane is in fact infallible. They are in fact just comments made by a man who admits struggling with giving interviews. We should continue the good fight, the holy war as it were, against the evils that plague our culture today. Nothing has changed including the fact that Pope Francis is the Pope chosen by the Holy Spirit. To me that seems more apparent everyday.

September 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm PST
#5  Chris Patterson - Platte City, Missouri

Give him time.

Everytime the guy talks we want every word to be carefully explained so that no one could possibly misinterpret any meaning. And, while he is at it, we would feel better if he said exactly what we would want to say, the way we want to say it. Well, that's not going to happen. First of all, because spin doctors can make any word say anything. Second of all, because in some areas Pope Francis may just be calling us out.

This pope was selected by the Holy Spirit through the College of Cardinals. That doesn't mean he'll be perfect. St. Peter set that precedent. But, he's a pope for our time. He's orthodox (despite what our more "liberal" brothers might think). He hasn't said anything that, properly understood, couldn't be read right out of the catechism.

And, he is an evangelist who is willing to engage those who don't know Christ, or, at least, who don't know Him well. He told the kids at World Youth Day to "make a mess." :) He is willing to make a few messes, for the sake of the lost sheep of the world. So, I doubt if he really minds the secular press misquoting him, or even misundering him. Because if they keep talking with each other, they just may hear and believe.

I also doubt that he really minds if well-formed Catholics struggle a little with him, either. Processing is good for our souls. But don't mistake any of what he is doing as a statement that he doesn't value you or your share devotion. The guy is just engaging in dialogue with the lost, and dialogue takes time.

Give him time.

September 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm PST
#6  Kathleen Wagner - Virginia Beach, Virginia

"Give him time"? How much time does he need to realize when he's being gratuitously offensive? If any of the several teenagers I brought up had been this rude, I'd have smacked his head and sent him to his room. Francis is in his seventies. If he's insulting us now, it's deliberate. I am very, very tired of him, and it's only been six months. He's a loose cannon, he insists on having everything his own way, he despises Catholics who don't share his Barney-the-dinosaur approach to the Faith, and he absolutely cannot resist talking about himself. We heard more about his personal tastes and opinions in his first twenty-six weeks than we heard from Bl. JPII in nearly twenty-six years. Shut up, already. Francis is part of an erring world's long-overdue penance. I don't say we don't deserve it, but he was sent to punish us.

September 25, 2013 at 8:31 pm PST
#7  Patricia Tinajero - Grand Prairie, Texas

Kathleen, are you Catholic? Your comment was very disrespectful, as rude as the rudeness of which you speak.

Peter, I agree! It has not been easy for me to hear all that Pope Francis has said because everything he says convicts me! And I am a very, active Catholic who was educated through graduate school at awesome Catholic schools, spent time in a religious order, have worked as a Catholic school teacher, DRE for many years, etc. I love my Catholic faith and have been a firm believer that we must teach truth - it is what the world is lacking. But, yet, as much as we do this, we are surrounded by an ever growing culture that has no love for the Lord or the truth at all. I saw someone say recently that if we speak everyday to people about truth, but not about Jesus, than we have it backwards. Do I witness as much about God as much as I talk about His truths? The Holy Spirit is amazing...Pope Francis, wow, could we ever have imagined a better pope to follow our dear Popes JPII and Benedict!?!

September 25, 2013 at 9:12 pm PST
#8  Pascoal D'souza - Mumbai, Maharashtra

Patricia Tinajero, Patricia Tinajero, James Tavelli, Bill Monteith, Chris Patterson, you guys are awesome.

Answering the rest what you write seems more offensive then the comments of the Holy Father. Francis that you talk of may be some random man i don't know. But Pope Francis is the successor the elect of the chair of St. Peter and as Catholics we are under His direct apostolic authority, and we are to be obedient to him (fruit of the Holy Spirit).

If you are unaware then its not just the Catholic church but also the Orthodox Church Patriarchs who are in schism with us and yet consider the Patriarch of West, the successor of St. Peter as the "PROTOS" OF FIRST (for the bishop of Rome as protos among the patriarchs. ref. Ravenna Document, Ravenna, 13 October 2007. How much more respect are we to give.)

hope this scripture helps you.


read ACTS Ch. 15.

Matthew 16:17-19
English Standard Version (ESV)
17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[a] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[b] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[c] in heaven.”


2 John 1:6
"And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it."

Philemon 1:21
"Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say."

Ephesians 6:1
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."

Be rest assured that if we "follow" the catholic church in faith, truth and charity your salvation is assured.
It is the authority of the church to decide what is right and what is wrong.AMEN

minimus omnium fidelium.

September 26, 2013 at 6:19 am PST
#9  Thomas Lancaster - Yuba City, California

In my opinion, I think this article plays into the hands of the media who wants us all to get caught up in the "game" of interpretations and semantics. I believe this distracts us from doing our true duty of becoming a better and holier child of God.

Lets us all say an "Our Father" that God continues to guide our leader on Earth in Pope Francis and the church as a whole.

September 27, 2013 at 7:01 am PST
#10  Pascoal D'souza - Mumbai, Maharashtra


September 28, 2013 at 10:19 am PST
#11  Ben Helgemo - Port Charlotte, Florida

I thought this was a bad article and very negative. A glass half full feeling.Give him a break and try and trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding him. Surrender!!!...God will do great things no matter what.

September 29, 2013 at 10:26 am PST
#12  Deacon Mike Chesley - Milford Mi, Michigan

I recently came back from our priest's & deacon's convocation,
and the subject was the "new evangelization." I think it's good that he is making folks nervous. He has gotten the people who need to hear the Gospel, folks, who would in other circumstamnces not bothered to listen. Grant it, they dont quite understand "the message" yet. But that's ok. Either did the blind man in the Gospels or the apostlles for that matter. Don't 'be afraid of the word "reform." It's not a dirty word. The Church is alway's in need of reform in every generation. There are many things we could do better, expecially in the area of evangelization. What Pope Francis has sais, and is saying is the Church is first and foemost MISSIONARY, that IS the purpose of the Church. It is to bring the Gospel to even those that do not live the Gospel values in there lives, God still loves them, even in their sinfulness. Once someone experiences the Gospel and Jesus, the cathesesis can begin. We often are cathechising before evangelizing.
My guess is Pope Franis is well aware of the media flurry he's causing, and well aware that his words are heard 'selectively."
I think he is ok with that. He's reaching people that would never have listened before. Once they experience God's love, we can catechize them. God is in charge. Dont be nevious

October 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm PST

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