So, yes, the Pope is still Catholic. And no, he didn’t say what they claim he said.

Those are the basics. And Pope Francis is pretty basic, which is probably why he was elected in that conclave by brother cardinals in the first place. They knew what the church needed at this time in history, and this man fit the bill. Why? He’s humble, simple, accessible, speaks plainly and to everyone. He both admonishes and exhorts, and includes himself among the flock who need constant examination of conscience and reminders of who started the church and what he taught and did by way of example.

Which all came out in the interview Pope Francis did with a Jesuit editor in Rome in August, which came out in English Thursday in the Jesuit journal America.

This interview with Pope Francis took place over the course of three meetings during August 2013 in Rome. The interview was conducted in person by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal. Father Spadaro conducted the interview on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica, America and several other major Jesuit journals around the world.

It’s really quite remarkable, not for the reasons big media outlets are reporting, not at all. In fact, they’re selectively and surgically excising words or lines that fit a narrative or agenda, using the same small excerpts, likely not reading the whole interview at all. After all, it’s about 12,000 words of profoundly personal, deeply reflective thoughts by a pope who has opened himself up to a lengthy exchange with brother Jesuits about Ignatian spirituality and dedication to the social Gospel.

Somebody tell that to the New York Times, which said the ‘Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion,’ and led with this:

Pope Francis, in the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic Church had grown “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.

That is a lead befitting the Times’ anti-Catholic campaign carried out for some years now.

And MSNBC, which trumpets the report that ‘Progressives hail Pope Francis’ position on social issues‘.

Progressive Catholics are applauding the pope’s remarks on homosexuality, reproductive rights, and the role of women, calling his views perhaps the beginning of a new era at the Vatican, as well as a return to the Gospel.

Seriously? That’s a dead giveaway that they didn’t read the interview.

Reuters reports the pope said the church must ‘end obsession with gays, contraception, abortion.’ Yikes.

And the Wall Street Journal declares, awkwardly, that the ‘Pope warns church focusing too much on divisive issues.’

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.”

Really? So, did these reporters read the interview in America? Just wondering, because in it, he mentions abortion and homosexuality a total of three times. In 12,000 words, about 18 pages printed out, a total of 3 times.

Whereas a search for other buzzwords shows that Pope Francis referred to God 37 times, Jesus 26 times and St. Ignatius 15 times. As Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow told me on radio (along with those stats on buzz words), “Pope Francis referred to Italian and German opera more than he did abortion and homosexuality.” Who knew?

Anyone who read the interview. It’s compelling. Kathryn Jean Lopez points that out in a piece she wrote for Fox News.

Not everything in the world is about sex and politics. That message may take the New York Times a few more homilies and interviews with Pope Francis to understand.

The Catholic Church – or at least those preachers and teachers who are outspoken on matters concerning human sexuality, especially when catechetical discussions are turned into clashes in the public square for political or cultural reasons – is often accused of being obsessed with sex. But the obsession might just be the media’s.

Again, good opportunity for self-examination here.

So what are the highlights of Francis’ remarks in this wide-ranging interview? Start with the fact that he isn’t comfortable with interviews.

The pope had spoken earlier about his great difficulty in giving interviews. He said that he prefers to think rather than provid answers on the spot in interviews. In this interview the pope interrupted what he was saying in response to a question several times, in order to add something to an earlier response. Talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas that are bound up with each other. Even taking notes gives me an uncomfortable feeling, as if I were trying to suppress a surging spring of dialogue.

Very cool. Puts you there, in the presence of the exchange.

Read it. From the first question, ‘Who Is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?’ It’s fascinating.

Then as Kathryn Lopez reports

Francis talks about the Church as a “field hospital after battle.” He talks about the need for the church “to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.” He says: “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

And when he does get to those social issue buzzwords…

When reading his words about homosexuality and abortion – which are drenched in love and mercy as well as justice – it is only fair to read them in the full context of what the pope has to say, representing the Gospel of Christ, the Catechism of the Church, and his own pastoral interaction with men and women living in the world as it is today.

Here’s how it went from the interviewer’s question, to Francis’ response:

I mention to Pope Francis that there are Christians who live in situations that are irregular for the church or in complex situations that represent open wounds. I mention the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and other difficult situations. What kind of pastoral work can we do in these cases? What kinds of tools can we use?

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. 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. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.


The pope is challenging us all to see what Christ wants for us and our brothers and sisters, each one of them: It’s exactly what he says in the interview is the reason he wound up a Jesuit: He wanted “something more.”

“God is to be encountered in the world of today.” We don’t find God by making him in our own image. Pope Francis calls on Augustine here: “Seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever.”…

And so the pope pleads that hearts might be open to the alternative lifestyle that has a world leader asking himself daily: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?” These are not only questions for a pope. This is the radical call of Christianity. And that’s the message this son of the Father is preaching as the Holy Father.

Whatever your politics, be careful what you read into this. He’s talking to you. He’s talking to me. He’s reminding himself. The news isn’t that he isn’t “a right-winger,” as he tells us. It’s that he’s a pastor. He’s a priest, not a politician.

Precisely, providentially, what Fr. Grunow told me on radio Thursday, right down to the three points that probably comprise the heart of the interview: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?”

He said Francis is point out the missionary reality of the church here, that Catholics, Christians, must go to the periphery to reach people where they are. “He’s reintroducing the church to its missionary reality,” he said. I said that was a reminder of Vatican II, which was a missionary council. Fr. Grunow agreed and went further. “His two predecessors emphasized what Vatican II was about. Pope Francis is saying ‘Let’s do it.’ His emphasis is on holding us to the work of carrying it out.”

Don’t read what the media says about what the pope said. Read what the pope said. He’s trying to reach everyone in the world, even in ‘the peripheries’, wherever people are and whoever they are because they are human and alive and in the world and therefore desired by God and worthy of dignity and needing mercy and grace.

And, he added as he always adds, it begins with ourselves.

“Prayer for me is always a prayer full of memory, of recollection, even the memory of my own history or what the Lord has done in his church…

But above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me. Memory has a fundamental role for the heart of a Jesuit: memory of grace, the memory mentioned in Deuteronomy, the memory of God’s works that are the basis of the covenant between God and the people. It is this memory that makes me his son and that makes me a father, too.”

This is a love letter for our times. It needs to be read again and again. Maybe someone in the periphery of the media will eventually get it.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....