Ellis Henican Newsday columnist Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a political analyst at the Fox News Channel and

What a pope!

In an interview now shaking the Roman Catholic world, Pope Francis says his church has become obsessed with condemning gay rights, contraception and abortion.

Where's the compassion? he asks. Where's the mercy? Enough with the "small-minded rules."

"We have to find a new balance," he says. "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."

While the church still considers abortion and gay relationships sinful, he says, "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time." American bishops have placed those issues at the top of their agenda.

In the interview, Francis doesn't back down an inch from his recent comment about gay priests: "Who am I to judge?" He follows up with a personal story: "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' "

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The question is rhetorical, but the answer is clear.

It's no accident that Francis is the first Jesuit pope. The Jebbies have been the intellectuals of the church, which has strained relations with Rome for centuries. Now we see why: Six months into Francis' papacy, fresh winds are howling across the Vatican. In the old days, this would have been cause for deeply furrowed brows inside the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, the hard-line home of Benedict XIV, the pope before Francis.

Now it's church policy.


No one can say yet how far this will go. But it looks like more than a papal blip. Francis is 76, which isn't that old in pope years. Many of the cardinals and bishops, installed by recent conservative popes, will face the changes with grave concern. But it doesn't take a secular pollster to know: This new openness will be hugely popular in the pews.


1. Put away the flip flops.

2. Heat up some soup.

3. Lay out the blankets.

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4. Turn off the AC.

5. Book a trip someplace really, really warm.

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