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Pope Francis’ first book released, takes on hot-button issues

Pope Francis's book

Pope Francis's book "The name of God is Mercy" is seen in this Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in Rome, Italy. This is the first time the Pope has put his name on a book since he was elected. It s a book-length conversation with an Italian journalist, focusing on mercy, the real leitmotiv of his papacy and the Holy Year. Photo Credit: AP / Andrew Medichini

Pope Francis’ first book as pontiff hits bookstores and online sites Tuesday, and in it he deepens his calls for a more merciful Catholic Church — taking on some hot-button issues such as homosexuality and divorced Catholics.

“The Name of God is Mercy,” a 150-page conversation with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, is being published in 86 countries to help propel the pope’s jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, which he launched Dec. 8.

The concept of mercy has been a cornerstone of Francis’ papacy, though some conservative Catholics have criticized him for not stressing Church doctrine enough.

In the book, Francis condemns what he calls “scholars of law” — what he defines as self-righteous people quick to condemn and exclude those who don’t adhere to Church teachings.

He says they are often hypocrites themselves, who use the law to hide their own “deep wounds.”

“These are men who live attached to the letter of the law but who neglect love; men who only know how to close doors and draw boundaries,” Francis is quoted as saying.

In another section, he says, “We must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for a splinter in his brother’s eye while remaining unaware of the beam in his own.”

The question-and-answer book is told in simple, breezy language, with the pope referring to experiences and people in his own life including a niece and prisoners he has visited.

In response to the one question about homosexuals, Francis defends his now-famous “Who am I to judge?” remark made in 2013. He contends in the book he was paraphrasing Church teaching.

“Before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity,” Francis says. “And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love. I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together.”

The pope refers to a niece of his who married a man who had not yet received an annulment from a previous marriage.

“This man was so religious that every Sunday, when he went to Mass, he went to the confessional and said to the priest, ‘I know you can’t absolve me but I have sinned by doing this and that, please give me a blessing.’ This is a religiously mature man.”

“What Francis is doing is bringing back the central message of Jesus in the Gospel,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for The National Catholic Reporter. “Rather than presenting Christianity as a rule book and a bunch of laws, the emphasis is on the mercy and compassion of God.”

Patricia O’Neill, a parishioner at St. Agnes Cathedral parish in Rockville Centre, said she can’t wait to get a copy of the book.

“He can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned,” O’Neill said. “He’s a breath of fresh air. I think he has brought many people back to church.”

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