The Perils of Pope Francis III: God and Being Gay

PopeI had been planning all along to write a major post on the Pope Francis sound bite that seems to have caused the most angst: his “Who am I to judge?” remark, which has made some people believe that he condones active homosexuality.

But now a new and even more explosive controversy has arisen over the same question that makes it urgent for me to write about it now: Pope Francis recently spent some time at the Vatican with some Chilean survivors of priestly sexual abuse, and one of the young men said that the Pope told him: “God made you this way” and “you have to accept yourself as you are.”

The first thing to be note, of course, is that we are not dealing with an actual quote by Pope Francis here, but someone else’s impression of what he said. Most of the time, the people who decry Pope Francis’ “scandalous” statements misinterpret his actual words and repeat them erroneously. So I am not surprised that a traumatized emotional abuse survivor might not interpret Francis wholly accurately either — and that this interpretation will be picked up and misinterpreted further.

More than this, all too many Catholics reading this report are already prejudiced against Pope Francis. “I’ve suspected for a long time already that he’s a heretic, and now this proves it!” I have actually heard this repeatedly with each new “scandal.” For this reason, before I discuss his most recent remarks, I will talk about the almost-five-year-old catchphrase “Who am I to judge?” which has prejudiced so many people against him. What did the Pope really mean here? You might be surprised.

Let’s go into it remembering our rules: 1) Read the whole thing. 2) Read with an open mind. 3) Context, context, context. 4) Beware of translation problems.

Let’s start with the context: Pope Francis was asked a question about a Msgr. Ricca, the Pope’s representative at the Vatican Bank, who was under investigation for having a sexual relationship with a man; many suspected that he was part of the famous “gay lobby” or “gay mafia” at the Vatican. Some reports also brought up some past allegations about his sexual conduct, while he was serving as a papal diplomat.

Now let’s read the entire thing. And read with special care, because this passage contains some things that have been almost completely overlooked.

Ilze Scamparini

I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life. I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?

Pope Francis

About Monsignor Ricca: I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation. And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged. We did not find anything of that. This is the response. But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that. But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything.

This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is bad. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this inclination, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this inclination: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. Thank you so much for asking this question. Many thanks.(Source).

My first impression from this reading the entire statement is surprise at the amount of time the Pope spends talking about sin,  conversion, confession and forgiveness before tackling the question of the “gay lobby.” He is actually getting at something here, and let’s slow down and look at it in greater detail.

He says: “many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for ‘sins from youth,’ for example, and then publish them. . . Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, (emphasis mine).” By “this case,” he means Msgr. Ricca’s case, and he’s referring, without question to his homosexual sins; the logical conclusion is that Francis clearly thinks homosexual behavior a sin. This, needless to say, has been consistently overlooked by the secular press, and therefore, not even known to most Catholics.

But more than that, Francis wants to teach something; that bringing up a person’s past sins is wrong. He also applies it to Christians. God forgets our past sins, so we should not be bringing them up, because if we condemn others, God will not forgive our sins. This, in fact, is the primary meaning of Christ’s warning, “Do not judge, lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1)

The second thing that stood out for me is what Francis means when he says “if someone is gay.” (He did use the English word “gay”). Francis’ critics often give as their definition of gay “a person who is an active homosexual engaging in sinful behavior” and suppose the Pope understands it the same way, and that “who am I to judge” means “I don’t consider active homosexuals sinful.” I’m convinced this is the major sticking point for people, that they can’t get over. But what Francis says makes it clear his understanding is different. “The problem is not having this inclination, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and this is one thing, but if there is  something else [it's] another thing. The problem is in making a lobby of this inclination.”

Francis is talking here about not judging people with same-sex attraction; he is not necessarily talking about a same-sex attracted person who rejects the Church’s teaching to lead a sinful life. And given what he says in the first paragraph of his answer, it is clear that Francis meant his “who am I to judge” to be understood in the traditional Christian sense, and not the secular sense of “don’t be judgmental, don’t force your religious ideas on others; people should do what’s right for them, etc.”

The contrast he sets up is between people, who should always be treated with dignity, and the gay activist agenda (which is what he was really talking about with the term “lobby”). He wants gay people to be treated with respect and dignity as people — but he also says the gay activist agenda (gay lobby) is not a good thing.

You can bet that the secular media did not get that out of his words, but that is what is there. If Catholics as a whole had possessed the good sense to read and properly understood these words five years ago, we could have done a great deal to resolve this fatal misunderstanding. Now I hope there will be no more excuse for anyone.

As for translation issues, there was nothing major. I made a couple of small corrections. For instance the “gay lobby” was said in the Vatican’s English  translation to be “not good,” where the Italian said cattivo (bad, wicked). The word tendenza (tendency), I think could better be translated “inclination,” as that’s the word we would use in English.

The Perils of Pope Francis II: The Rabbit Test

rabbitIt’s been a while, but I have finally found time to go back to my series about the controversial statements of Pope Francis. I’m going to call this one The Rabbit Test.

As you can probably tell, this has to do with of of Francis’ more famous interviews, which revolved around the soundbite “Catholics shouldn’t be like rabbits.” This was on his famous plane interview on his return from the Philippines in 2015. Many Catholics were up-in-arms about this, since they considered it an insult to large Catholic families. Many also thought he had said that three is the “ideal number” of children Catholics should have — another insult to large families! Clearly for them Pope Francis was not on board with Catholic teaching about family life.

This interview, I think, is a particularly good test of the supreme importance of Rule no. 3: Context, context, context. The context is supplied by the nature of both the question the Pope was asked and the questioner, which are very important here.

Let’s start with reading the whole question and answer. The Vatican transcription and translation of the entire interview are here.

The question was asked by a German journalist, Christoph Schmidt:

You spoke of the great numbers of children in the Philippines, and about how happy you were that there are so many children. But according to several polls, the majority of Filipinos think that the enormous growth of the Filipino population is one of the most important reasons for the immense poverty in the country. In the Philippines, on average, one woman gives birth to more than three children in her lifetime, and the Catholic position regarding contraception appears to be one of the few questions on which a great number of people in the Philippines do not agree with the Church. What are your thoughts on that?

Pope Francis answered:

I believe that the number of three per family, which you mentioned, is important, according to the experts, for maintaining the population. Three per couple. When it is below this level, you have the other extreme, as for example in Italy, where I have heard — I don’t know if it is true — that in 2024 there will be no money left to pay pensioners. Population decrease. That is why the key phrase for responding is one which the Church constantly uses, as I do: it is “responsible parenthood”. How does this work? With dialogue. Each person with his or her pastor has to try to exercise this responsible parenthood. The example I mentioned just now, about the woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven caesarean births: this is a form of irresponsibility. [Some might say:] “No, I trust in God”. “But, look, God gives you the means, be responsible”.

Some people believe that — pardon my language — in order to be good Catholics, we should be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and it is the reason why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this area, there are pastors, and people are trying. And I know of any number of solutions which are licit and have helped for this. You did well to ask me this. Something else is curious, which does not have to do with this directly, but is in fact related. For very poor people, a child is a treasure. True enough, here too one needs to be prudent. But for them a child is a treasure. God knows how to help them. Maybe some are not prudent in this area, that is true. Responsible parenthood. But we also need to consider the generosity of those fathers and mothers who see in every child a treasure. (Source)

First, we should note who the questioner was and what was being asked. A German journalist, with an undoubtedly secular attitude, asks in no uncertain terms why Catholics insist on having so many children, contributing to the population explosion in the Philippines. He apparently thought that even three children are too many for a couple to have. He clearly had a hostile attitude toward the Church in general and its teaching on contraception in particular. Pope Francis needs to counter this attitude and correct the misunderstanding. That is the context. And it is exactly what he proceeds to do.

To begin with, the Pope counters his questioner’s assertion about more than three children being too many. He simply points out that three is the minimum number needed to maintain the population. He clearly is not saying that three is the idea number of children for a Catholic couple to have. Careful reading in context makes a world of difference. I recall one lady in Mark Shea’s combox who was ranting at length about the Pope’s disdain for more than three children. I linked to the complete text and begged her to read it, and — a miracle almost unheard of in comboxes — she changed her mind! She even copied my link and shared it with others.

The next thing to notice is that the Pope is careful to explain what “responsible parenthood” is. His example of a woman who had actually undergone seven Caesarean sections offended a number of Catholics with large families, for some reason. He is obviously not criticizing all large families, nor saying that it is “irresponsible to have eight children” as LifeSite claimed, but commenting on the need to be prudent when a woman has medical difficulties.

But the thing that caused the most chatter was the “rabbits” remark. Now notice how this fits in the context. The journalist has essentially thrown this “Catholics are like rabbits” slur at the Pope without actually using the words. And the Pope’s introduction? “Some people believe that — pardon my language — in order to be good Catholics, we should be like rabbits.” Who are the “some people”? Who usually uses this kind of language? Catholics? No, anti-Catholics. The Pope even begs pardon of his Catholic audience for the remark, because he knows it’s offensive to Catholics. And he makes it clear to the secular audience that he knows that they make this kind of remark. He then goes on to refute it by showing instead that Catholics believe in responsible parenthood and that thee are legitimate ways to limit the number of children you have. He also goes on to praise those who might be imprudent in some people’s eyes, but are still generous in having large families. All in all, a masterful defense of Catholic teaching. What exactly is LifeSite News complaining about again? And why? Well, the “why will have to wait to another time.

Pope Benedict Rejects “Foolish Prejudice” about Pope Francis

Pope-Franis-Pope-BenedictFive years ago today, on March 13, 2013, I was about to go out to the store early in the afternoon, but paused to look at the news to find out what was going on with the conclave — and ended up live-blogging the election of Pope Francis. The ensuing five years has been a real roller-coaster ride. And I have been blogging it all the way.

There is, naturally, a tone of commentary today, but the one I most wish people would read is the one by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He wrote it in reply to Msgr. Dario Vigano, Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications, in response to his gift of a set of just-released volumes on the theology of Pope Francis. He writes about the critics of Pope Francis and his own:

I applaud this initiative that seeks to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice according to which Pope Francis would only be a practical man devoid of particular theological or philosophical formation, while I would have been only a theoretician of theology who understood little of the concrete life of a Christian today.

These small volumes rightly show that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation and they help [people] therefore to see the internal continuity between the two pontificates, even with all the differences of style and temperament.

God bless dear Pope Benedict! Attention to all Pope Francis critics who look to Benedict’s papacy as a nostalgic touchstone. He doesn’t agree with you.

Read more here.  I corrected the English from the Italian a bit from here.

Update: March 20: I originally wrote this in great haste, and had noted something odd about Sandro Magister’s comments in the last link, but didn’t have time to comment on it. He implied that Benedict’s “ironic” comments that followed, about not having read the volumes thoroughly and therefore being unable to write a more detailed analysis were somehow supposed to mean that Benedict was not actually giving any endorsement of Pope Francis — for those who know how to read between the lines! This has been seized on by so many people who ought to know better — and by Raymond Arroyo on EWTN, who I’m no sure knows better at all. His attacks on Pope Francis lately have been disgraceful.

Here is a good post/article by Dave Armstrong, who I believe hits the nail on the head.