September 20th, 2013
02:16 PM ET

Conservatives 'disturbed' by pope's remarks

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

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(CNN) - “Rain on parched land.”

“A bold new course.”


That’s how liberal Catholics responded to the stunning interview published Thursday in which Pope Francis bluntly said the church shouldn’t be “obsessed” with culture war issues like abortion and gay marriage.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” the pope said, warning that the church's moral foundations will fall "like a house of cards" unless it strikes a "new balance" between preaching the gospel and taking stands on divisive issues.

How did conservative Catholics, the church’s most ardent culture warriors, react?

“I’ll be honest; I was disturbed,” writes Matthew Archbold in the conservative National Catholic Register.

“While it's clear that the pope is not changing church teaching, he is clearly changing the emphasis. The pope with a few words has unsettled so much.”

Archbold said that he’s concerned that the pope's words will be used against anti-abortion activists and opponents of gay marriage in the United States.

But after thinking and praying about the pope's remarks, Archbold said, he decided that being unsettled may not be "such a terrible thing."

"I think the pope was reminding us that we're a religion of 'yes.'"

MORE ON CNN: Pope Francis: Church can't 'interfere' with gays

Before the release of Thursday’s interview, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island said he was “disappointed” that Francis had not spoken much about abortion. On Friday, Tobin welcomed the pope’s comments, but said it won’t change his focus.

“I have spoken out clearly about the dignity of all human life and the nature of holy matrimony as designed by God and will continue to do so whenever the situation warrants,” Tobin said. “It is a demand of the Gospel.”

The bishop also said, however, that he appreciates the new pope’s “balanced and inclusive” approach.

Other conservative Catholics said the media and liberals had misconstrued the pope’s remarks, made in a 12,000-word interview published Thursday in 16 Jesuit journals around the world.

“The pope is a reformer, but not a revolutionary,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

“This is the problem with the left," Dohonue continued, "they are trying to take what the pope said and then run with it.”

Donohue, a caustic and sometimes controversial critic of people he perceives as anti-Catholic, said the pope’s remarks won’t silence him.

“There’s nothing the pope said that should give relief to people who say all of a sudden now that conservatives should shut up,” Donahue said. “We’re not going to shut up because we’re in consonant compliance with what the pope said. “

After all, conservatives say, it’s not like the pope changed Catholic doctrine in Thursday’s interview.

To underscore that point, the conservative blog Rorate Caeli posted a lengthy quote from the pope’s meeting with Catholic gynecologists on Friday in which he strongly denounced abortion.

“Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord,” the pope said, according to Rorate Caeli’s translation. “They cannot be discarded, as the `culture of waste’ proposes.”

Father John Zuhlsdorf, a conservative Catholic blogger, said the pope urged Catholics to find a “new balance” between their moral and political missions. He didn’t say they should surrender the culture wars.

“I think that Francis thinks that constant correction and condemnation does more harm than good,” Zuhlsdorf wrote on his blog.

“Francis said `all the time," Zuhlsdorf said."He did not say `we should not talk about these things.’"

MORE ON CNN: The pope said what? Six stunners from Francis

Other conservatives said the pope's remarks are “nothing new.”

"The pope is not in any way proposing that the church should abandon important moral and social teachings,” said Ashley McGuire of the Catholic Association.

"Rather, the pope is reaffirming a longstanding teaching that reaches all the way back to the founding of Christianity: love your neighbor.”

And while most liberals praised the pope’s bold new vision, some took issue with his remarks about women’s role in the church.

“We have to work harder to develop a theology of women in the church,” Francis said in Thursday's interview.

“Breaking news, Pope Francis: There is already a profound theology of women," said Sister Maureen Fielder, a Catholic nun and longtime advocate of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church.

“There are libraries of feminist theology just waiting for you, and others, to dive in.”

Fielder said she likes the new pope, but she thinks he “sorely needs a course in feminist theology.”

For the most part, however, liberals praised Francis.

Under previous popes, liberal Catholic nuns, politicians and theologians were castigated by church leaders, said John Gehring, a writer and advocate at the group Faith in Public Life. Now “the air is starting to clear,” he said.

“Pope Francis is rescuing the Catholic Church from those grim-faced watchdogs of orthodoxy who in windowless rooms reduce Catholicism to a laundry list of nos,” Gehring said.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Culture wars • Faith • Gay marriage • Pope Francis

soundoff (1,798 Responses)
  1. prophet

    the vatican and the catholics have alraedy become morally corrupt, what does he mean will.

    September 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  2. Douglas

    Conservatives...take heart!

    The morality pendulum is swinging back to normal after public
    disgust with premissiveness that has yielded:

    Broken Homes
    Drug abuse
    Rampant HIV/AIDs/STDs infections
    Disdain for authority
    Threats to traditional marriage
    The use of children for evil abuse
    Vulgar media
    Acute depression
    Random violence

    A return to conservative values will restore our nation's pride and self-esteem.

    A nation that has forsaken the Bible will never be at peace!

    September 26, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Gordon

      The most peaceful and happy countries seem to be the ones that aren't very religious - Northern Europe, Scandinavia. I think they're learned to teach their people that if you respect your fellow human beings, they will respect you back. The most violent countries are the most religious, although they're mostly Muslim, not Christian, but they believe in the same God as you.

      September 27, 2013 at 2:03 am |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      "A return to conservative values will restore our nation's pride and self-esteem."

      Right! Let's go back to the golden era of America! You know, when we still kept humans like cattle because they were a different color than us. Let's go back to the days where women stayed in the kitchens and birthing beds where they belong! Let's go back to when it was illegal to let your white son marry a black girl! Let's go back to those conservative values that led to such greatness like the red scare which i'm sure only affected real commies under that conservative patriot Joe McCarthy! Let's go back to the conservative greatness that was wise enough to nearly wipe out the natives who lived on such rich land that we whites needed, I mean, those natives were hardly doing anything with it other than living, what did they need it for? Boy oh boy, I can't wait for all those conservative policies to be enforced again so that we can get back our pride and self-esteem... right Dougie?

      September 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Akira

      List of things American support...that conservatives once called Communist or Socialist (and some were Democrat conservatives .. yes) 
      1. banning slavery 
      2. banning child labor 
      3. the vote for women 
      4. allowing labor unions 
      5. the minimum wage 
      6. the new deal 
      7. Social security 
      8. Medicare 
      9. Medicaid 
      10. Universal health care 
      11. ending segregation

      Your values are skewed if this is what you want to go back to. Betcha 1,000,000,000 dollars you've never cast a vote in a government election your life, but you sure cast enough stones.

      September 27, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  3. Karl Marxx

    Conservative Catholic theology had it's run, it failed.

    September 26, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  4. CommonSensed

    The fringe whackos are always disturbed. Unfortunately they have too much of a voice.

    September 25, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Michael

      So anyone that disagrees with you is a "wacko"? It must be real lonely up on your mountain, looking down your nose at the rest of us mere mortals. I don't believe as you do ... I'm an avowed Atheist and have been since I was but four years of age. You may consider me a heathen or heretic; that bothers me not. I live an honorable life, very likely far more honorable than yours. I actually care about people, won't lie, steal or cheat ... and I try very hard to not be judgemental. At least on that last point, you fail miserably. If you lived a truly Christian life, you'd not be so mean and judgemental towards others.

      September 27, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  5. Mike Balonek

    "The pope with a few words has unsettled so much" – Yes, with a few words. Because when you print only a few of his words without context, it sounds scandalous. Like how the Bible says "There is no God." It does! Just ignore the part before it, "The fool says in his heart,...." Thankfully, he did NOT use a few words, but 19 pages when transcribed, and when you even just skim through it, you see that he said nothing outside of the normal realm of Catholic thought in the interview. Bits and pieces of anything when pulled out and strung together can sound scandalous!

    September 25, 2013 at 5:18 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      That's why, after Catholic groups absorbed the whole interview, they were no longer "disturbed". it sold a few newspapers though.

      September 26, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  6. jake1935

    Just what the Catholic church needs a bunch of hating Baptist telling the Pope how to talk to his people If a Catholic tried to do that to a Baptist church higher up they would set Faux News on fire

    September 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Applaud Aloud

      You are right .. so they are all rapidly declining because of their own inability to understand Christianity.

      September 24, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  7. AverageJoe76

    I believe the Pope, or his advisors, are just aware of the changing times and are attempting to 'spin' their way into the future. Besides, with all of those allegations of the Church shuffling around child molestors to avoid local authorities, you need some good headlines every once and again.

    Hey... let's get serious with these guys; they don't have to say another word until they WILLINGLY give up every child molesting figure in their organization they're aware of.

    ......... and the ones that make you go, "Hmmmmmmm...."

    September 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Connie Smith

      Give it a break!

      September 25, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  8. Dan Dennett - Breaking the Spell


    September 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  9. Reality # 2

    Only for the new visitors to this blog–

    Francis noted:

    “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” the pope said, warning that the church's moral foundations will fall "like a house of cards" unless it strikes a "new balance" between preaching the gospel and taking political stands on divisive issues."

    The cards are already falling and will continue to fall into a permanent abyss as rational thinking finally rules the globe.

    Bottom line: THERE ARE NO GODS !!!

    September 23, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Bill Deacon


      "Moreover, I advise and admonish the friars that in their preaching, their words should be examined and chaste. They should aim only at the advantage and spiritual good of their listeners, telling them briefly about vice and virtue, punishment and glory, because our Lord himself kept his words short on earth" (St. Francis, Rule of 1223, Ch. 9).

      September 24, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Chris

      I think that Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot tried to push your rational thinking onto the people and look at the millions killed for the atheist cause. Whenever atheism has gained absolute power, nothing but dictatorships and suffering of people results.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Those people killed because they were dictators (btw Hitler was not an atheist – but you knew that); they did not kill in the name of a god (but you probably knew that too).

        September 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        Why would your god allow the following:

        Number of god's creations who died horrible deaths from the following diseases:

        1. 300,000,000 approx.

        2. 200,000,000 ?

        3. 100,000,000 approx.
        Black Death

        4. 80,000,000–250,000,000

        5. 50,000,000–100,000,000
        Spanish Flu

        6. 40,000,000–100,000,000
        Plague of Justinian

        7. 40,000,000–100,000,000

        8. 30,000,000[13]
        AIDS pandemic

        9. 12,000,000 ?
        Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague

        10. 5,000,000
        Antonine Plague

        11. 4,000,000
        Asian Flu

        12. 250,000 or more annually Seasonal influenza

        September 24, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
        • Reality # 2

          And then there is this:


          The Twenty (or so) Worst Things GOD'S CREATURES Have Done to Each Other:

          M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

          The Muslim Conquest of India

          "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

          Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

          1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

          2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

          3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

          4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

          5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

          6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

          7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

          8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

          9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

          10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

          11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

          12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

          13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

          14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

          15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

          16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

          17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Christians)

          18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

          19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

          20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

          September 24, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
  10. carol

    if your not liberal your not a true catholic!

    September 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Dippy's Aide

      If you don't know the difference between *your* and *you're* your brain power and opinions are severely discounted.

      September 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Dippy

        And she did it twice for emphasis!!

        September 23, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • sam stone

      wouldn't that sort of disqualify jesus, carol?

      September 23, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  11. Applaud Aloud

    Religion is in major trouble: Christians in two camps (Catholic and Protestant) The Jewish Religion too: No Exxodus. Islam: homicidal maniacs. #1 - Catholics .. they are rapidly going into extinction (and the Pope knows it) .. dogmas, celibacy, pedophile priests, birth control .. crazy stuff is killing the RC church. Protestants - fundamentalism (only) predicates inerrancy and that makes for Bible thumpers. Their real god is their Bible. They have lost Jesus altogether and replaced it with their book. False doctrine (together with calvinism): they are a dead religion. Jewish: No Exodus means no Moses, no Genesis, no Talmud, no stone tablets, No Ark, no Passover ... no Jewish religion. Islam: murderous crazies. Maniacs. That about does them all in ..

    September 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Except they will take us all down with them, if they get a chance.

      September 23, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  12. Leigh Anne

    Quote-Before the release of Thursday’s interview, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island said he was “disappointed” that Francis had not spoken much about abortion. On Friday, Tobin welcomed the pope’s comments, but said it won’t change his focus.

    Response- And this is why the church is becoming irrelevant to life...it won't change its focus.

    September 23, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Applaud Aloud

      There is not much to be said about abortion. Politically the elected wimps can allow women any privilege they demand. Morally women are way out in left field and not only on abortion. But it is their life and they get to do it their way. The moral leaders generally condemn war (that is murder even if by government). Capital punishment? That's immoral (and uncivilized). Drugs(whew! .. suicidal). Do you need a Pope or even a Preacher to tell you murder is not moral? You ought to be able to figure that out without help. Do you need a moral counselor to know you OUGHT to be trustworthy, honest, accountable to your family 9t least)(for your interaction with them)? Do you need a counselor to tell you addictions are destructive (liquor, drugs, gambling, shopping, narcissism)? I guess today's pampered young simply do not have any idea what is good or not good.

      September 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
      • Anon

        Over 80% of women obtaining abortion are Christian. Clearly, religion has no impact on abortion.

        September 23, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • G to the T

        "murder" implies a moral component already so that's kind of moot. As for killing – murder divorced of it's moral component – there are always ways that a society will condone killing for the good of that society. Even after god says "though shalt not kill" – he sends them out kill everyone in the promised land. So even in the bible it's conditional.

        Guess what I'm trying to say is that "murder" is a loaded term to begin with.

        September 23, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
        • Applaud Aloud

          What I am saying is that killing is killing. You can "moralize" and "justify" by using different words (and that makes it all OK). You see the black wall in Washington (is war murder? is it killing? is it justified? was that in exchange for the common good? do all those names matter?) Was the holocaust murder? or just killing? Was it moral? Immoral? Is there any consequence for it? For whom? Is killing different when it is sterile? (then cleanliness is a determiner). When the state does it? When we wear a uniform? (special clothes)

          September 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
      • jens gessner

        Life is precious and starts at conception? Well, consider this:

        About 50% of all pregnancies result in natural miscarriage during the first trimester. ADDITIONALLY, 25% of pregnancies fail because the fertilized egg fails to attach itself to the uterus wall. And those failed pregnancies occur 'even' among couples who desperately wish for children.

        It follows that the Christian God – should such a deity actually exist – is responsible for the vast majority of all abortions. Thus, their 'creator' is the worst abortionist around!

        Evolutionary Biology has a perfect explanation for natural miscarriages. But how would creationist Christians explain it?

        September 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
        • Applaud Aloud

          100% of human beings die. So at least God is fair. some die peaceably in their sleep. (I guess that is fair). Some don't. Some live 100 years and some don't. 7,000,000,000 alive today and ALL of them must die (most of them less than 70 years)

          September 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  13. Leigh Anne

    Quote-“The pope is a reformer, but not a revolutionary,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

    Response- This is VERY true!!! And more the pity since the world needs a revolutionary right now....but then that takes courage and love.

    September 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm |

    they have big mouths and talk tough. they r old, single, frustrated white women who hate men

    September 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Anon

      Who is "they"?

      September 23, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
      • sam stone

        do you really expect an answer from the troll of many names?

        September 23, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  15. Patrick

    Headline says conservatives 'disturbed' by pope's remarks. Article says they were disturbed at first, but not anymore.

    Great sensationalist reporting, CNN.

    September 23, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      I think this pope displays a talent for grabbing your attention, conservative or liberal. It's a timely and hopefully useful attribute. How many of us are tired of the worn out "solutions" from politically divisive parties bent on their own self interest. Perhaps, if he is able to attract some listeners, Francis will be able to point us in a better direction.

      September 23, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  16. Emily Litella

    Why are some people being so mean to Mr. Phil Donahue. I've met him personally and he's a very nice man.

    September 23, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • niknak

      Just because he is a nice man does not mean his opinion of a creator is fact.
      Or his hate for ga ys and anyone who does not believe like he does.

      September 23, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Billy

      Emily, it's Bill Donohue, not Phil Donahue. You were on the Phil Donahue show. niknak is correct about the guy in the article.

      September 23, 2013 at 9:18 am |
      • niknak

        Ha Ha!
        I did not notice Emily Airhead wrote Phil and not Bill.

        The religious scammers just love people like her.

        September 23, 2013 at 9:30 am |
        • Richard Cranium


          Emily Litella is an old SNL character, (Gilda Radner) where she misunderstood a subject and went on a rant about her misunderstanding. Check it out for a few laughs.

          September 23, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • Emily Litella


      Now what's all this fuss over violins in video games and movies. I like violins.

      September 23, 2013 at 9:28 am |
      • Roseanne Roseannadanna

        Hi, Emily! It's always something!

        September 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  17. entertainment

    these types of threads provide entertainment for a lot of people.

    September 23, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  18. Ray


    September 23, 2013 at 8:32 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.