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What Was The Pope Thinking?

Pope Francis said in an interview this week that the Catholic Church has been too focused on gays, abortion and birth control. Host Rachel Martin speaks with Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, about whether the pope's remarks signal a change in Church doctrine.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Catholics around the world are still dissecting remarks that Pope Francis made this past week in a wide-ranging interview. The pope said that the Roman Catholic Church has been focusing too much on contentious issues like abortion and gay marriage. He said, quote, "We have to find a new balance." The remarks made news around the world, and have Catholics and non-Catholics alike asking whether this could be setting up a larger change within church doctrine. Father Thomas Reese is a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter. He's also the author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church." He joins us from California. Thanks so much for being here, Father Reese.

FATHER THOMAS REESE: Thank you. Nice to be here.

MARTIN: So, how have these remarks reverberated through your own religious community? Are people really talking about this?

REESE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, and the response has been one of delight. You know, the informal style of it - you know, because of my job, I've read hundreds of papal documents, I've listened to speeches, but I've never seen a pope speak with such simplicity, with such straightforwardness and with such honesty. He uses words like, you know, "it's crazy" or "right-winger" and things like that. I mean, it's a style we're not used to.

MARTIN: Some conservative Catholic leaders in this country have dismissed suggestions that the pope's comments could portend big changes to church doctrine. Do you agree with that?

REESE: Well, I think what we see here is a big change in attitude and style. You know, for example, I love his image of the church as a mother. When you go home on Thanksgiving to visit your mother, you want to be hugged. You want to be greeted with warmth and affection and love. And the church, for too long, has been more like a nagging parent. You know, before you even get through the door, she's telling you all the things you've done wrong over the past year. He wants a church that heals wounds and warms hearts.

MARTIN: But just so we're clear, you do not foresee that this would be a precursor to some kind of major overhaul in church doctrine when it comes to abortion or gay marriage or the celibacy requirement for priests.

REESE: Obviously, I don't think the pope's going to be celebrating a gay marriage in St. Peter's next week. I think he may very well be open to the possibility of optional celibacy, which is just a rule, you know. It's a law of the church. It's not a matter of faith and doctrine, and he says that very clearly.

MARTIN: You are clearly enthusiastic about what you have heard Pope Francis articulate in this interview. Is there a chance though, Father, because there are members of the church and clergy who aren't as excited about what they heard, is there a chance that the pope's remarks could create some kind of schism within the church?

REESE: Well, I think the overwhelming response to the pope has been positive. A recent poll indicated that only about 4 percent of American Catholics have a negative view of the pope. I mean, politicians in Washington would kill for those kinds of ratings. There will still be a few people who don't like what he does, but they're such a small minority that I think most people are embracing what he says with enthusiasm.

MARTIN: Lastly, Father, do you imagine that the pope's remarks might shape the message that priests deliver this weekend from the pulpit?

REESE: I think it will. I've, you know, heard from other priests how delighted and affirmed they are by what he is saying. I think this is going to liberate a lot of people, a lot of priests in their preaching to say the kinds of things that the pope has said. I mean, frankly, five years ago I would have been afraid to say the very things that the pope himself is saying today. So, I think this is going to liberate a lot of priests.

MARTIN: Father Thomas Reese. He is a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter. He's also the author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church." He joined us from California. Father Reese, thanks so much for talking with us.

REESE: You're welcome. I enjoyed it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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