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A year ago this month, Pope Francis gave a long interview to Antonio
Spadaro, the editor in chief of an Italian Jesuit journal called La Civiltà Cattolica.
Francis was just a few months into his papacy at the time, and the
interview — published simultaneously by more than a dozen Jesuit outlets
— was for many people around the world their introduction to the first
Latin-American pontiff. The interview is long and complex, but a few
words were quoted everywhere. “We cannot insist only on issues related
to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis
told Spadaro. “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about
them in a context. The teaching of the Church . . . is clear and I am a
son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues
all the time.”
This may not sound like much — it was, after all, a shift in
emphasis, not in doctrine — but coupled with subsequent statements about
the evil of inequality, the pope’s words suggested the possibility of a
new era for the Church, one in which economic justice would take
precedence over divisive social issues. Perhaps the most important
change was tonal: the punitive, absolutist cadences of John Paul II and
Benedict XVI had been replaced by gentle, openhearted language.
Progressives both in the Church and outside it celebrated the
development. Suddenly, the world had a new apostolic heartthrob: Francis
was Time magazine’s Person of the Year and the cover boy for Rolling Stone.