Here's what he said that got everyone so offended:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
He said lots more, but those three paragraphs were the main ones that got people up in arms.
There were lots of reasons for this. Some people said they'd never heard these homilies about moral imperatives, that all they ever got were touchy-feely Jesus-loves-you sermons (because apparently hearing that Jesus loves you is a bad thing) and they would just love to hear one about abortion once in awhile. (To which I say, move to the diocese of Arlington -- we almost never get one completely without either abortion, gay marriage, or birth control. Sometimes we get some where Jesus is barely mentioned, though.)
Some people were angry that the Pope was addressing orthodox Catholics at all. With two-thirds of Catholics being blatant heretics and apostates (not sure where they came by that figure), wouldn't it be more appropriate to lecture them? After all, we are the ones working for the Church! We're the ones who follow the Pope! We're the embattled minority! This just gives fuel for outsiders to criticize us and say, "Hey, cool it about abortion, even your own Pope said you've beaten that topic to death." (My answer to this is, he addresses everybody and has criticized others in the past -- why should any group be left out? Especially the group that is his real audience, because they actually read what the Pope says. Christmas-and-Easter Catholics mainly don't.)
Some said it couldn't possibly be directed toward them, because they aren't obsessed with a few moral rules and they always oppose the main evils of the day in context. (However, this line disturbed me: "Pope Francis is right that in some contexts proclaiming the Gospel is a powerful aid to conversion to moral goodness." I think they've got it backwards. Moral goodness, without the Gospel, is a gong clanging in the wilderness. Not to mention that Catholic moral teaching comes from God and can't be convincingly taught without reference to Him. To think of using the Gospel as a way to get people to do what we want -- when there isn't another convenient way to do it -- rather sickens me.) But after all the long disclaimers of how they aren't the group the Pope is talking about and how they don't need that message, they still get offended. If the shoe doesn't fit, why get upset? It's not your shoe.
But most took issue with his real message. The message, as they boil it down -- and as I feel it can be fairly boiled down -- comes to this: "Don't just push your moral view on everybody. Don't treat this as a battle. Bring people to the truth because you love them. And start with Jesus. He is the source of all truth, and all your other efforts will be meaningless if you don't start there."
And no matter how you explain it, and parse it, and put it in context, that message shows a clear conflict with the attitude of conservative Catholics. Most conservative Catholics do see it as a battle. They are not interested in dialogue, or that worried about converting people. The battle isn't between God and the devil, it's between the "religious right" and the "gay lobby" and/or the culture of death. So they cheerily post article after article and meme after meme, many of which are extremely offensive to some people. (In particular, aborted baby photos. I'm as pro-life as anyone and I find those HIGHLY offensive.) And then when they get themselves unfriended, they say, "See, it really is a battle. There is no tolerance for my views. But I have to keep at it, even if it means martyrdom."
But there's a big difference between being unfriended and being martyred. The word martyr means witness -- by accepting death rather than deny Jesus, you witness to just how important He is. But if you're unfriended, the only thing that happens is that this person now lacks your positive witness in his life. If every time you open your mouth you drive people away, you are not evangelizing anyone. You'll soon be preaching to the choir with a sense of contentment at how fearless you are, how unafraid of offending anyone. This will make you feel good, but do no one any good.
I believe in every aspect of the Church's infallible moral teaching. However, I don't believe, as some do, that people can figure pretty much all of it out without reference to God, and so we can convince people of it simply by talking about the natural law. If you claim everyone secretly knows the truth in their conscience, you can justify demanding compliance out of everyone, but I have never known of one single person who gave up a life of sin and embraced one of moral rectitude without converting to some religion or other. Specifically, I've never heard of a homosexual who broke up with their partner and lived in celibacy for the rest of their life simply because a Catholic told them it was the natural law.
If it was all so simple, why has no one figured it out? Why did no one ever figure it out before Christ? Why is the Old Testament full of God giving commands and people getting into worse and worse trouble? We can't know the best way to live without reference to the one who made us. In fact, the best way to live has to include a relationship with the one who made us. Our lives will be lacking without that.
If we really love unbelievers, we'll want to bring them into the fullness of the joy that we have, which comes from a relationship with Christ. We follow the moral law out of our trust we have in God, knowing that he loves us and wouldn't ask us these things to make us unhappy, but rather for our benefit. Imposing the same rules on other people without bothering to introduce them to the reason is senseless. The only reason I can think of for it is the desire to avoid having to deal with things we disagree with. That's hardly a spiritual motive.
And how do we introduce people to Christ? Is it by lectures, sarcastic memes, and self-righteous rants? That approach isn't working; it's never worked. It has to be with kindness, with love, with openness. It has to come with listening to another person's stories and sharing our own. The Pope is right -- you can't lead with "you're a sinner." You have to lead with, "There is such a thing as goodness."
People say "the problem with the world today is that we have lost the sense of sin." I don't believe it. We have lost more than that -- the sense that there is any answer at all, that there is any universal standard, anything to which one could appeal. How do you give someone a sense of sin when they don't know there's anyone they have offended? You have to lead with God.
Because the fact is, everyone knows the Church is against abortion and birth control and homosexual acts. What they don't know is that we're not all a load of judgmental jerks who ONLY care about those three issues and no others. What kind of a conversation is it when you only focus on those issues on which you disagree? It makes more sense to talk first about common ground: about how Catholics, like other decent people, are opposed to slavery and poverty and injustice and unkindness. We could talk about how our moral code is based on profound respect for the human individual, that we don't exclude anyone from that respect, regardless of age or ability or color.
Overall I think this conversation is best had one on one; but insofar as Catholics-as-a-group are in dialogue with non-Catholics-as-a-group, the dialogue is going badly. All you need are to read any of the comments on an article about the Catholic Church in any secular paper. The Catholics shriek about being persecuted, misunderstood, etc., while condemning everyone else .... and the non-Catholics say that they would like to see Catholicism banned and wiped out entirely because the only things it stands for are judgment, domination, and sex abuse. This is not a dialogue. Does it have to be like this?
I read that famous gay-marriage article by Joseph Bottom -- yes, the whole thing, though this post is a good summary -- and I agree absolutely. Our "this is war, make no compromise" attitude has polarized the conversation to the point where conversation can barely happen at all. We won't stand for even civil unions because the second we do, it'll be a slippery slope and the next thing you know, the Gay Lobby will be hauling us off to prison for saying in church that we think homosexual activities are sinful. But they won't let us refuse to bake a cake with two grooms on it, because they know perfectly well that if they let Those Intolerant Christians have their way, next think they know we'll criminalize sodomy again and they'll all be hauled off to prison. There's no room for discussion in an atmosphere like that.
The narrative inside the Church is that Catholics, having the truth, will be good and those outside won't be as good. They like to compare, say, Padre Pio with Miley Cyrus and say, "See? Life in the Church -- Good. Life outside the Church -- Bad." But how does that leave room for the others .... that priest who seemed so holy and had such a following and molested all the altar boys? Or that lesbian couple with six foster children who would give you their last nickel? There's evidence all over the place that no matter how much you know, you can still act badly, while people with none of the advantages we see ourselves to have are still living out pretty good lives all the same.
But our way of explaining things leaves no room for virtuous atheists. We imagine we're speaking to an evil world that wants to wipe us out. How would we speak if we thought we were talking to individuals, individuals who also thought Miley Cyrus' performance was disgusting, who also give money to the poor, who believe in love and truth and goodness and human rights? Wouldn't we start with our common ground?
I think maybe we should listen very carefully to what Pope Francis is saying. He isn't saying we should never mention our moral teaching, or try to conceal from new converts what they will have to give up if they are baptized. He's saying we should be a little less loud and strident about the "difficult issues" and maybe try to meet people where they are a little bit. And it seems to me that he's been working for the Church for most of his life; he has some wisdom we could benefit from.
But what has been the response? Loud declamations from Catholics online, or awkward excuses. When they can't explain it away, they denounce the Pope as "naive" or "misguided" or (my favorite) "crazy Uncle Bergie." Then, having put the Pope soundly in his place, they turn to gloating about Nancy Pelosi having been excommunicated (she wasn't). Way to miss the teaching moment!
Maybe it's impossible for the Catholic Church, a religion of unchanging teachings and a strict moral code, to get along even politely with a world that runs on such a different standard. And yet, if we don't try, we'll never know. Somehow the early Christians managed to get along all right with pagan Rome, just by being noticeably more loving than anybody else. That was the main thing anyone noticed about them. The Romans exposed their infants, but the Christians didn't. It impressed people that the Christians didn't. And yet where are the documents of early Christians lambasting the Romans for that? How many times is abortion mentioned in the New Testament? They knew these were big problems, but they also knew the only way to address them was to bring people to Christ .... which they did, dramatically. Maybe we could take a page from their book.
All I know is, as long as we treat this dialogue as a war, we ensure no dialogue will ever take place. We ensure that people of good will will avoid us like the plague because we do not appear to be open to anyone. And that, quite simply, seems not at all to be what God would want.
To hear similar things said, but much more eloquently, try a few of these excellent posts:
A Contemporary Reflection on the Becket Controversy
This one's old, but I loved it. "If we are to die for our faith, let us make sure that it is the Truth of Jesus Christ and his Gospel that is the price of our blood."
Seek God in Every Human Life - Barefoot and Pregnant
"“Speaking the truth in love” does not, I think, mean that speaking the truth is love. Just speaking the truth, that’s not enough. It has to be in love. In a state of love. In an environment of love.... The truth part has to spring out of the love part, or we’re using Christ as a sword."
The Love Comes First - House Unseen
"Do you think it's possible to repent if one doesn't love God and love oneself? I mean, what harm does sin really do if we don't matter and neither does God?"
Five Reasons to Think Differently About Pope Francis - Catholic Culture
"We have gradually drifted into secularism in ways we do not recognize, and one of those ways is to believe that all significant change is political. One consequence is our fear that if we cannot engage in political battles, on the accepted political terms, then we have failed to do anything at all."