Alex Witt   |  September 22, 2013

Pope Francis comments fire up some Catholics

Father John Bartunek comments on the Pope’s most recent interviews on Catholic writings and traditions.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> happening right now, pope francis is visiting the coast of italy. he arrived on the island of sardinia earlier, where he is expected to celebrate mass. comments he made in a recent interview with still sending shock waves across the church and has fired up some of the faithful. the pope suggested the church focus more on being merciful and welcoming instead of dwelling on issues of abortion, contraception, and gay marriage . joining me now, father john bartunic, an nbc contributor. and father, we welcome you. i'd like to get, sir, your immediate reaction when you first heard some of these comments from the pope.

>> well, first thing i'd like to say, alex, is it's really an amazing interview. the pope gave a long interview, which was published in multiple languages all over the world last week. and it's a very personal interview. so any reviewers who haven't had a chance to read it yet, i really encourage them to read it. you really get to know this pope on a personal level. and that was what struck me the most. and he talked about so many different topics. i would say i would sum up the message of the interview. as i said, he talked about a lot of topics. but some of the message is he really wants to emphasize the part of the church which reaches out to sinners and welcomes them. and he wants to deemphasize the condemnation of sin.

>> so let's talk a little more about what he said in this jesuit magazine, because you're talking about it being a widespread article. we cannot insist only on issues related only to abortion, gay marriage , and the use of contraception methods. this is not possible. we have to find a new balance. otherwise, even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards ." so you say that he's reaching out to whom? the sinners and others because these comments did not happen by accident. how much do you think he calculated what he was saying? or is this just a very natural communicator and he just speaks his mind?

>> i don't think he calculates his comments in a political sense because if you actually read his other interviews, if you read some of the things he wrote, his homilies, even before he was pope, this is a common theme for him. he's not saying that the church should forget about doctorate. not at all. he says in the interview, "of course i hold with all the doctrine of the church ." but what he's emphasizing is we can give a wrong impression about that doctrine. we can give the impression that the catholic church is just about a list of to-dos. but that's not it at all. and what he emphasizes in this interview is that those lists of to-dos and the doctrine, it all flows from an experience of love, the love of god , the love of jesus christ . he began to interview, the first question they asked him is who is jorge bergolio? who is he? that's his name half-he became pope. and his answer was "i am a sinner." the church welcomes sinners and invites sinners to come and experience the love of god . that's the heart. if we forget about that, we're not going to be able to communicate anything else.

>> but father, you talk about his not wanting to walk back any of the doctrines. in fact, he did have to walk back some of his comments on friday. he was reaffirming the church 's stance on abortion, for example. is that because of the outcry from more conservative catholics ? did he feel pressure to do that?

>> actually, i think it was from the partial coverage in many of those reported in the interview. if you read the interview it's clear he's saying we're not going to change moral doctrine. he does not say that. but unfortunately, a lot of the coverage and a lot of the commentary interpreted him, or misinterpreted him as saying that. so in a speech he gave to a group of gynecologists here in rome he emphasized that every child, even unborn children, have the face of christ and we need to welcome them and we need to discover god's love in them. so he wasn't backtracking. he was clarifying some of the misinterpretations i think that were spread after his interview.

>> well, father john bartunek, i want to thank you for joining us. and what a beautiful backdrop there. we see vatican city and a beautiful sky . it's inspirational. thank you so much.