Signalling a dramatic shift in Vatican tone, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church had become obsessed by “small-minded rules” about how to be faithful and that pastors should instead emphasise compassion over condemnation when discussing divisive social issues of abortion, gays and contraception.

The remarkably blunt message six months into his papacy was sure to reverberate in the U.S. and around the globe as bishops who have focused much of their preaching on such hot-button issues are asked to act more as pastors of wounded souls.

In interviews published in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, Pope Francis said he had been “reprimanded” for not pressing church opposition to abortion in his papacy. But he said “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time”.

“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Pope Francis said.

“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” he said The comments contained no change in church teaching, and the Pope said reform should not happen quickly. Still, it was the his clearest declaration yet of a break in tone and style from his immediate predecessors.

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