What is the significance of Pope Francis’s recent interview?

Friday, September 20, 2013

“The Pope is a sinner”
On Red Letter Christians, under a poster-type image proclaiming, “Dear Pope Francis, Thank you. [from] LGBT people everywhere,” Michael Kimpan titled his blog entry, “The Pope is a sinner,” and begins with the sentence, “This is significant.”  What is significant?  The fact that Pope Francis defined himself, not as a pious religious authority figure above all mortals, but as a sinner.  This answer came when he was asked for a self-definition at the beginning of an extensive interview for a Jesuit magazine in Rome (and reproduced in other Jesuit publications around the globe). The interview has thrust Pope Francis into the headlines once again.  “But it didn’t stop there [with his identification of himself as a sinner],” says Kimpan, as he explains that “This free-thinking pope seems to be willing to live on the margins and push back on the boundaries of the position of pontiffs of the past.  Addressing questions on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, Pope Francis continued to relate in a frank nature to the reality of the church’s battle to remain relevant—and hinted toward some new ways forward.”  This hint of moving forward doesn’t mean an abrupt, immediate change in doctrine but rather a move from focusing on “issues” to seeing people—poor people, marginalized people, all of humanity in all the complexities of our daily lives and circumstances— and calling the church to see far beyond categories and rules, remembering that God is a God of love and compassion.

Related: Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, similarly points out that Pope Francis is distancing himself “further from the right.” He says that the “hard-right elements in the chuch” will not be pleased to hear the Pope say, “Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists—they have a static and inward-directed view of things.”  Pope Francis is urging Christians to recognize God in every person. “God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.” You can read the entire long interview with the Pope in the Jesuit publication, America magazine.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992).

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