On March 5, 2014, Pope Francis sat for an interview with Corriere della Sera, one of Italy's major newspapers. Once again, it was an interview that proved highly newsworthy for two reasons.
First, where gay couples are concerned, the Pope endorsed the possibility of civil unions. He recognized that such relationships may be necessary in order to meet the secular needs of gay couples (for example, the need for healthcare). This development is newsworthy because it is the first time a Pope has publicly expressed support for even this limited form of accommodation.
Much is entailed by this sort of concession which the Pope leaves unspoken. One must ask: How are Catholics to interpret the Catholic Catechism's denunciation of same-sex attraction as an intrinsic disorder that must in all cases be resisted? Has Pope Francis, implicitly at least, opened the door to a more nuanced and scientifically valid approach to the question of sexual attraction and commitment? It would seem that he has.
Second, Pope Francis has introduced an element of discretion in the Church's teaching on contraception. When asked about Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's teaching on birth control, he endorsed it and praised it for its counter-cultural beauty. At the same time, however, he recognized that not all can live up to its demands. "Pastoral ministry," he asserted, must "take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do." The encyclical, the Pope indicated, was intended to be applied with "much mercy."
In other words, Pope Francis is signalling that there is room for Catholics to engage in conscientious reasoning where the birth control encyclical is concerned. Being a good pastor, Pope Francis does not wish to get involved in discussing particular cases or situations. Such decisions are highly individual, and the Pope appreciates this. That a Pope would send this sort of signal, however, is nothing short of remarkable.