THE BLOG
09/19/2013 01:16 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Pope Francis Comes Out of the Closet: 'I Have Never Been a Right-Winger'

It's just stunning to see Pope Francis chastising his own church and its leaders for using Catholic beliefs in a determined drive to discriminate against people. But make no mistake: That's exactly what he did in a new interview, forcefully taking on bishops, cardinals and lay leaders who've often used homophobia and attacks on women as means to raise lots of money and wield political power.

Pointedly criticizing the church for being "obsessed" with gay marriage, contraception and abortion, Francis' comments are a sharp rebuke of prominent American leaders in the church, like Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who, just a few months ago, issued a bulletin to Catholic parishioners across the United States in which he told them to "pray, fast [and] sacrifice" -- in other words, obsess -- about the Supreme Court's then-impending decision in Edie Windsor's challenge of a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a case that Dolan called "the 'Roe v. Wade' of marriage."

By saying that "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," Francis is slamming people like Maggie Gallagher, former president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), who has made it her life work to constantly talk about gay marriage -- touting her Catholic beliefs -- and stop marriage equality by pitting groups against one another. Francis is slapping at blowhards like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who, if he didn't talk about gay marriage and abortion all the time, would not be invited onto TV talk shows to discuss much of anything.

Back in March I wrote a post titled "Is Pope Francis Secretly Pro-Gay?" I took some heat at the time, and that happened again when I wrote a post in June asking, "Is Pope Francis Waving the White Flag on Gay Marriage?" It was kind of funny to be accused of being an apologist for the church, since I was not exactly a friend to Pope Benedict. And the critics seemed to miss the point: I wasn't saying the Vatican was changing church doctrine on homosexuality -- or on sexuality, period -- anytime soon. And that's not happening now. What I did point out, however, is that Francis doesn't see raising these issues as a priority. That's exactly what he's making clear in this new interview.

And in saying "I have never been a right-winger" in the same interview in which he's criticizing the church for being too "obsessed" with gay marriage and abortion, Francis is hitting at those Catholic leaders who use gay rights and abortion to wield political power, putting them on notice. Again, his comments don't change the church's doctrine, but they do a lot to change its focus. That can only be seen as a huge shift.

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