Pope Francis has inaugurated a new kind of magisterium—media interviews. Amid relaxed conversations with journalists, he addresses complex doctrinal topics that require precision and clarity.
Journalists pick through his confusing expressions looking for soundbites to turn into headlines for their media outlets and then spread them worldwide. One could call these slogans “talismanic words,” in the sense explained by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in his famous work, Unperceived Ideological Transshipment and Dialogue: “[A talismanic word] is a word whose legitimate meaning is friendly and, at times, even noble, but it is also a word with some elasticity. When used tendentiously, it shines with a new radiance, fascinating the patient and taking him much farther than he could have imagined.”1
“Who Am I to Judge?”
In 2013, the first year of his pontificate, during an interview with journalists on the plane back to Rome from his visit to Brazil, Pope Francis uttered the famous phrase, “Who am I to judge?”2 It was immediately turned into thunderous headlines.
This talismanic expression became famous. It characterizes the pope’s teaching concerning sins against nature. Fr. James Martin, the homosexual movement’s leading Jesuit promoter, says that Pope Francis’s expression signaled “a dramatic shift in tone from previous popes” since they usually employed a “condemnatory and accusatory language.” “I think that was the beginning of the opening of the door in his pontificate” to “LGBT people.”3
“Being Homosexual Is Not a Crime”
Almost ten years later, Pope Francis’s latest phrase on homosexuality aroused the same excitement in the media and the homosexual movement.
In a lengthy January 24, 2023 interview with the Associated Press’s Nicole Winfield, he declared that being homosexual is not a crime but a sin. However, much of the media highlighted only the first part of the statement—that homosexuality is not a crime.4
The statement is made in a confusing context in which the homosexual act’s sinful aspect seems to lack real importance. Let us look at the transcript in Spanish, the language in which Pope Francis gave the interview. He states, “[W]e are all children of God, and God wants us as we are and with the strength that each of us fights for our dignity.”5
The statement that we are all God’s children and, therefore, “God wants us as we are” is highly ambiguous. It seems to imply that a person’s moral state and the severely sinful state of those who engage in homosexual acts do not matter to the Creator.
Now, as the Catechism of the Council of Trent explains, by analogy, as Creator, God can be called the Father of every human being. Nevertheless, only a person in the state of grace is truly an “adopted son” of God.6 And Saint John is adamant: “In this, the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Whosoever is not just, is not of God” (1 John 3:10).
On the other hand, authentic human dignity comes from the practice of virtue, not vice. Sin, which is an offense against God, does not dignify man.
Then comes the statement that has been spread: “Being homosexual is not a crime. It is not a crime. Yes, but it is a sin. Well, first, let us distinguish sin from crime.” He added, “But the lack of charity with one’s neighbor is also a sin. How are you doing in this regard?”7
Although Pope Francis says that homosexuality is a sin, he implies it is a sin like any other, for example, “the lack of charity toward one’s neighbor.” Moreover, in asking, “How are you doing in this regard?” he implies that everyone sins in some way or another, so it is wrong to single out homosexual acts. But since the practice of sodomy seriously undermines the moral order, it was included among those “sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance.” According to Scripture, these sins are voluntary homicide (Gen. 4:10); sodomy (Gen. 19:13); oppression of widows and orphans (Exod. 22:22ff.); and depriving workers of their just wage (Deut. 24:17ff.; James 5:4).”8
Does Homosexuality Stem From the Human Condition?
A little later, he repeats: “And being homosexual is not a crime. It is a human condition.”9
While this phrase is unclear, Pope Francis seems to be saying that being homosexual is part of the human condition and, therefore, cannot be criminally or morally censurable.
Letter to Fr. James Martin
The notorious Jesuit was not satisfied with Pope Francis’s statement that homosexuality “is not a crime” because it was followed by the observation that it is “a sin.” He hastened to write the pope, asking for clarification.
“Do You Think That Simply Being Gay Is a Sin?”
Father Martin asked the pope, “Do you think that simply being gay is a sin?” In his handwritten reply, Pope Francis tries to justify himself for not having been clear and precise: “In a televised interview, where we spoke with natural and conversational language, it is understandable that there would not be such precise.definitions.” In stating that homosexuality is a sin, says Pope Francis, “I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which states that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. Obviously, one must keep the circumstances in mind, which diminish or annul guilt.”11
What Is Intrinsically Evil Will Always Be Sinful
Traditional Catholic morals have always sustained that an intrinsically evil act never ceases to be sinful because of circumstances. John Paul II affirms this in his encyclical Veritatis splendor: “In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: ‘Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:9—10).”
The Polish pope continues: “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain ‘irremediably’ evil acts; per se and in themselves, they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. ‘As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?’”12
What About the Salvation of Souls?
Let us note that, in this and other interviews, Pope Francis does not seem concerned with the Church’s goal proper—the salvation of souls. He deals with everything—politics, economics, ecology—but does not mention, when dealing with morals, the need for conversion and the practice of virtue.
In this interview, he uses the word conversion only to refer to African bishops who are supportive of laws criminalizing homosexual practice; and his own conversion in the fight against sexual abuse inside the Church. However, he does not say that people who engage in homosexual acts should convert.
A Double Standard
In September 2016, four cardinals, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, former archbishop of Cologne, and Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, former archbishop of Bologna, submitted a series of Dubia to Pope Francis on doctrinal points that are handled ambiguously in the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.13
Today, six years later, Pope Francis has still not publicly answered these Dubia [Doubts] of the cardinals, two of whom, Meisner and Caffarra, have already died.
Nevertheless, Pope Francis immediately answered Fr. J. Martin’s dubia on whether homosexuality is a sin. The interview to the Associated Press was on January 24, and Fr. Martin received the above-mentioned handwritten, affectionate, and confusing answer to his dubia on the 27th.
The Law of God Is Immutable
Ambiguity and doctrinal confusion are not part of the Church’s perennial magisterium. Her guide, the Holy Spirit, is a “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). Furthermore, as the First Vatican Council taught when defining papal infallibility, “For, the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth.”14
In Thick Doctrinal Fog, Let Us Invoke Mary
However thick the mists Divine Providence mysteriously allowed to envelop Holy Mother Church, testing our faith in this terrible crisis, let us not forget Our Lord’s words: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
In Fatima, Mary Most Holy promised, “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” May she grant us courage and fidelity to hold fast to the Church’s perennial magisterium and not be led astray by Pope Francis’s confusing statements.
1. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Unperceived Ideological Transshipment and Dialogue, https://www.tfp.org/unperceived-ideological-transshipment-and-dialogue/#chp2.
2. Tracy Connor, “‘Who Am I to Judge?’: The Pope’s Most Powerful Phrase in 2013,” NBC News, Dec. 22, 2013, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/who-am-i-judge-popes-most-powerful-phrase-2013-flna2D11791260.
3. “How Pope Francis Is Changing the Vatican’s Tone on LGBT people,” YouTube.com, America–The Jesuit Review, accessed Feb. 3, 2023, //www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrslGK0kls4. (4:36–38’)
4. “Transcripción de la entrevista de AP con el papa Francisco,” Associated Press, Jan. 25, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/noticias-a5cf2c1d450064b588ab3f41d3bf6994. (Our translation.)
5. “Transcripción,” Associated Press, Jan. 25, 2023.
6. See The Catechism of The Council of Trent (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1982), 20–21.
8. Dom Gregory Manise, O.S.B., s.v. “Sins That Cry to Heaven for Vengeance,” in Dictionary of Moral Theology, comp. Francesco Cardinal Roberti, ed. Pietro Palazzini, trans. Henry J. Yannone (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1962).
10. J.D. Long-García, “‘Outreach’ Website Hopes to Inspire Online L.G.B.T. Community for Catholics,” America, May 2, 2022, https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/05/02/outreach-catholic-lgbt-242917.
11. “Pope Francis Clarifies Comments on Homosexuality: ‘One must consider the circumstances,’” Outreach.faith, Jan. 27, 2023, https://outreach.faith/2023/01/pope-francis-clarifies-comments-on-homosexuality-one-must-consider-the-circumstances/?_thumbnail_id=4545. (Our translation.)
12. John Paul II, encyclical Veritatis splendor (Aug. 6, 1993), no. 81, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html. (Our emphasis.)
13. See Edward Pentin, “Full Text and Explanatory Notes of Cardinals’ Questions on ‘Amoris Laetitia’: The Full Documentation Relating to the Cardinals’ Initiative, Entitled ‘Seeking Clarity: A Plea to Untie the Knots in Amoris Laetitia.’” National Catholic Register, Nov. 14, 2016, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/full-text-and-explanatory-notes-of-cardinals-questions-on-amoris-laetitia.
14. Denz., no. 1836, http://patristica.net/denzinger/#n1800.