I 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.
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?
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.