Pope Francis at September 18 General Audience in St. Peter's Square. (Photo: Maimai Rubia)

MANILA, Sept. 23, 2013— Pope Francis’ recent comments are not breaking with traditional doctrine but a challenge to the global Church to bear more witness to love, ranking Catholic archbishops said. 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the pope is clear about Catholic teaching on abortion and contraception but wants the Church to focus on “charity.” 

“There is no contradiction. He is not opposing any doctrine. He is only reminding us that perhaps what the world needs is our witnessing to charity,” Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, CBCP president, said. 

The archbishop commented on a 12,000-word interview of Pope Francis with an Italian Jesuit journal where the pope spoke on wide-ranging issues, including abortion, contraception and gay marriage. 

Stressing that the teachings of the Church on abortion, gay marriage and contraception remain, the pope nonetheless points out the need for the church to have the “ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.”

He said the clergy should be “ministers of mercy” in the confessional, and ministers of the Gospel “who can warm the hearts of people, who walk through the dark night with them, but without getting lost.”

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” the pope said. “…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.” 

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope said, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound.”

The pope’s statement has prompted flurry of media reactions with some news reports depicting his comments as a major shift in tone from his predecessors. 

“So I am very happy with what he said and I do not see any opposition to the existing doctrines of the Church,” Palma said. 

“We know that the teachings are one important aspect of the Church but witnessing to love is also the challenge that people want to see in us,” he said. 

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, CBCP vice president, also agreed with Palma’s statement, but the pope’s focus is for everyone to have a “personal encounter” with Christ. 

“Our behavior will follow from that friendship with Christ. Our value system and attitude will follow from knowing Christ,” Villegas said. 

“He did not rebuff the strong opposition to contraception, abortion, or homosexual marriage. He just set it on proper grounding,” he added. 

The Church and the government have been at loggerheads over a birth control law with several lay Catholic groups shifted their battle to the courts. 

Palma said they will continue to campaign against the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) law, believing that the Church “will never change” its teachings on abortion and contraception. 

“Pope Francis is telling us to be compassionate but it doesn’t mean that the Church will change its teachings,” he said. “Do not expect that to happen. (CBCPNews)