Pope Francis is not downplaying pro-life and pro-family activism in the Church. His words in the secular media were, again, taken out of context. Father Levis, my mentor and co-host of the original Web of Faith on EWTN, often said "a text taken out of context is a pretext." This is precisely what the New York Times and others in the press have done.
In the actual interview, the CONTEXT of the Pope's words are:
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.
This is true and Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul the Great and even Pope Pius XII would have agreed. The whole deposit of faith is not limited to particular moral issues. Faith and morals encompass human sexuality and issues of human life, marriage and the family, but they also include the dogma of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Real Presence, Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, et al. The Catechism covers all four pillars of faith: CREED (doctrine), SACRAMENTS (worship), COMMANDMENTS (morality), OUR FATHER (prayer)
Pope Francis did not discount the efforts of the pro-life, pro-family and pro-marriage movements and organizations. What he was saying was that the universal church has a three-fold mission or mandate: to TEACH the truth (Magisterium); to SANCTIFY the People of God (Sacred Liturgy); to SHEPHERD the sheep in love (Hierarchy). All three come from the one and same Jesus Christ Who founded Holy Mother Church. As Christ was Priest, Prophet and King, so His bride continues His work of sanctifying, teaching and governing. I did not read anywhere in the entire interview where the Pontiff was denying or diminishing the Church's three-fold munera. He was placing everything in CONTEXT, however.
Saving Souls is the supreme law of the Church. The last canon in the 1983 Code of Canon Law says so. Getting folks to heaven. One essential element is TEACHING and defending the revealed truths of doctrine. That is not enough, however. The rational intellect seeks the true and the free will seeks the good. Original Sin, however, has wounded human nature and that extends to the soul itself. Concupiscence is the darkening of the intellect, weakening of the will and disordering of the lower passions. Only divine grace can remedy that to enlighten the intellect and strengthen the will. Sacrament are necessary for salvation in addition to revealed truth. The formula is not complete, however, without the other component. Sheep need a shepherd. The People of God need leaders. Not overlords and masters, but pastoral leaders who govern with charity and love, compassion and mercy.
Salvation involves the intellect, the will and both body and soul. It is personal and it is communal. Baptism makes us a child of God and a member of the Church. The Church is necessary for salvation for she has been entrusted with the fullness of grace (all seven sacraments) and the fullness of truth (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). Pope Francis did not negate these realities in any way, shape or form.
When Jesus met the woman caught in adultery, He did not condemn her but He did save her, not just her physical life but He saved her immortal soul when He said "go, and sin no more." This is what Pope Francis is doing. Not throwing stones but showing mercy. Mercy is NOT cooperating with evil, formally or materially. Mercy is not being tolerant nor permissive of immorality. Mercy is being patient and forgiving with sinners who are in need of repentance and forgiveness. Like the father of the Prodigal son, the Holy Father is merely saying the Church, as a good mother, waits for her wayward children to come home. The father does not pursue the son and drag him home kicking and screaming. He does welcome him back after the son expresses his regret and asks forgiveness.
Pro-life supporters keep defending the innocent lives of the unborn. This must be done. All the Pope was asking is that we lovingly, mercifully and compassionately encourage those who have had abortions to REPENT and be RECONCILED with God. We can and must CONDEMN the sin without condemning the sinner. People are not evil but they can do evil deeds. Those deeds must be judged and evaluated against the natural moral law and the divine law of God as found in revealed truth. The persons who commit evil need prayer. They need love. Their evil actions are not who they are. They are children of God who have gone astray. They are prodigal children who need to come to their senses.
Pope Benedict XVI said so often and so aptly, Catholicism is not a religion of EITHER/OR, she is the religion of BOTH/AND. We can love the sinner and hate the sin. We can be pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family and still show mercy and compassion to those who disagree and who even work against us. Defending the defenseless is not an option, it is a moral imperative. HOW it is done is just as important as DOING it.
If the late President Ronald Reagan were alive today and was about to address the Republican National Convention, would he spend time saying what is already known and presumed? Would he speak at length about the need for smaller government or lower taxes? Would he not spend more time on energizing the base and inviting more to the party without diluting or watering down core principles? Sometimes the obvious has to just be obvious and does not need the spotlight 24/7. The Catholic Church is 100% pro-life, pro-family and pro-traditional marriage. Her doctrines on faith and morals will not and cannot change. The entire package, the truth, the grace, and the HOPE that the Church provides is what Pope Francis is accentuating. He is not throwing the Church under the bus. He is not denying nor diluting the faith and he is not asking the faithful to stop working for justice, especially for the end of abortion and euthanasia. He is just reminding us of the WHOLE BIG PICTURE of Salvation. Preach the truth, make grace available and lead the people by good example. Unlike some who are trying to make Pope Francis a seamless garment pontiff, he already said not all church teachings are equivalent. There is a HIERARCHY of truth. The right to life is the most fundamental and foundational issue of our time. It is not the only issue for religious liberty is close behind. CONTEXT is crucial. Our faith is a tapestry of teachings, devotions, spiritualities, traditions, rituals, rites, etc. It is not an alphabet soup, however, where everything is chaotically mixed up. Saving souls is the bottom line and the more we save the more we please God. Sharing the truth is one step but there are more that are needed. We just need to follow the lead of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She was unabashedly and unequivocally PRO-LIFE and PRO-FAMILY. She defended Humanae Vitae and she taught NFP. She saved babies from abortion but she also helped pregnant women, people suffering AIDS and all other kinds of diseases. She helped the poor wherever they were and she helped the those who were spiritually poor as well as those who were materially poor. All done in love, charity and mercy. What threat is that to the faith? Pope Francis did not give a carte blanche to commit fornication, adultery, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, et al. He is reaching out to the fornicators and adulterers as did Our Divine Lord and urge them to abandon their sins and follow the path of virtue. He reminds clergy (bishops especially) that ordination is not a career nor a job, it is a vocation and a mission. Teaching and defending the truth is one of our mandates but we are also ordained to offer sacrifice, to console, to counsel, to advise, to solace, to bless, to sanctify, to absolve and to lead. If these are done with mercy and compassion, they can be done without compromising the truth and without cheapening grace.