Gay Marriage and Abortion: In His Own Words

Pope francis from a distance

I’ve put together a few bits and pieces of Pope Francis’ living testimony on gay marriage, abortion and the sanctity of human life.

These homilies, letters and actions form a consistent, faithful, Catholic message going back years and extending up to yesterday morning. The Church is going to be attacked. We need look at these attacks with discernment instead of hysteria. There is no reason to allow ourselves to be blown this way and that by every bit of hype and spin that the media uses to try to manipulate us.

We are standing on the Rock of Peter. We should stand firm.

Here is Pope Francis, in his own words.

At the Vatican yesterday, from Vatican Radio:

Pope: Spread the Gospel of life



(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday received members of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations who are in Rome on the occasion of their 10th International Conference on Catholicism and Maternal Healthcare. Lydia O’Kane reports RealAudioMP3  Following a greeting to conference participants, Pope Francis went on to address those gathered in three succinct points. Firstly, he described what he called the paradoxical situation facing the medical profession today. On the one hand, the Pope said we see the progress of medicine, and those dedicated to the search for new cures. But, on the other hand, he noted, there is the danger that a doctor might lose his identity as a servant of life. Pope Francis explained, that “if you lose the personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” He continued by saying that the acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber, before adding that the final objective of the doctor is always the defense and promotion of life. In his second point, the Holy Father underlined that “the first right of the human person is his life”. He spoke of a “culture of waste”, which he said, now enslaves the hearts and minds of many. The cost of this, he continued, is the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker. The Pope stressed that every child that is not born, but unjustly condemned to be aborted and very elderly person who is sick or at the end of his life bears the face of Christ. The Pope also underlined the important role Gynecologists have which requires study, a conscience and humanity. In his third and final point the Holy Father said the mandate of Catholic doctors is “to be witnesses and promoters of the “culture of life”. The Lord, he said is counting on you to spread the “Gospel of life.” Pope Francis concluded his remarks by saying, “there is no human life more sacred than another, as there is no human life more significant than another. The credibility of a health care system is measured not only for its efficiency, but also for the attention and love towards people, whose life is always sacred.
Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/09/20/pope:_spread_the_gospel_of_life/en1-730182 of the Vatican Radio website

Pope Francis’ Pro Life Homily, when he was a Cardinal:

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Pope Francis attends a March for Life. YouTube Preview Image Pope Francis talks about the sanctity of human life. YouTube Preview Image Pope Francis on gay marriage (emphasis mine):

[Letter of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Carmelite Nuns of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires (June 22, 2010)]

Dear Sisters,
I write this letter to each one of you in the four Monasteries of Buenos Aires. The Argentine people must face, in the next few weeks, a situation whose result may gravely harm the family. It is the bill on matrimony of persons of the same sex.
The identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy here: father, mother, and children. The life of so many children who will be discriminated beforehand due to the lack of human maturity that God willed them to have with a father and a mother is in jeopardy. A clear rejection of the law of God, engraved in our hearts, is in jeopardy.
I recall words of Saint Thérèse when she speaks of the infirmity of her childhood. She says that the envy of the Devil tried to extort her family after her older sister joined the Carmel. Here, the envy of the Devil, through which sin entered the world, is also present, and deceitfully intends to destroy the image of God: man and woman, who receive the mandate to grow, multiply, and conquer the earth. Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention [which is] destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project (this is a mere instrument), but rather a “move” of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.
Jesus tells us that, in order to defend us from this lying accuser, he will send us the Spirit of Truth. Today, the Nation [patria], before this situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Ghost that may place the light of Truth amid the shadows of error; it needs this Advocate who may defend us from the enchantment of so many sophisms with which this bill is being justified, and which confuse and deceive even people of good will.
That is why I turn to you and ask from you prayer and sacrifice, the two invincible weapons which Saint Thérèse confessed to have. Cry out to the Lord that he may send his Spirit to the Senators who are to place their votes. That they may not do it moved by error or by circumstantial matters, but rather according to what the natural law and the law of God tell them. Pray for them, for their families; that the Lord may visit, strengthen, and console them. Pray that they may do great good for the Nation.
This bill will be discussed in the Senate after July 13. Let us look towards Saint Joseph, to Mary, the Child, and let us ask with fervor that they will defend the Argentine family in this moment. Let us recall what God himself told his people in a time of great anguish: “this war is not yours, but God’s”. That they may succour, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.
Thank you for what you will do in this struggle for the Nation. And, please, I beg you, pray for me also. May Jesus bless you, and may the Blessed Virgin protect you.
Affectionately,
Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio s.j., Archbishop of Buenos Aires

The Most Interesting Thing About Pope Francis’ Interview

Pope francis and dove

The most interesting thing about Pope Francis’ interview with America magazine is not the interview itself (although that is fascinating reading); it’s the fact that everyone in the press is talking/writing about it.

If you ever believed any of those claims that the Church is irrelevant, I offer you the CBS/NBC/ABC/NEWYORKTIMES/HUFFINGTONPOST/ETC/ETC/ETC reaction to every little word that comes out of Pope Francis’ mouth.

Make no mistake about it folks, the Catholic Church matters. Why?

Because, whether they will admit it or not, even those

who deny its power,

who try to re-write history to obliterate its influence,

who talk about how it is “dying” (in the face of all objective evidence to the contrary)

who flat-out hate the Church

– even those people –

know that the Catholic Church is the one great unified moral voice in the world today.

The Catholic Church is not dying. It is growing. The Catholic Church is not irrelevant.

In fact, it is so relevant that even its most dedicated opponents talk about it all the time.

Who else on this planet can give an interview and have it quoted and misquoted to “prove” this or that point in every major news venue? Who else’s interview would rise to the level that major news outlets will pull quotes out of context to “prove” that their position is supported, as if that proof constituted an essential moral underpinning for their viewpoint?

Who else, but the Pope?

The answer is no one.

There’s a reason newscasters wrote as if the Holy Father gave an interview about abortion and homosexuality, when he only mentioned these things in a few sentences. They — not the Pope — are obsessed with these things. They want his blessing for what they do. They want — they crave — the absolution of the Holy Father for their sins.

More to the point, they want a moral fiat telling them that their sins are not sins.

The problem with that is that no matter how much they take things out of context to try to make it seem so, that won’t happen. Pope Francis, when he was speaking in this interview about confessors, said that there are two ways a confessor can be wrong.

One is to be so harsh that the only thing the penitent gets from the confessor is a cold encounter with the commandments. I suppose that this would be similar to what St Paul was talking about when he referenced, “the law.” The other is to be so namby-pamby that the confessor tells the penitent that their sins are not sins. I think this latter way is what the many people who are making rash mis-interpretations of what the Pope said are after.

But the important thing for us to understand is that the Holy Father said quite clearly that both these approaches are wrong. The confessor, and through him the Church, is to show the mercy of Christ without lying to people and telling them that their sins are not sins.

We have a Pope who wants to remind people that the love of Christ is greater than their sins. He is a pastoral pope who has walked with the people enough to know how miserable and lost they are.

I don’t recall if I’ve written about it here, but I’ve often seen that much of the anger that people direct at the Church is not so much anger at God as it is their rage at feeling rejected by God. There are a lot of people who feel unloved by God, who think that God hates them.

How did they get this idea? They got it from Christians who told them that God hates them.

We tend to focus today on homosexuals in this regard. But I think that is a huge mistake. I represent thousands of people who love God but feel separated from the institutional Church because they don’t see a place for themselves inside it. I deal every day with people who are hungry for God, but feel alienated from Him because they are ignored by Christians.

I am not talking here about the politically active drivers of public opinion in various movements. I don’t mean the gay rights activists or the pro abortion people. I mean ordinary people who are impoverished and living on the margins of society and barely hanging on with their fingernails to life itself. These, and not homosexual activists and abortionists, are the forgotten ones.

I believe these are the people Pope Francis is wanting to reach.

In this interview, Pope Francis compared the Church to a hospital. In some ways, what he was describing sounded like an emergency room. When someone is drowning in their sins, when they are in despair and misery, it is a cruelty to hit them with a laundry list of their various wrong-doings and then top that off with condemnation.

I know. I was once Ms Pro Abortion for Oklahoma. I was denounced and attacked and reviled by Christians.

None of this — none of it — moved me to change. Not one name I was called, not one lie that was told about me, not one ugly thing that was done to me in the name of Christ by misguided Christians made me want to change my ways. In fact, it hardened me in them.

It took a direct, personal, encounter with God Himself to get through to me. And then I was so overwhelmed by the love He poured down on me that even today I have no words for it. The interesting thing is that God did not address abortion with me until almost a year and a half after I had turned to Him. He showed me my sins, but at first, it was the little stuff. Even when the Holy Spirit finally began to teach me about my sins with abortion, it was gentle.

This was not because God favored abortion. It was because He loved me.

Protestants sing an old hymn called “Just as I am.” The title says the message of that hymn.

I think that this is the message that Pope Francis is trying to give to lost and hurting people all over the world: God loves you, just as you are. You don’t have to get righteous to come to God. All you have to do is trust Him and let Him love you from death into life.

If that message is not true, then I am not a Christian. Because it is how God dealt with me. The person I am today is the grace and the miracle of that divine love.

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Read the interview for yourself here.

Pope Francis Gives an Interview. New York Times Re-Writes It.

Catechism

Pope Francis gave an extensive interview to America Magazine, which you can find here

The New York Times did an extensive re-write of this interview, which you can find here

Just for the record, the Holy Father did not say what the New York Times is claiming. The Times took quotes out of context, and re-interpreted them along the lines of the secular gospel. What the Pope said is simple, clear and obvious Christian teaching that the Church has proclaimed for 2,000 years. 

Here’s what the Holy Father said, and what, in Sunday School parlance, it means. 

What the Pope said:

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.“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?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

What it means in Sunday School:

Love the sinner. Hate the sin. 

What the Pope said:

“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

What it means in Sunday School:

God’s mercy is greater than any sin you can commit and it is available in confession. Abortion and birth control are not the only sins. God has mercy for post abortive men and women. I am a shepherd of souls, including those who commit sins other than abortion and contraception. 

What the Pope said:

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; 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. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

What it means in Sunday School:

We can not earn salvation by picking out one or two sins and condemning them. That only makes us bitter and self-righteous. We must focus first on loving Jesus. Then, Jesus will change us and we will want to follow Him with our lives. The Church must preach Christ. 

 

There is a lot more to this interview. It is long and, as always with Pope Francis, completely candid. I suggest you go to the link I gave you and read it for yourself. 

For more information, check Frank WeathersSam Rocha and Elizabeth Scalia

Gripes Go Up

Here is my (totally pew-sitting laity) opinion of how bishops should deal with their differences of opinion with the Pope.

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Surprise! The Pope is Pro Life.

I’m sure he didn’t mean it this way. I’ve had quotes in newspapers come across differently than I intended many times.

But this does need clarifying.

Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island gave an interview to the Rhode Island Catholic in which he almost sounded as if he was questioning Pope Francis’ commitment to the sanctity of human life. His comment concerning the touching moment when the Holy Father reached out and embraced Dominic Gondreau, (photo above) who is from the Bishop’s own diocese, was:

Obviously it was a very blessed moment for Dominic himself and for the whole Gondreau family, and through them for our whole diocesan church. We were truly blessed that day that the Holy Father reached out and touched and embraced a member of our flock. It was a great moment and a great blessing. The other thing I want to say though, is that I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion, and many people have noticed that. I think it would be very helpful if Pope Francis would address more directly the evil of abortion and to encourage those who are involved in the pro-life movement. It’s one thing for him to reach out and embrace and kiss little children and infants as he has on many occasions. It strikes me that it would also be wonderful if in a spiritual way he would reach out and embrace and kiss unborn children.

I assume that Bishop Tobin did not intend this comment to sound the way it does. That kind of thing happens once in a while to everyone who talks to the press. It has certainly happened to me. Unfortunately, when a bishop of the Church says something like this about the Holy Father, the statement has to power to undercut the authority of the Church, everywhere.

So … just for the record, here’s Pope Francis himself on the subject.

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Married Priests? I’m not Holding my Breath.

Priest

The press has jumped all over another errant remark from the Vatican, this time about married priests.

I’m not going to hold my breath until the Vatican decides to do away with the celibate priesthood. The reason is that I like breathing. However, I am game to, just for fun, look at as a proposition. Let’s consider for a moment how doing away with the requirement for celibacy for our priests would affect our Church.

So far as I know, not even the perpetually-hyping press has gone so far as to suggest that the pope is considering doing away with chastity for priests. Chastity means, in its most base interpretation, no sex outside of marriage. I am giving you the bottom drawer meaning of this word for the purposes of this discussion, but it has many layers beyond that.

Just for now, we will limit the concerns about chastity to the no-sex-outside-marriage consideration. Since no one wants priests who are not chaste, we have to assume that even if the Church decided to waive the requirement for singlehood for its priests, it would still hold that they must either be celibate or married.

If the Church suddenly started admitting married men to the seminaries in large numbers, the face of the priesthood would change along with them. Changes in the institutional Church and the way it does business would have to follow.

First, allowing married men would almost certainly increase the overall percentage of heterosexual men in the priesthood. It would do this for two reasons. One: I doubt that the priesthood would remain as attractive to homosexual men under these circumstances, for lots of reasons. Two: The priesthood would attract a number of heterosexual men who had previously given it a pass because they felt called to marriage.

Second, allowing married priests would mean that our priests would have wives and families, with all the concerns that go with them. I’ve heard talk about the finances involved in providing priests an income that would allow them to support their families. That is certainly one change that would have to happen. The Church would also have to address the lifetime sinecure of health insurance, retirement lodging and other things it provides for priests now.

Priests today sign their lives over to the Church. They even make their bishop the next of kin on their living wills. They go where they are sent and do what they are told. In exchange for this, they never have to worry about a roof over their heads, medical care, retirement or any of the other things that bother the rest of us.

They are “sons of the Church” in a literal, almost childlike, way.

But if these “sons of the Church” were married men with other people they were responsible for, the dynamic of all this would change drastically. Not only would decisions have to be made about how the Church would go about providing for their families, which if the priests followed Church teachings, would be large, but it would have to consider these families when making assignments to the priests.

It’s one thing to transfer a single man from hither to yon at a moment’s notice. It’s quite another to ask a wife to quit her job and the kids to leave their schools and move around like a flock of hummingbirds.

Another consideration is the resentment and anger of the families of these men. I’ve heard deacon’s wives complain about the fact that the Church does not recognize their existence. If the deacon was a priest, and the priest had a wife and seven kids with one on the way, how would the Church deal with the multiple angers and resentments of family members who felt that their existence was being denied?

Wives can be reasoned with (sometimes) but children are another matter. With kids, it’s ignore now and visit them in the drug rehab later.

Third, would be the major change in how Catholics themselves view their priests. Catholics dote on their priests. They shower them with gifts, respect, trust and compliments. In exchange, they expect to be catered to and coddled by their pastors in a way that no Protestant could even conceive of.

I know. I was a Protestant for a long time, and I can tell you no one expected the kind of one-to-one, personal attention that Catholics expect and receive from their priests. Catholics go running to their priests with their problems, expecting (and receiving) filial attention and comfort.

It’s an incredible relationship, and most of it is based on the simple fact that the priests are all-in for their ministry in a way that no married man could ever be. Catholics dote on their priests, and their priests dote back. All this mutual doting forms a kind of glue that holds this disparate Church together as an incredibly well-functioning social unit. We, all of us, priest and laity alike, stand before the Eucharist — which in a real way is the Church — in a relationship based on the fact that the priests have made the priesthood their life’s commitment.

All of this — all of it — would change if the Church moved away from the celibate priesthood.

I’m just touching on three areas I can see that would have to change if the Church waived the requirement for non-married celibacy for priests. In truth, the entire dynamic of the priesthood as it’s been practiced for a thousand years would change. This would require painful adjustments for the Church, the men who are priests now, for the families of future priests and for the parishioners.

Do we want to do it?

I don’t know.

It’s not my call.

But I’m not holding my breath.

California Makes a Bad New/Old Law

Lesp bkgd lady justice

I’ve voted two times against giving people who rape children the death penalty.

I authored a bill to put them in prison for life without parole.

That pretty much sums up my attitude toward people who sexually abuse children. I don’t want to kill them, but to say I have no use for them is an understatement.

I’ve also written several times about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

I point to all these things now in hopes of forestalling what I am guessing will be a hailstorm of negative reaction and wild accusations because of what I’m about to say. I think the new California law temporarily erasing the statute of limitation on child sexual abuse is a bad law. I would have voted against it.

The new statute I am talking about passed both houses of the California legislature a few weeks ago. It is now on the governor’s desk, waiting for his signature to become law. The law is clearly aimed at the Catholic Church. It exempts public schools and and other government institutions, as well as the child abusers themselves. It also repeats something California has already done once, which is to rewind an old law and essentially erase the statute of limitations on old sexual abuse cases.

Here are the reasons why I think this is a bad law.

Rewind

1. It is a dangerous practice to make people retroactively guilty. Change the law going forward, if you want. But don’t go back and re-write laws in the past to find people guilty of things they wouldn’t be guilty of under the laws as they were at the time they committed the crime. The situation in the new California law is a shade of that practice (which is unconstitutional on its face) since what we are talking about is re-winding the statutory time in which a crime can be punished, in this case, by civil lawsuit.

Let’s say, as a for instance, that the statute of limitations on rape is 5 years. Let’s also say that it comes to light that a general in the armed forces participated in the gang rape of several enlisted personnel back when he was a lieutenant. This was decades ago, but he even though he hasn’t participated in any more rapes (that we know of) he is now turning a blind eye to other rapes in the ranks.

One way to get at this monster would be to rewind the statute of limitations (say we do it for one year to give prosecutors a window to get at him) and extend the time rapists can be brought to justice to 40 years instead of 5.

Problem solved, right?

No.

Problem created.

What we would be doing is setting a precedent of selective justice, and worse, selective law-making, to get at one man. We would be declaring open season on anyone that prosecutors and legislative bodies of the future want to take a crack at retroactively. It might not be such an undoubted monster the next time. It could be anybody, including anybody that the special interests who actually write most legislation want to get at.

We could end up with powerful businesses retroactively suing their competitors out of existence with this practice. In fact, given that most legislation is about helping businesses destroy their competition with laws they write themselves and then get their bought and paid for legislators to pass for them, you can bet it would and will happen.

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2. The California law is, as I mention above, aimed at one group of people, in this case the Catholic Church. The practice of writing laws to get at one group of people, no matter who they are, is egregious.

Here’s why.

When we’re going after a group of people most folks think of as the boogeyman, in this case, a huge Church that not only tolerated, but enabled child abuse for a long period of time, it’s easy to decide that any way we can make them suffer is a good way. However, as always happens with these intrusions of the irrational in lawmaking, what begins as a seemingly justifiable exception, soon becomes the unjustifiable norm.

If the legislature can do this once, as they already have in California, then the legislature can do it again. And as with most things, the more they do it, the less outrageous it seems and the smaller the reason required to do it again.

Pretty soon, we’ve got major corporations writing up legislation that specifically limits their competitors or uses the government to control their customers, and doing it by name.

This is actually just the next step in special interest legislation. Special interest legislation of this type takes up almost all of legislative time right now. This is a bit off the subject, but if special interest legislation was eliminated, most legislative bodies in this country could finish their work in about a quarter of the time they spend today.

Courtroom

3. There are better ways to punish long-term miscreants than retroactive laws. Legislators do have to put on their little thinking caps. But it can certainly be done. What they have to do is pass a law that begins when it is signed by the governor and goes forward and that is written for everyone.

Of course, I am guessing that California already has all the laws it needs to deal with child sexual abuse in institutional settings. Those laws just weren’t utilized at the right time. Outrage that child sexual abusers escaped punishment because the powerful abused their power is what fuels the desire to use lawsuits to punish the child abuse enablers now.

But civil lawsuits are a poor way to deal with this problem. People who sexually abuse children should go to prison. I am not talking here about Catholic priests. I am talking about all child sexual abusers. I’ve had some dealings with this in Oklahoma and I can tell you that far too many of these guys skate. There are lots of reasons, but judges who, like Dr Richard Dawkins, just can’t seem to see the harm, are among the primary causes.

I believe that sexual abuse by a priest, or any clergy, is especially egregious simply because the trust people place in their clergy puts them in a vulnerable position vis a vis the clergy. People confide things in their priests that they don’t tell anyone else in the world. This makes them deeply vulnerable to this priest. Sexual abuse, especially of a child, is a horrific betrayal of this trust.

At the same time, I am becoming concerned that we are developing a legal and social double standard about child sexual abuse. Dr Dawkins, as a for instance, engaged in grand-standing talk about arresting the Pope because of the Church’s child sexual abuse scandals. Then, he turned around and tried to take a wink-wink attitude toward child sexual abuse in other contexts.

Dr Dawkins isn’t alone in this behavior.

I agree with giving longer sentences to those in a position of trust, such as counselors, clergy and doctors, who violate that trust in this way. I think that, considering the vulnerability of their patients and parishioners to them, it is appropriate to hold them to a higher standard. However, those higher standards should be statutorily defined, not handed down willy-nilly as vengeance.

I do not agree with a wholesale two-tiered system of justice which singles out Catholic clergy for higher sentences simply because they are Catholic clergy. That is discriminatory on its face.

I think the new California statute is a bad law that sets a terrible precedent. It’s just a matter of time before that precedent ends up being used and abused in ways that none of the backers of the law foresaw or intended.

The Pope, Priests and Fatigue


Pope Francis recently discussed a letter he received from a parish priest at a gathering of Rome’s priests at the Vatican.

The priest had mentioned his fatigue. I think that’s something everyone who bears a responsibility for other people can understand.

Here are the Holy Father’s comments.

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Did Pope Francis REALLY Say That?

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An Italian atheist I’ve never heard of published an open letter to Pope Francis with a string of questions (challenges, is probably more like it) to the Pope.

The Holy Father astonished everyone, including, I am sure, said Italian atheist, by answering him.

The letter Pope Francis wrote is, like so much else he does, deeply pastoral. It’s clear when you read it that he was responding as a pastor of souls.

However, there was one paragraph that has gotten the whole internet in one of its kerfluffles. The atheist had evidently asked one of the usual atheist questions about can they, with their unbelief, go to heaven. For all I know, this question with its unadmitted longing for grace, was what caught the Holy Father’s attention in the first place.

I know, based on the large number of similar comments I get both here and in my public life, that this particular question is almost ubiquitous among atheists. They ask it — or rather, they use it as a means of denunciation — almost constantly. I’ve often thought that there was an underlying hunger for all the things that Christ offers — forgiveness, grace, peace that passes understanding and eternal life — in the way they fling this particular challenge down so reptitively.

Maybe the Pope saw the same thing I do and his Pastor’s heart reached out to this man in response.

I don’t know if that’s true. I only know that I often have an impulse to comfort them when they do this, but I do not have the pastoral tools to do it.

The Pope obviously was trying to tell this man one of the great truths of the universe with his answer: Christ’s grace and love are for everyone. He loves us all. He loves us every one. And yes, that includes atheists, unbelievers and people who spit on Jesus’ name.

The beautiful parable we call the Prodigal Son is Jesus’ way of telling us this. God loves us, even when we don’t love Him. He yearns for us, even when we turn our backs on Him.

So of course atheists can go to heaven. Heaven was made for them, just the same as it was every other human being.

The question is not can they, but will they?

Pope Francis comments in his letter that “God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so with contrition and a sincere heart.” This is something every Christian knows and has experienced. I can attest from my own life that God’s mercy is indeed limitless.

But the Pope adds something else after that and this has set the internet on its ear all day long.

“… the issue for those who do not believe in God is in following their own conscience,” he wrote.

This one sentence has set the bells ringing since it sounds for all the world like a direct admonishment to practice self-referencing moral relativism by the Pope himself.

After all, if all that’s necessary is to never violate your own personal code of conduct, then a universalist understanding of heaven and the Almighty become (excuse the pun) absolute. We go to heaven in just the way that the punsters and social experimenters have been telling us we do: By “self-actualization” and following a self-referencing, self-promoting, self-idolizing version of morality that is a-ok because it checks with our “own conscience.”

The question is, did Pope Francis really mean that?

Is he telling us that heaven is a slam-dunk for everybody, so long as they don’t cross their own conscience? Considering the messy and highly personal things that consciences are, I certainly hope not. If the unrepentant self-worshipping are going to heaven, then heaven would be pretty much like the world we have now: Mean, selfish, ego-driven, bloody and cruel.

More to the point, it would be a place where God Himself would be most uncomfortable.

Let’s go back to the question I asked a moment ago. Atheists most assuredly can go to heaven. The question I asked, and I think it’s the salient one, is, Will they?

If someone has never heard the name of Christ, then they have to function by the light they are given, and the Church teaches that they are judged according to that light. However, even for them, their only hope is through this Jesus they do not know. There is one Way, and that is Jesus Christ and the atonement he bought for us with his shed blood on Calvary.

But if someone who knows of Christ and has heard of Him all their lives, openly and dramatically chooses the darkness over the light, is God going to throw a net around them and drag them to heaven?

Did the father chase down the prodigal son, hog-tie him and drag him home?

No.

Pope Francis began his papacy by admonishing us not to be self-referencing. The scriptures plainly say things like “The fool says in his heart, there is no God. They have done abominable works.”

In my opinion that pretty much describes folks who defame Christ while they abort, euthanize and plunder their way through life.

So what did the Pope mean?

I don’t have a full answer for that, although I’m sure one is coming. I am also not a theologian. But I think what he meant is that someone who does not believe in God still has a responsibility to follow the inherent dictates of right and wrong that are planted in every heart. We call this natural law. It’s what tells everyone, everywhere, that murder is wrong. It’s how we know, without complex moral reasoning, that killing innocents, rape, and cruelty in all its forms are wrong.

This runs deeper than any commandment. It is written by the hand of God on each individual heart.

Even an atheist knows these things, and when they use their verbal skills to frame arguments denying these basic truths of moral existence, they are denying, in fact and in truth, their own God-given consciences. When they replace the truth of God that is encoded into their souls, with their own self-referencing anti-God, anti-life morality, there is no second chance for them without repentance and contrition.

At the least and at the beginning, every person must heed this internal voice, which is, whether they will admit it or not, the voice of the Divine. That is the beginning of our lives as moral beings.

Which of course we are. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that we are also moral agents — free moral agents — acting in the universe.

We know what is right and wrong. We know it because it is part of our very being to know it. But we also have the verbal skills to weave mental sophistry that we claim exempts us from accepting these dictates of our true nature.

That is the beginning of sin, the first and primary rebellion against the God Who made us. It’s only remedy is to go back where Pope Francis began his discussion on this topic; to the point where we approach God through the open doorway of Christ’s sacrifice with true contrition and ask forgiveness, which, as the Pope says, He is always ready to give us.

Pope Francis Discusses the Dignity of Work

In one of his morning homilies a few months ago, Pope Francis talked about societies that put company profits above human dignity, or even human life. “What point have we come to?” he asked.

This kind of talk disturbs cafeteria Christians on the right, just as the Church’s insistence on the fundamental right to life of all human beings and the sanctity of Holy Matrimony disturbs cafeteria Christians on the left.

Each “side” of the culture wars wants the Holy Father to affirm them and their half-Gospel as righteousness so that they can use what would amount to an amputated, phony Jesus to score “gotcha!” points off those on the other side of the various political debates.

But Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ, not the apologist for the false idols of various religious/political heresies.

Jesus was a worker. A carpenter. By doing that, He elevated work far above the animalistic fight for survival that those in power often try to make it into for working people.

Human beings are made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. As such, we each have a transcendent dignity that extends beyond this life and into eternity. The things we do here, including the work of our heads, hands and hearts, is an expression of that innate, God-given dignity.

All people are entitled to the privileges of owning private property and to have the labor of their lives respected. Part of that respect is a living wage and decent working conditions. When these values are compromised by a moneyed few who mis-use the powers of government to seize the treasure of a nation to satisfy their personal rapaciousness, then those who govern must oppose those actions.

Elected officials who do otherwise may profess Christ with their mouths, but they deny Him by what they do.

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