I’ve seen this process take place over and over, in my seven-and-a-half years of defending Pope Francis: now literally 176 times:
1) Pope Francis says something (for some people, virtually anything).
2) At first glance (and usually filtered through an increasingly untrustworthy and unbalanced Catholic media; and forget the secular media!), it sounds (especially to jaded cynical “ears”) like it is anti-traditional or downright subversive to the traditional Catholic faith. This accusation quickly becomes the norm in social media discourse, people compete to see who can be the most critical and conspiratorial and ridiculous, and it’s off to the dog races once again.
There is a reason that both G. K. Chesterton (“All that anybody ever really meant as the evil of gossip is much more characteristic of established journalism”) and C. S. Lewis (“I never read the papers. Why does anyone? They’re nearly all lies”) were scathingly critical of the media / press (some things never change).
3) But invariably what the Holy Father said or wrote is either A) taken out of context or B) wrongly or at least dubiously translated, or C) both.
4) Or it is sufficiently “shocking” (or nuanced) within development of doctrine and the hermeneutic of continuity, so that many ears simply can’t “receive” it, which is no scandal to me, knowing that the teachings of Our Lord Jesus and St. Paul were often of this very same nature, and wrongly perceived in much the same way:
John 7:16-24 (RSV) So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me;  if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.  He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.  Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”  The people answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”  Jesus answered them, “I did one deed, and you all marvel at it.  Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man upon the sabbath.  If on the sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?  Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (cf. 8:48-49, 52; 10:20-21)
Mark 3:22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-el’zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”
An example would be Pope Francis’ recent reiteration of the “inadmissibility” (which is not the intrinsic immorality of) capital punishment. That was the previous Big Controversy. Now we have another. We can’t stop Catholics from trying to imitate the demeanor and outlook of the corrupt portion of the Pharisees. It’s sad, but what can one do about it, except to attempt to teach and correct?
5) So folks find Pope Francis “confusing” and “hard to understand”? Sounds like Jesus and the Apostle Paul again:
John 6:60, 66-67 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” . . .  After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.  Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Matthew 13:13-15 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’
Matthew 15:16 And he [Jesus] said, “Are you also still without understanding?”
Mark 8:17 And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
John 3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?”
1 Timothy 1:7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.
2 Timothy 3:7 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:16 . . . There are some things in them [Paul’s epistles] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.
Jude 10 But these men revile whatever they do not understand, and by those things that they know by instinct as irrational animals do, they are destroyed.
6) At length when it is examined closely by those who haven’t jumped on the ultra-popular, fashionable, chic pope-bashing bandwagon, it turns out to be a “tempest in a teapot” and “much ado about nothing.”
We’ve seen it all erupt again, folks. Catholics are soiling themselves en masse and going bananas. I have defriended about 14 people because I have less than zero tolerance for the irrational, hysterical pope-bashing, and I have for some time now. I am just sick and tired of seeing pseudo-Protestantism and warmed-over, half-baked liberal dissident and quasi-schismatic attitudes come across my feed. One can only take so much of that. It’s not good for the soul. It’s not edifying (to put it very mildly).
Many others among my Facebook friends have simply asked me to clarify things and have not joined in on the nonsense and fanaticism. That’s fine. I respect that, and am happy to respond as an apologist: whose job it is to defend the Holy Father and the holy Catholic faith and to bring reason into the equation, even though we move in two days and the last thing I should be doing right now is tackling a major controversy. In fact, I am here typing at 3:18 AM [finished at around 5:30] because I was thinking about all this stuff and couldn’t sleep.
Dr. Scott Hahn wrote on Facebook:
Holy Father, respectfully and humbly, I beg to differ… if that is indeed what you said. In any case, please clarify and rectify your statement, especially in view of the official teaching of our Lord through the magisterium of His Church
After 14 hours, this has garnered 7400 likes and 2400 comments. Thank God that Scott added the saving qualifier: “if that is indeed what you said”. A-ha! There’s the rub! Scott Hahn’s word (for better or ill) is right up there next to God in the eyes of millions of orthodox Catholics. It doesn’t help things at all for him to make a quick observation like this.
He’s an apologist (like myself) and a theologian and academic (unlike myself). He could take it upon himself to actually do the hard work of understanding what was said and clarifying and defending it. But instead he gives us the quick soundbite, gets a billion comments and likes, and it is left to folks like myself, Dr. Pedro Gabriel and the other good folks at the Where Peter Is website, Catholic theologian Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Jimmy Akin, and Tim Staples (folks who actually defend the pope) to deal with the resulting mess and “scandal” and do that work.
I’m happy to do it (don’t get me wrong), but our job is made a hundred times more difficult because of the hysteria and din already created, and the noise that drowns out actual detailed analysis. I’ll get more than a few page views in writing about this, but I guarantee it won’t be anywhere near 7400 likes in 14 hours. That’s what the skeptical soundbite gets: simply because it comes from Scott Hahn.
So even if we present a plausible positive interpretation of what Pope Francis says and teaches, relatively few read it, because it goes against the zeitgeist. And so the Francis-bashing mania and hysteria continues to grow in this way. It’s sad and tragic. The devil’s very clever, and he knows how to exploit any weakness he can find among Catholics (and there are many).
Dr. Pedro Gabriel: the voice of reason and factuality, as always, has chimed in with an initial reaction on Facebook:
Social media has exploded with a CNA piece quoting Francis in a documentary saying that he favors homosexual unions.
At this moment we are waiting to see the full quote in context. It seems like, when he was bishop of Buenos Aires, he opposed a homosexual marriage bill and proposed, as an alternative, a civil unions law that would give gays some benefits (as for example, hospital visits and the like) without being considered a marriage. Francis’ remarks are probably to be read in light of that, and probably come in the sequence of discussing that. But we should wait to see the quote in context. CNA is not reliable and they have manufactured controversies like this before (the whole pachamama kerfuffle started with their careless reporting).*Whatever it is, Francis has been consistent in condemning homosexuality and gender ideology, just like he has been consistent in treating LGBT people humanely. So any prudential proposal of his in matters of politics needs to be read in light of that.
So I will await to watch the whole documentary in all its context, as well as read the CDF document and all relevant information I may gather before forming a judgment. I advise people to do the same. We don’t need to jump on the bandwagon.
Cannot agree, although I understand (and feel deeply) the Francis Fatigue. Countless people now think the Church is changing her teaching on homosexuality and marriage They are incorrect, of course, but there it is. And Francis, I’m convinced, certainly knows how his comments are going to be taken. This sort of weaponized ambiguity has been his pattern from the start of his pontificate; he feints this way and goes that way, all in the apparent service of a sort of sentimentalized, semi-secularized Catholicism. Meanwhile, those who stand by the Church’s clear teaching on, well, nearly everything are hung out to dry.*I don’t think he’s “teaching heresy.” He’s doesn’t care enough about doctrine to do so. (And he’s too smart to do so). But he certainly is causing more confusion, at a time when the Catholic faithful need clear, firm leadership.*In essence, Pope Francis seems obsessed with fighting the battles of the 1970s, often employing a sort of squishy, fuzzy Unitarian-ish lingo that is long on vapid sentimentality and mostly devoid of both theological and practical substance.
It’s hard to even know where to begin my response, the reactions have ranged everywhere from a US diocesan bishop stating that the pope’s statement “clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the Church about same-sex unions,” to a post on the Archdiocese of New York’s official website by a high-ranking diocesan official saying, “the Holy Father has plainly erred,” to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who in his latest statement says of the pope, “He who ought to be guiding the Barque of Peter has chosen to side with the Enemy, in order to sink it.”*From the left, and especially in the secular media, many seem to be treating the pope’s words as an epochal shift in the Church’s teachings. While Pope Francis’s statements didn’t mention same-sex marriage or sexuality, they have been construed as some kind of earthquake in Church doctrine. For example, as reporter Edward Pentin displayed on Twitter, British tabloids and other newspapers are running with this. . . .*First, I want to be straightforward about the level of importance of these statements, with regard to doctrine and how they relate to Church teaching. Let’s be clear about this (whether you agree with them or not): the hoopla is over two sentences spoken by Pope Francis in an interview. They are not official magisterial teachings, nor do they represent official changes in doctrine or discipline. Others have pointed out that we don’t have the full context, but (at least in my opinion) we can fairly easily glean Francis’s meaning based on his previous statements on these topics. . . .*The Church approaches plenty of people and groups differently than it did in prior centuries: women, non-Catholics, non-Christians, prisoners, the disabled, the divorced, and many others. . . .
That said, let’s take a look at what Pope Francis actually says. The first of the two statements that set off the firestorm was, “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.” The second statement was, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
It is difficult to imagine that the first of the two statements—that LGBT people “have a right to be part of a family”—would be all that controversial, except to perhaps the most extreme and least pastoral of today’s Catholics. . . .
We have a right to a family. Francis is trying to teach us that shunning our children is not the Christian way. As a general principle, as parents our doors and our hearts should always be open for our children, even if they are different than we’d like them to be. Our Father in heaven is our model for this; he loves us as we are—unconditionally. He forgives us our trespasses, he welcomes us with open arms when we ask him for forgiveness, and he remains present to us even when we try to run from him.
Once again, the issue of how we should treat family members who are not perfectly living out the Catholic faith falls under what is frequently described as a “prudential” matter, not a doctrinal question. . . .
*For Francis, there is a clear distinction between treating someone with dignity (or, dare I say, with fraternal love), and embracing an idea that contradicts Catholic doctrine. The types of rights that accompany civil unions (things such as health insurance, rights of inheritance, tax laws, the ability to visit a loved one in a hospital or nursing home), should not be contingent on whether that person lives a life in total conformity to Catholic moral doctrine. . . .
Cardinal Bergoglio was not the first prominent archbishop to indicate tolerance for this type of openness to civil unions. In 1997, Archbishop William Levada penned a column in First Things defending what was dubbed the “San Francisco Solution.” As archbishop of San Francisco, Levada (who later went on to become the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), explained how he decided to respond to an ordinance in San Francisco allowing same-sex civil unions. As a result, employers were compelled to provide benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees, just as they would for a spouse.
As a “compromise,” Levada proposed that rather than providing benefits to someone on the contingency that they were either a spouse or same-sex partner, he would provide benefits to a second person in the household, regardless of relationship. . . .
[D]espite his reputation as a strident traditionalist—the current Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, provided one of the stronger defenses of Pope Francis’s words from the US episcopate. In an official statement, he explained the Church’s approach:
“In our bishops region’s audience with Pope Francis last January during our ad limina visit (the visit diocesan bishops make every five years to the Vatican), the topic of civil unions came up in conversation. The Holy Father clearly differentiated between a civil arrangement which accords mutual benefits to two people, and marriage. The former, he said, can in no way be equated to marriage, which remains unique.
“I would add that a civil union of this type (one which is not equated to marriage) should be as inclusive as possible, and not be restricted to two people of the same sex in a presumed sexual relationship. There is no reason, for example, why a brother and a sister, both of whom are unmarried and support each other, should not have access to these kinds of benefits. Marriage is unique because it is the only institution that connects children to their mothers and fathers, and therefore is presumed to be a sexual relationship. Indeed, the sexual relationship that marriage is presumed to involve is the only kind by which children are naturally made. The nature of marriage, the place of sex within a virtuous life, these great teachings of the Church come to us from God, are illuminated by reason, and do not change.”
I must admit I was surprised by the overwhelming reaction to this story today. As someone who has followed Francis closely since the beginning of his papacy and has become familiar with his thought and outlook, nothing struck me as unusual or remarkable about his comments. The words Francis spoke were neither unprecedented nor inconsistent with what he has said in the past. Those who were hoping that this was a watershed moment or change in Church teaching on human sexuality will be disappointed. Those who imagined that these words somehow meant that Pope Francis had crossed an integral doctrinal line are also terribly mistaken.
Fr. Agustino Torres, in an Instagram video, (“The Pope Was Misquoted AGAIN!”, expresses his belief that the Holy Father has once again been poorly served by an English translation. I’m so shocked I think I will faint! I’ve seen that so many times I have lost count. It’s about as common as water being next to a fish.
It’s heartening to see that Catholic News Agency: after playing a big role in the initial controversy, has seen fit to clarify in much greater depth. JD Flynn has written the article, “What did Pope Francis say about civil unions? A CNA Explainer” (10-21-20). I again quote at length, for the sake of my readers:
While the pope did not elaborate on the meaning of those remarks in the video, Pope Francis has spoken before to encourage parents and relatives not to ostracize or shun children who have identified as LGBT. This seems to be the sense in which the pope spoke about the right of people to be a part of the family.
Some have suggested that when Pope Francis spoke about a “right to a family,” the pope was offering a kind of tacit endorsement of adoption by same-sex couples. But the pope has previously spoken against such adoptions, saying that through them children are “deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God,” and saying that “every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.” . . .
What did Pope Francis say about gay marriage?
Nothing. The topic of gay marriage was not discussed in the documentary. In his ministry, Pope Francis has frequently affirmed the doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church that marriage is a lifelong partnership between one man and one woman.
While Pope Francis has frequently encouraged a welcoming disposition to Catholics who identify as LGBT, the pope has also said that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and said that “the family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage,” and that efforts to redefine marriage “threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.” . . .
Some people have said what the pope taught is heresy. Is that true?
No. The pope’s remarks did not deny or call into question any doctrinal truth that Catholics must hold or believe. In fact, the pope has frequently affirmed the Church’s doctrinal teaching regarding marriage. . . .
What does the Church teach about homosexuality?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that those who identify as LGBT “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
The Catechism elaborates that homosexual inclinations are “objectively disordered,” homosexual acts are “contrary to the natural law,” and those who identify as lesbian and gay, like all people, are called to the virtue of chastity.
Now [I discovered in the morning when I got up], Dr. Pedro Gabriel has contributed his own very helpful article: “Those Pope Francis quotes: Video editing and media controversy” (Where Peter Is, 10-22-20). I quote it at length:
What the Pope says in a documentary in his private capacity does not constitute an official “Vatican stance”, nor is it magisterial.
Still, a cacophony ensued, in which the usual voices used this proof—yet again—that Pope Francis is heterodox.
Fortunately, in the midst of this cacophony, some people on social media were apparently able to get ahold of the incendiary clip. We see it here . . .
After a bit of research, I discovered that these clips are actually not original to the documentary, but are from a 2019 interview that the Pope granted to Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki. The video of the full interview can be watched here: [link posted]
The part where Pope Francis mentions that homosexuals have a right to a family appears after the 56-minute mark. Please note that the words, the background, the tone of voice, and the gestures of the Pope match the documentary videoclip, so it’s quite clear that this is the primary source.
Here is my translation of what the Pope said in full context. In red, we can see the parts that were quoted.
“Once I was asked a question on a flight—it made me angry afterwards, it made me angry because of how the media reported it—about the family integration of people with homosexual orientation, and I said: homosexual people have a right be a part of a family, people with homosexual orientation have a right to be in a family and the parents have the right to recognize this son as homosexual, this daughter as homosexual. Nobody should be thrown out or be miserable because of it.
Another thing—I said—when we see some sign in children that are growing, and then you send them… I should have said to a ‘professional’, but I said ‘psychiatrist’. I wanted to say a professional, because sometimes there are signs in adolescence or pre-adolescence where they don’t know if it is a homosexual tendency or if the thymus gland atrophied with time—I don’t know, a thousand things, no? So, a professional. The headline of the newspaper: ‘The Pope sends homosexuals to the psychiatrist’. It is not true! They asked me a question and I repeated again: ‘They are sons of God, they have a right to a family, and so forth’. Another thing is… and I explained: I was wrong in using that word, but wanted to say this: ‘When you notice something str’… “Ah, it’s strange…”. No, it’s not strange. It’s something out of the ordinary. In other words, they took a small word to nullify the context. There, what I said was: ‘they have a right to a family’. And that does not mean approving homosexual acts, not in the least.”
I find it interesting how the Pope spoke here about the media taking his words out of context. I also find it interesting that the Pope specifically said that none of this means approving homosexual acts. This completely alters the implication of the quote that was presented to us. Of course, if you read the entire interview, you will see the Pope railing against abortion and saying, explicitly: “I am a conservative.”
What is even more interesting is that the quotes in the clip from the documentary were scrambled. Additionally, there is absolutely no mention of homosexual unions in the interview—or at least the official transcript. . . .
[T]he way the video preview rearranges the order in which his words actually appear in the interview should give us pause. Maybe after we see the interview in its full context, we will have a different impression of his words altogether, especially since the Holy Father uses the Spanish term “convivencia civil,” which can be either “civil union” or “civil coexistence.” If he means the latter, he may well be referring to laws that protect the human rights of homosexuals. . . .
We have already seen, from what we know of the videoclip, that he has been quoted wildly out of context, with separate sentences being cherrypicked and creatively stitched together, giving the impression that he meant something he really didn’t. The part where he mentions that homosexuals should have a family refers to not marginalizing homosexual people within the family, most especially gay children. But the way it was presented, it induced us to think he was talking about homosexual unions because they had a right to a family. So who knows if he was misquoted again when talking about civil unions?
Lastly, we hear choruses from the pope bashers and even many “papal nitpickers” today: “why do Pope Francis’ words always have to be explained at length by apologists? It wasn’t this way with Pope Benedict and Pope St. John Paul II.” To which I reply:
Lawler vs. Pope Francis #2: Homosexuality & “Judging” [Dave Armstrong, 1-2-18]
Pope Francis on Homosexual Unions (Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Register, 3-21-13)
7 things you need to know about what Pope Francis said about gays (Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Register, 7-29-13)
Pope Francis’s new letter to homosexual Catholics (9 things to know and share) (Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Register, 10-11-13)
What did Pope Francis say about the children of homosexual couples? 8 things to know and share (Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Register, 1-5-14)
Pope Francis on Apologizing to Gays (And More): 6 things to know and share (Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Register, 6-28-16)
On the Pope’s Remarks about Homosexuality (Scott P. Richert, Crisis, 8-1-13)
What Did the Pope Really Say about Gays in the Priesthood? (Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap., Crisis, 8-5-13)
Report: Pope Excommunicates Priest for Supporting Gay Marriage, Female Priest (Dr. Susan Berry, Breitbart, 9-24-13)
Judge Not (Tim Staples, Catholic Answers, 2-14-14) [Same-sex couples and homosexuality]
Is Pope Francis Duping Liberals on Marriage? (Paul Kengor, American Spectator, 11-21-14)
Pope Francis Shocks Liberals on Same-Sex “Marriage” (Paul Kengor, Crisis Magazine, 1-23-15)
Pope Affirms Traditional Marriage (Bill Donohue, Newsmax, 4-8-16)
Not heretical: Pope Francis’ approval of the Argentine bishops’ policy on invalid marriages (Dr. Jeff Mirus, Catholic Culture, 9-15-16)
Pope Francis explains why he celebrated the airborne marriage of two flight attendants [+ Facebook discussion] (Nicole Winfield, America, 1-22-18)
Pope Francis’s Words on Civil Unions Distorted by Editing (Fr. Matthew Schneider, Through Catholic Lenses, 10-22-20)
Has Pope Francis changed Church teaching on same-sex civil unions? (Dawn Eden Goldstein & Robert Fastiggi, Where Peter Is, 10-22-20)