Six days after the release of an extensive interview with Pope Francis in a Jesuit journal, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in his weekly column that the pope's message drew "emails from catechists, parents and everyday Catholics who felt confused by media headlines suggesting the Church has somehow changed her teaching."
One priest who emailed Chaput, according to the archbishop Wednesday, went so far as to write: "The problem is that [the Holy Father] makes all of the wrong people happy, people who will never believe in the Gospel and who will continue to persecute the Church."
Francis, who has stirred the Catholic Church several times with statements interpreted as progressive since becoming pontiff in March, gave a wide-ranging interview published last Thursday by 16 Jesuit journals including 'America' in the United States. His most controversial statements involved abortion, birth control and gay marriage, declaring that "the church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," Francis said. "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."
But Chaput emphasized throughout his column that Catholics not use the lens of the media to interpret Francis's interview, but instead read it in its entirety on their own.
"A priest here in Philadelphia asked for a show of hands at a Mass last Sunday, and nearly everyone in the church, which was full, had heard about the Pope’s interview," wrote Chaput, who declined an interview request by Philly.com Wednesday. "But only five persons had actually read it."
Chaput urged Catholics to "actually read the Holy Father’s interview for ourselves, and pray over it, and then read it again."
Francis first created waves among the 1 billion Catholics worldwide when he asked in a July interview: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
Vatican experts and conservative-leaning observers have been quick to point out both in that July statement and in his interview last week, as Chaput did in his column, that interpretations of Francis's words have not portrayed his views in full light.
Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey wrote for The Week magazine this week that "the media seem incapable of understanding the pope, and Catholicism itself." The headline of his piece: "The media's mind-blowing failure to understand Pope Francis."
Whatever the media's coverage, Chaput in his column acknowledged that his email box was a mix of reactions to Francis's sentiments.
"The emails I received about it — some of them happy; some of them angry; some of them gloating; some of them from Catholics feeling confused or even betrayed — were instructive," he wrote.