By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has grabbed headlines with his off-the-cuff homilies, crowd-pleasing one-liners and lengthy interviews during which he has pontificated on everything from the church’s “obsession” with rules to how he won’t judge gays. But his chattiness has gotten him into some trouble, and the Vatican has gone into damage-control mode to clarify, correct or put his comments into context. Read the full article here.

By Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

Pope Francis surprised us with his admonition to his church: Place less emphasis on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality and more where it makes a difference for “the wounded.” The Roman Catholic Church has become obsessed with these hot button issues of personal behavior, making them the most important doctrinal positions of the church and pushing issues of social justice, like the plight of the poor, to the background. The Pope said that has to change. But what does that mean in real life?

At a dinner party on the night after “America” magazine released the Pope’s statements, one faithful Roman Catholic declared, unhappily, that the call is for a change in style only, that nothing has really changed because there is no change in doctrine. After all, she went on to note, her own Archbishop had declared immediately that this was all the Pope meant. “Stylistic change only” was indeed the interpretation of many bishops and officials of the church, and the Pope offered assurance that there was no doctrinal change. So, will the words of Francis prove to be of little impact on the ground, or will the foundations be shaken?

I personally agree with what the Lutheran historian Martin Marty said in a response posted here: “Francis means it!” I take that to mean that Francis intends to see his words come to life in the church, not by changing doctrine — which isn’t necessarily the point — but by changing the church’s practice.

I offer two places we can start looking to see if this pope is able to change the way Roman Catholics have combined with evangelical conservatives to influence the social and political life of the United States: elective politics and Planned Parenthood centers. In each case, the church has allowed issues regarding sexuality and procreativity to trump other needs — problems the church has been in favor of redressing but…not as much as it has been concerned with abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. Read More…

The great historian Martin E. Marty wrote an insightful response concerning statements that Pope Francis made in an interview with “America” magazine.

By Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

The headline on a Thursday (Sept. 19) news story linked the Catholic Church’s “focus on gays” and “abortion,” and, said the same headline, Pope Francis “bluntly faults” those who have focused on that focus.

What struck, or should strike, all readers who read on, is this: Pope Francis means it! His comments do not have the weight of an encyclical, a long-thought-out formal church teaching, but he knows from response to what he has said earlier, that there will be a huge response. His words are not small-print filler at the end of a Sunday church bulletin; they have to have been thought out, and he is broadcasting them.

Reaction? One can picture the most outspoken and sensationalist Catholics-on-the-right, who thought they had captured the ear and voice of modern pontiffs, jumping out of the windows — without parachutes, just as some did when Wall Street crashed in 1929. They had their innings to enjoy Schadenfreude as popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had “bluntly faulted” those who took Vatican II reforms seriously. Now the temptation will be strong for those faulted in recent decades to leap up with a “hooray for our side” shout, which they hope will be numbing to the new poor losers. Read More…

By Bruce Sloan

Rev. Bruce Sloan

Rev. Bruce Sloan

Some major international financial newspapers have given the lead on the need of war with Syria. The Vatican called for a day of prayer for peace. Politicians around the world are looking at each other as they read tea leaves to see what their constituents desire.

In all of the tragedy unfolding in Syria, the plight of the two million homeless Syrians, the hundreds of bodies wrapped in white linen from the sarin gas attack, and the streaming of blood-covered news accounts of the war within Syria, the church in the United States has enjoyed the comfort of liturgical readings, heavenly incense and the Daily Office.

The Financial Times of London recently headed its opinion page: “The moral case for intervention in Syria.” The drum of business beats that “to do nothing” is the worst decision of all. This is from a Sept. 1article in the Wall Street Journal: “Leading From Behind Congress, Obama recklessly gambles with American credibility.” War is good for business and so “Congress should give the President more ability to respond to reprisals, support the Syrian opposition and assist our allies if they are attacked.”

After a very gracious bow to Queen Rania of Jordan, Pope Francis issued a challenging sermon on the following Sunday for peace in the Syrian conflict. Read More…