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. Patsea

    The RC church has tripped itself up by declaring that statements made by a pope on faith and morals are infallible and therefore cannot be changed. This pope is emphasizing the core doctrines of the church: love God above all else and love your neighbour as yourself. About time.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Google "ex cathedra" It will help you.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      There hasn't been an ex-cathedra statement in decades.
      You'll know when one happens – there's a lot of pomp and ceremony.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  2. Brad76

    This should have been addressed a while back! Conservative values do not mesh with true Christian values. When you mix the two you're left with something false, the "Church of Nationalism".

    September 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • dudeman

      Of course you haven't a clue as to what you're talking about

      September 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
      • Brad76

        Say that to my face coward.

        September 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  3. Woody

    The human is but a mammal on the planet earth and our religions are man made and our holy books are simply filled with stories as to how the human mammal saw the world before being educated to science . The human mammal has been around as a species for about 1,000,000 years . Our religions are but 2,000 of those 1,000,000 years . We except for our education to science are not much different physically , and in our needs as we were 1,000,000 years ago . But the human mammal likes fairy tales and prefers oz over reality .

    September 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I agree with your premise but your numbers need some work.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Patsea

      you're truly but a mammal thinking.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  4. nepawoods

    The problem is that the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage people advocate a legal solution to the problem, rather than a spiritual one, and that is fundamentally not a Christian approach to the problem. Want to stop abortion? Then you have to reach people spiritually and convert them. Neither Jesus nor any of the Apostles ever advocated enacting laws to make people do the right thing.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      A light on a hill

      September 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Daniel

      And I believe that's what Pope Francis was refering to when he questioned the Church's "politics" and its focus. I believe he means to refocus the church on Christ and Faith, and keep the Church out of politics, as much as that is possible.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • LinCA


      The best way to reduce abortion is not to convert people. Religious people have abortions at roughly the same rate as everyone else. The proven ways to reducing abortion are through comprehensive sex education and easy access to birth control.

      The problem with same-sex marriage is, of course, one of discrimination. Those that are opposed to same-sex marriage are free not to enter into one. Denying others the option, or even discouraging gays from entering into one, is despicable.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
      • nepawoods

        Whether it's religious people or non-religious having abortions, it's still a spiritual problem. Religious people having abortions still need conversion, as in spiritual change.

        As for gay marriage, my belief is that government should not be involved in personal relationships, neither condoning, nor sanctioning, nor recognizing, nor prohibiting them.

        September 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
        • LinCA


          You said, "Whether it's religious people or non-religious having abortions, it's still a spiritual problem. Religious people having abortions still need conversion, as in spiritual change."
          Abortion is a medical issue. If you can reduce the need for it through mumbo-jumbo that is fine, but "spiritual change" isn't a cure-all.

          You said, "As for gay marriage, my belief is that government should not be involved in personal relationships, neither condoning, nor sanctioning, nor recognizing, nor prohibiting them."
          I've heard that before, but only since there is a push for equality. I hardly hear anybody complain about their heterosexual marriage being condoned, sanctioned or recognized. But even aside from your personal opinion, and whether or not it is shaped by the push for equality, the State does have an interest in stable marriages and therefor a valid reason to regulate them.

          September 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  5. Daniel

    So whose opinion should I trust, the man who has spent his entire life in the church and fully immersed in the church and its teachings (The Pope), or Joe Blowhard who has a light if any faint idea of what the church teachings are (most of us)? Pope Francis delivered a very simple message, love one another and let God be the judge. I know I am not God, therefore I am nobody to pass judgement on anyone else. I may agree or disagree with someone else's beliefs or morality (based on my own uninformed and biased opinion), but I will not and should not judge them.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  6. Robert

    Regardless of which side of any of these hot button issues you're on neither side is going to ever convince the other that their position is the one that's correct, so nothing is served with all the talk. People need to learn to shut the **** up and stop spinning their wheels in a car that's going nowhere.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  7. Awesome

    Conservatives who are disappointed at the Popes comments are just bigots.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • dudeman

      Everyone that disagrees with you you call bigots but I'd rather be a bigot than a pervert.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
      • Joey

        You appear to be a bigot, and if I had to guess you are probably a pervert as well

        September 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  8. Fred Evil

    So our new spiritual leader says we should stop being judgemental bastages? Doesn't the Bible already preach such words?

    Then why is it such a shock, Xtians?
    You Christians know what I am talking about.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • peick

      You have a point, Mr. Evil. But at the same time, you have to be fair to your opponent and make sure you know what the Bible means by not judging. Clearly it does not mean "have no stand on moral issues" or "correct people who are going astray," because the church's founder did these things constantly. It must mean something else. What do you think it actually means not to judge?

      September 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • Joey

        To me it means Jesus was allowed to judge people because he was perfect and not a sinner, or at least that is what the bible says. So when you are perfect and not a sinner you can start to tell other people how they should life their life, but not before your life is free of all sin.

        September 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  9. What is going on? FREEDOM

    Of course they were disturbed. Many conservative Christian extremists believe it is their right to assault, ridicule, and prevent these things from happening even though it never states that in the Bible.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • peick

      "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them."

      Ephesians 5:11 (from the Bible)

      September 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        assaulting and preventing isn't exposing; it is cruel and should be punished severely.

        September 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  10. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    I think they could have left it at "Conservatives disturbed"

    disturbed: dis·turbed (d-stûrbd) adj.: Showing signs or symptoms of mental or emotional illness

    September 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  11. FreeThinking

    Dear Matthew Archbold, that is the point man. You should listen to the pope, you have blindly before, so why not know? My guess, your scared that you may find what you have belived all along has been wrong all along.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  12. bailee

    Billions of Conservative Christians have been roaming this earth since the beginning of time. It seems they are to "afraid" they will go to "Hell", if they do not adhere to the "rigid" beliefs of the Catholic and other Christian denominations. It is far past time that every living human being comes to realize there is no room in society for religious rigidity. We can read the Bible, and believe what it says. But in reality, none of us really know what our "next life" will be like if we in fact have one. If ALL peoples of the world could realize that we are ALL one with each other, and peace and tranquility is the goal for every person who comes to this earth from its parents, how much better a world it would be. We would have no worry about abortion, contraception, gay and lesbian, poor or rich, or the color of any persons skin. Peace could be the way of the whole wide world, and respect of others would only serve to make our world a better place to live.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • harrisonhits2

      Since the beginning of time ? Lol nope. There were a few billion years that went by before humanity even appeared in any form recognizable as a human being.

      Or are you one of those people who believe the universe is a mere 7000 years old or whatever at the expense of ignoring all science and evidence as the lifespan of the earth ?

      September 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  13. mc

    Stop looking to "god" for everything and use common sense.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • David Davey

      This is the smartest thing I heard all day! I concur !

      September 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  14. JLG

    I wish the church would put the same amount of time they put into condemning people into something that matters like poverty, clean access to water, health care, and the masses of orphaned children around the world.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • bailee

      I totally agree!

      September 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  15. Andrew

    If the Pope takes his orders from God, and Popes keep changing their positions on social issues, then .... God himself must be indecisive? How can God not know what to do?

    Seems like the liberal left is having an effect on God, which then trickles down to the Pope, which then trickles down to conservatives. The the left is God?

    September 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Jesus certainly was. They'd have called a him a hippie treehugger for wearing sandals and caring for the poor.

      I mean he didn't charge a penny to heal a blind man, what kind of capitalist was he?!

      September 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • G to the T

      I'm not a catholic and even I know why that's wrong.

      Not everything said by the pope is "infallible". Only on very rare occassions does the pope "speak from the throne" as it were. Can't remember the exact latin term though...

      September 23, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  16. DaveCA

    Of course they're upset! Religion was the one excuse they had to hide their petty hatred behind. Now they have to look themselves in the mirror and live with what they really are.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Sea Otter (Leader of Allied Atheist Alliance)

    Time to go home (Yay! it's Frīġedæġ!). I leave you with these words from the great Neil Peart...

    There are those who think that life has nothing left to chance
    A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance

    A planet of play things
    We dance on the strings
    Of powers we cannot perceive
    'The stars aren't aligned
    Or the gods are malign...'
    Blame is better to give than receive

    You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
    You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
    I will choose a path that's clear
    I will choose freewill

    There are those who think
    That they were dealt a losing hand
    The cards were stacked against them
    They weren't born in Lotusland

    All preordained
    A prisoner in chains
    A victim of venomous fate
    Kicked in the face
    You can't pray for a place
    In heaven's unearthly estate


    Each of us
    A cell of awareness
    Imperfect and incomplete
    Genetic blends
    With uncertain ends
    On a fortune hunt that's far too fleet


    September 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • DandyDillmore

      Geez.... get a life!!

      September 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  18. Bootyfunk

    Conservatives... on the wrong side of history for all of history.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Nothing could be closer to the truth.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Eric

      Actually originally conservatives were Democrats who were against slavery during the American revolution, so if you think slavery was a good part of history then i guess your right, again irony is a female dog

      September 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        (I don't actually read any of this stuff....)

        September 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
      • JC

        Thank you Eric for telling us that Democrats were once the "conservative party". That all changed in the 1950's. Not seeing any Irony, conservatives have always been against abolishing slavery.

        If you take Democrats out of your sentence it reads "Actually originally "conservatives" were those who were against slavery during the American revolution, so if you think slavery was a good part of history then i guess your right, again irony is a female dog

        Erics Comment "Actually originally conservatives were Democrats who were against slavery during the American revolution, so if you think slavery was a good part of history then i guess your right, again irony is a female dog"

        September 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
      • Rett

        There were no political parties during the Revolution...and few were speaking out against slavery then....the outspoken critics of slavery, the abolitonists of the early and mid-1800's , were the Radical Republicans. Original Democrats were the least ones to criticize slavery.

        September 20, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  19. Maria Carvalho

    Conservatives are for blind intolerance...until the "sin" hits home, then they are all kindness and understanding, but just for their own. This Pope has the courage to preach balance, love, respect and compassion, values that conservatives abandoned when they decided to replace the Word of God with their own petty hatreds and judgments. The Church has been dominated by unforgiving reactionaries for too long. Pope Francis has picked up where Pope John XXIII left off and the world will be changed for the better.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      A lot of people didn't understand Pope John XXIII either. He left a lot of people confused about what the Mass should be. Pope Francis is reminding us about the entire Gospel, not just the media's hot buttons. The Seven Deadly Sins are still going on every day but I don't see anyone complaining about them. Maybe American media should read and comment on them.

      October 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
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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.