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Pope warns church must find new balance or fail

  • Pope Francis looks on during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

VATICAN CITY — Signaling a dramatic shift in Vatican tone, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church had become obsessed by "small-minded rules" about how to be faithful and that pastors should instead emphasize compassion over condemnation when discussing divisive social issues of abortion, gays and contraception.

The pope's remarkably blunt message six months into his papacy was sure to reverberate in the U.S. and around the globe as bishops who have focused much of their preaching on such hot-button issues are asked to act more as pastors of wounded souls.

In interviews published Thursday in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, Francis said he had been "reprimanded" for not pressing church opposition to abortion in his papacy. But he said "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

"The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently," Francis 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, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel," the pope said in the 12,000-word article, based on interviews conducted by a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Rome journal for the religious order.

"The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules," Francis said. "The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all."

The comments contained no change in church teaching, and the pope said reform should not happen quickly. Still, it was the pope's clearest declaration yet of a break in tone and style from his immediate predecessors.

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