Fighting social injustice as important as fighting abortion: pope

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis said on Monday that Catholics should not give "excessive importance" to certain Church rules while disregarding others, urging opponents of abortion to show equal passion for the lives of the poor and oppressed.

The pope made his appeal in a major document known as an Apostolic Exhortation called "Gaudete et Exsultate" (Rejoice and be Glad), a 100-page booklet on how people can be holy in a modern world filled with secular distractions and materialism.

In it, he urged people to try to be "the saint next door" by doing good and living the Gospel as best they could, keeping charity and mercy, rather than rigid rules, at the center of their lives.

He said sainthood was not only for bishops, priests and nuns or those "swooning in mystic rapture" but also for people living ordinary lives, with small gestures, patience and love.

But he also appeared to take a dig at those conservatives who swear by the rigid letter of doctrine and "the thicket of precepts and prescriptions" while not always showing mercy or compassion for individuals.

"Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the (Holy) Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting," he said.

Since the start of his papacy in 2013, conservatives have criticized Francis, accusing him of not defending moral teachings such as those on abortion, homosexuality and divorce as strongly as his predecessors.

In the document, he said Catholics should not "relativise" different aspects of Church social teachings by giving priority or their undivided attention to a single ethical or moral issue while caring less about social problems such as immigration.

"Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development," he wrote.

"Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and the elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection."

He said that Catholics could not "uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty," he wrote.

Francis appeared to be referring to Catholic groups in some rich counties, such as the United States, who passionately oppose abortion while at the same time oppose legislation to help immigrants.

He said Catholics who considered social justice a "secondary issue compared to the 'grave' bioethical questions" were like "a politician looking for votes".

He said for a Christian, the "only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children".

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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