The Challenges of the Pope’s Interview


Let’s face it, Pope Francis thinks outside the box. This is very evident in the long interview by Antonio Spadaro, SJ which has just been published in major Jesuit journals around the world, including the English translation in America magazine. The Holy Father’s remarks are at once insightful, fascinating and challenging. And most of them are outside the box.

By this I mean that Francis is able to unify the best insights of what we might call the conservative and the liberal Catholic into a single vision which draws all of us into a mission of Christian service to the world, a merciful service of truth and goodness to those struggling in the dark. Thus when I read the interview from my background as a self-described “orthodox Catholic intellectual”, I naturally found the Pope’s reflections somewhat challenging. They invited me to set aside some preconceived notions, or at least to minimize certain tendencies, and to integrate my preference for a well-ordered analysis of the Gospel into a more missionary sympathy for those burdened by the messiness and confusion so characteristic of our time.

But at the same time I recognized that someone reading the interview from a more “liberal” or “progressive” point of view would find himself similarly challenged to set aside preconceptions, or at least to minimize certain tendencies, in order to seek to engage that messiness and confusion from the heart of the Church where it can be healed.

To put it another way, Pope Francis has a way of challenging the “conservative” Catholic to be more open to the mission of mercy and the “progressive” Catholic to be more open to the mission of mercy. A mission of mercy implies a deep willingness to share in the struggles of another, from which the “conservative” personality often recoils; and it also implies a deep willingness to resolve those struggles specifically in Christ, from which the “liberal” personality often recoils.

Or to try to express it one more time, both faith without mission and mission without faith are pointless.

Now all of these modes of expression oversimplify to some extent, for each one of us possesses the various human tendencies in greater or lesser degrees. What I am getting at is difficult to express without misunderstanding. But I believe that Pope Francis, in thinking so often outside the Church’s internal polemical box, has a way of challenging all of us to break out of our own personal categories in order to immerse ourselves more fully in the fundamental character of the Church as mission.

Inviting All of Us to Go Deeper

If this is so, then cherry picking individual quotes to “prove” this or that about the pope’s own “prejudices” is especially unfair and unfruitful. Very often we will be startled with the way he expresses something only to realize, on reflection, that we are being called to go deeper based on the totality of what he has tried to express. Accustomed as we are to what we might call the culture wars within the Church, we often allow particular words and phrases to serve as red flags which predetermine our reaction. This is a grave mistake, because Pope Francis simply does not think quite like the rest of us, and he certainly does not express himself like the rest of us.

He doesn’t seem to know the partisan shorthand; he refuses to speak in the secret code.

This presents us with an incomparable chance to deepen both our faith and our life in Christ in new and surprising ways. But I also wonder whether the decision of the Holy Spirit to bring this particular pope to the helm at this particular time means that a sufficient groundwork has been laid by popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to enable the greater part of the Church once again to come together as a unified community.

My readers know that I think the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council is finally underway, and that the pace of that renewal in dioceses and parishes is increasing by the day. They also know that I see the mainstream Catholic universities and some mainline religious communities, especially among women in the United States, as major holdouts. But if the thirst for authentic renewal has at least reached critical mass (as I strongly suspect it has), then we will soon have people on all sides moving toward a deeper sense of Catholic mission. Pope Francis may be just the man to serve as a rallying point.

This is at least devoutly to be hoped. And it makes me curious. I am tempted to identify one favorite quote from this interview, not as an exercise in self-serving cherry-picking, but simply to say: “I loved this one because it challenged me to go deeper into what it means to be a Catholic.” Among several possibilities, I at first selected two. But I don’t want to cheat, so I’ll mention only one and let others fill in. Here is my one:

I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

In America’s edition of the interview, you will find these sentences at the end of the paragraph immediately preceding the subheading “Must We Be Optimistic?”


This article first appeared on and is reprinted with the kind permission of Jim Mirus. 


Dr. Jeffrey A. Mirus


Dr. Mirus is the founder of Trinity Communications and a veteran Catholic writer. He was previously a professor and co-founder of Christendom College. His writings can be found at

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  • Florin S.

    Sept. 23rd: Jesus and the Apostles spoke in simple terms…I think I understand Pope Francis’ desire to show mercy and compassion to all; it is what Jesus did and does now through us. There is so much need and suffering in our world and we should try to be aware of it all – and then to help where we are call to do so; each of us is called to engage a particular member of Christ’s body in mercy and in love. But…I honestly believe that the most urgent need is to save the lives of pre-birth babies and their mothers because for them, there is only a brief window of time in which to do this. I was trained as an Emergency Medical provider and we learned, first of all, Triage – analyzing a situation to see which emergency, which person, must be dealth with first…this is done also in a ‘field hospital’ – there are programs for the poor and disadvantaged, programs of medical care and housing and food and clothing and education…but these in no way help the pre-birthed baby or the mother…while I know that everyone cannot be directly engaged in pro life activities, we should at least be aware that the undercurrent of our society, our culture…breeds death and destruction and, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta always said: “If we would kill the infant in the womb, what would we not do?” Dealing with issues such as poverty and education and health care are good…and essential, but the pre-birthed child of God in the womb reflects, as Pope Francis said, the Face of Jesus in a unique way…the Face of Innocence. If we were to take the millions of little bodies killed through abortion and shrouded them and laid them side by side for all to see, perhaps people would begin to recognize what is happening in our midst…the mass genocide of the human race, of the children of God…and then perhaps we would see as powerful a response orchestrated as we see when victims of war are presented to the eyes of the world…there is no violence to compare with the mass violence against these innocent little ones in the womb: “Whatever you do to one of these, you do to Me!” We can never do enough to fight for their lives and for the lives of their mothers. We should cry out, as Archbishop Romero did in San Salvador when faced with the brutality against the people: “Stop the killing!!! Stop the killing!” PLEASE – stop the killing!

  • Robert

    In his interview Pope Francis to castigated “sons of the Church” who accept Church teaching on contraception, abortion and homosexuality and demonstrated a naivete about how not only the media (it’s always the media, isn’t it?) but the Catholic public would take his comments. If he meant to say support for such teachings is permissible if we also work in behalf of other, unnamed issues, he should have said so clearly. I can already heard Joe Layman after Mass some Sunday telling a friend “the new pope says contraception, abortion and homosexuality are OK.” In the interview he is quoted as saying of a homosexual person “Who am I to judge.” In response, I cite the case of one of my best friends who was a practicing homosexual before he died. Yes, I remained his friend. No, I did not judge him in the sense of condemning him. But I also let him know, civilly, that I thought his actions were sinful. Franciss eems to be promoting a kind of vague, accept-all kind of love he associates with his Assisi namesake.

  • Poppiexno

    Could not agree with you more! We are besieged by appeals from all sides. Many are worthy and many are trivial. We are warned not have “litmus tests” But I believe abortion is THE litmus test. We have in this country murdered more people since Roe v Wade than the Nazis did in their reign of terror. To some extent, we comprehend the Nazi atrocities because they occurred in a relatively short period of time on a massive scale. But abortion is the slow drip of evil that has eroded our national morals.

  • Pamela

    Dr. Mirus, I can agree with everything you have said, but the vast majority of people out there will never apply this kind of critical thinking to the Pope’s “outside of the box” statements. I think we must come to terms with the fact most people (1) won’t invest time in reading the full transcript of the Pope’s interview, (2) are ill-informed about the Catholic faith, even if they are cradle Catholics, and (3) will therefore interpret the Pope’s messages through the lens of secular media.

    I am involved in the Respect Life ministry for my parish. Last evening after Mass, I was recruiting participants for the upcoming 40 Days for Life campaign. A gentleman on his way out of church paused long enough to tell me how glad he was that we won’t be needing the Respect Life ministry any longer, now that the Pope is “going to change all that” — meaning, in his interpretation of last week’s headlines, that the Pope wants us to stop condemning abortion!!!

    So, from my standpoint at least, the Pope has made my job as both an evangelizer and a catechist in my parish more difficult. For consolation, I find myself turning to Cardinal Burke, who recognizes that we have gone so far down the road of accepting the sinner that the sins themselves have become acceptable. Specifically:

    “We must abhor the actions themselves because they are contrary to nature itself as God has created us. The virtue of charity leads us to be kind and understanding to the individual, but also to be firm and steadfast in opposing the evil itself.”

    This stands in sharp contrast to the Pope’s latest interview and his earlier “who am I to judge?” remarks, and I believe it needs to be shouted from the mountaintops!

  • Pamela

    Robert, I just posted a comment that pretty much echoes your concerns. In fact, I already had my encounter with “Joe Layman” after Mass yesterday, as I explained!
    This is my greatest concern — that the Joe Laymans of the world vastly outnumber the informed critical thinkers. I dearly love our Pope and respect his authority, but I join you in scratching my head and saying, “What was he thinking?!”
    We must pray and fast for our Pope and all of our clergy.

  • Pamela

    The sins of the flesh — contraception, abortion and same sex marriage — are the challenge of our time, just as our Lady of Fatima warned in 1917. Incidentally, Pope Francis consecrated his papacy to Our Lady of Fatima. We must not lose hope.

  • Dan

    I’ve had six friends who have posted on Facebook how they like Pope Francis since he is “changing the rules to keep up with the times”. This is the fear I expressed this weekend on another column here-and it is echoed here too. Yes, he definitely thinks outside the box, which I have no problem with so far, but he is seemingly incapable of speaking plainly to many many Catholics without them getting the wrong message.

    One non-Catholic who mentioned something to me, when I gently told him that the Pope was just stressing the forgiving, loving Jesus, responded with…”so this is just happy speak to fool us into joining your church-no thanks.”

    I believe Pope Francis can seriously impact the world for Christ, but if many begin thinking this is spiritual bait-and-switch they will end up angrier and in deeper rejection of Christ and His Church.

    I will continue to pray for Our Holy Father.

  • DianeMary

    EXACTLY! Right on target!

  • Suzanne Graf Slupesky Beck

    Probably there is no one to do this, BUT I think that someone needs to sit down the Holy Father–who does indeed think outside the box and who I have no doubt is holy–and explain to him how his words come across to the idiotic media and uncatechized Catholics. They also need to explain to him the insidious evil of Planned Parenthood and how it has infiltrated every area of American life, including the church. I know he means well, and I’m trying to trust that God is working thru him, but it is very hard, as others here have commented, to know how to answer the people who are now laughing in our faces that we’ve been doing it wrong all along and they can just live like they want. (No, he didn’t say that, I realize, but again, that’s what they heard because of the way it was said.)

  • quisutDeusmpc

    Father Robert Barron the Rector of Mundelein Seminary and the Archdiocese of Chicago’s go to priest on Evangelizing the Culture as well as President of Word on Fire Ministries has this great observation regarding the story in sacred Scripture of Martha and Mary at Bethany at Luke 10:38-42. Little “t” traditionally, this trope was often translated to compare and contrast the contemplative and active dimension of the apostolate of religious orders and/or of religious life and secular life, etc. Father’s take is that Jesus is saying that whether one is involved in the apostolate or in prayer, the focus in both spheres is on the “one thing necessary”, Jesus Christ. Mary is to be commended because she is sitting at the feet of Jesus to commune with Him. Jesus seems to be saying to Martha, it is possible to go about the apostolate and also focus solely on Jesus, rather than let one’s mind be distracted by the various aspects of carrying out tasks, or the day(s)/week(s)/month(s) itinerary akin to Brother Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God” or Caussade’s “Abandonment to Divine Providence”. This seems, to me, to be the genius of the Holy Father’s message. We get so caught up in the many and varied manifestations of evil in the culture and we get distracted (remember the dialogue in the Tom Cruise movie, “The Last Samurai” where he is being told, “You have too many minds” – who is attacking first, is the sword raised or low, do I parry or thrust, defense or offense, do I move in or move away – “…too many minds. One mind……one mind”) — in other words, just Be…..with Jesus Christ…one mind….while praying, while changing the diapers, while studying, while working. Harping on moral issues when our opponents don’t hold the same foundation will only alienate. It is not that abortion, same sex marriage, or the contraceptive mentality are irrelevant, but until they see communion through the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit as the be all and end all you are flogging a dead horse. In other words, Pope Francis is calling us to deeper personal conversion with Jesus Christ that we might carry Him everywhere we go. Father Barron, presciently remarks that the sure sign that something is off with Martha is that she tells Jesus what to do, “Tell her to help me.” Most of these combox comments suffer from the same problem. “Does the Holy Father know how hard he is making my evangelistic outreach?” “Exactly.” “How naive is the Holy Father?” “I know exactly what the marginal Catholic’s take on this is going to be…” Look I hate abortion, but all of those babies are going to heaven. But the state of the souls of the mothers and fathers are still in question….one mind….Jesus Christ. Preach the Gospel. “God doesn’t hate you. He doesn’t approve of what you’ve done, but He became Incarnate to save us from our sins. Don’t despair. Don’t take advantage…to be sure…be God hasn’t given up on you….don’t give up on yourself….cast yourself down at His feet, He will raise you up on eagle’s wings…”. It is about hope, mercy, love. The finger wagging, name calling, beating people over the head with the Catechism and the Bible is driving people away. There are an estimated 33 million lapsed Catholics in the U. S.. The second largest “denomination” behind practicing Catholics. WE NEED THESE WANDERING SOULS TO COME HOME. Reestablish lost friendships. Invite them over for dinner. Invite them to Church. Let your friend know you can’t make that round of golf on Saturday because you are going to the sacrament of Reconciliation and the vigil Mass and invite him and his family to come along, and then have dinner afterwards. CATHOLICS COME HOME.

  • vito

    The frustration in conservative Catholic press with the Pope’s words is predictable and understandable. It’s like a tenth time since his election that they are screaming: “no no, that’s NOT what he meant”.

    Yet, we realise that hardly ever anyone talks about homosexuality or abortion from the pulpit and I have never met a priest who would have anything to say against contraception. These topics are pretty much avoided by the clergy, at least outside the conservative circles in the US. So the fact that the Pope still thinks the Church is obsessed with those issues really says a lot. I think his message has been understood correctly.

  • Jay

    To my very simple way of looking at things, Francis seems to be living the parable of the prodigal sun. He welcomes the lost and sinful with open arms and a warm embrace. He doesn’t judge them, he slaughters the fatted calf. Those who have been so dutiful and faithful, well, we already are doing the Father’s will. Why feel bad or resentful?

  • Jay

    … make that prodigal “son”…

  • Vince Drouillard

    I would argue that the Pope’s job is not to make our jobs “easier” as evangelizers but to make us better evangelizers. You are right that many Catholics are lazy and/or uncatechised…but that means we need to roll up our collective sleeves and get to work! People cherry pick Paul’s epistles too…that doesn’t mean we need a “simpler” more straight forward Scripture. You are concluding there is a duality or contradiction between Cardinal Burke’s position and the Popes’. I disagree.