This week brought a message of compassion from Pope Francis, who told the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica that the Catholic Church has become too focused on abortion, gay marriage and contraception. In the interview published Thursday, the Pope compared the Church to "a field hospital after battle," pointing out that "it is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else."
The desire to stop zeroing in on these traditional areas of Church doctrine seemed to signify Pope Francis's wish to "humaniz[e] ... the religious endeavour," as HuffPost's Senior Religion Editor, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, put it. At least that's what people were saying until Pope Francis followed up Friday, during an audience with Catholic gynecologists, by condemning abortion, which he called a result of today's "throw-away culture."
While there was undoubtedly something less than consistent about the "Stop being so preoccupied with abortion!/Let's talk about abortion!" chain of commentary, the Pope still deserves credit. His actions and words have been constant in their focus on delivering people help, love and protection, rather than on condemning people for their choices or natures. Even his comments to the gynecologists seemed to centre on the dignity of life, rather than on the sin of those who would take it.
Obviously that nuance will not be enough for people who would like to see the Church change its stance on abortion (as well as on gay marriage and contraception). Nor should it be. But merely by emphasizing good instead of bad, by praising serving instead of denouncing sinning, Pope Francis is earning the Catholic Church a new audience. And new respect.