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Pope Warns Church Focusing Too Much on Divisive Issues

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Pope Francis has warned that the Catholic Church's focus on abortion, contraception and gay marriage risked overshadowing its pastoral mission and threatened to bring down the church "like a house of cards."

Interview Highlights

Pope Reflects on Influences, Priorities

Read the Full Interview

The Pope's comments, made as part of a blunt, wide-ranging interview with the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta' Cattolica, didn't mark a break with church teaching. But they set out a vision of a church that is more welcoming and less preoccupied with strict doctrine.

In doing so, Pope Francis appeared to put more distance between himself and his two predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, who strongly supported traditional church dogma. Indeed, the interview comes in the wake of grumblings from some bishops that the new pope has failed to issue strong pronouncements on divisive issues.

"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," said the pontiff, who came to power in March after the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict. "This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that."

"The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," he said. "We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards."

The 12,000-word interview, which touched on personal points such as the pope's favorite composer, artist, author and film (Mozart, Caravaggio, Dostoevsky and Fellini's "La Strada"), was conducted in August. It was published simultaneously by Civilta' Cattolica and other Jesuit magazines globally on Thursday and was vetted by the pope, the first Jesuit to be elected pontiff.

Pope Francis, who has eschewed living in the grand papal apartments at the Vatican in favor of a modest guesthouse, has become enormously popular among many Catholics for his human touch and modesty.

While he has affirmed Catholic teachings, he has opened the door to groups that have at times struggled in their relationship with the church, such as gays and women.

In the interview, the pope expanded on comments he made in July regarding homosexuals. On a return flight from a trip to Brazil, he said, "Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?"

In the interview released Thursday, he expanded on that welcoming stance, which was seen as a departure from the Church's long-standing thinking, even though the pontiff has reaffirmed church teaching that homosexual acts are a sin.

"In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are 'socially wounded' because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this," said the Argentine-born Pope.

He also suggested a shift in the church's attitude toward women could be in the cards. While he didn't address the question of the ordination of women, he said that "women are asking deep questions that must be addressed."

"The woman is essential for the church," said the pontiff. "We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church." During his papacy, Pope Benedict drew criticism for his crackdown on U.S. nuns whom the Vatican accused of failing to support strict church doctrine.

It is exceedingly rare for a pontiff to give such as candid and lengthy interview and his remarks will likely reinforce his image as a leader more concerned with the pastoral role of the church and impatient with the shortcomings of the institution.

The pope has signaled plans to shake up the Vatican's hidebound and fractious bureaucracy that has given rise to a series of financial and personal scandals in recent years.

"The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules," he said.

Some more personal comments are likely to further endear the pope to Catholics who have already cheered his folksy manner.

The pope has eschewed more regal clothing worn by his predecessors and has been photographed carrying his own luggage on trips. In the interview, when asked how he viewed himself, he answered, "I am a sinner. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner."

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