by Paul Simmons
The atheist Scalfari, historically critical of the papacy and the Catholic Church, at the end of the interview, gushed: “This is Pope Francis. If the Church becomes what he imagines and desires, it will mean the changing of an era.”
The interview, upon closer inspection, is a concise summary of Pope Francis’ all-encompassing vision for the Catholic Church. While conservative Catholic publications voiced their concerns with many of the points raised in the interview, much of the secular media have nothing but rave reviews of Pope Francis’ new vision for the Church.
This vision, as we shall see subsequently in this article, is a stark departure from the line of previous pontiffs. Scalfari summarised some of the “innovations”, as he calls it, of the new pontiff that have won over hearts of the secular media:“His mission contains two scandalous innovations: the poor Church of Francis, the horizontal Church of Martini. And a third: a God who does not judge, but forgives. There is no damnation, there is no hell.”
After much controversy, the full text of the interview was taken off from the official Vatican website, after initially being published in full.
So what did the pope have to say in the interview? In this article we tackle some of most important points, as well as a personal opinion and analysis of this author regarding these points.
What is The Most Urgent Problem Facing the Church?
According to the pope, “the most serious evils currently afflicting the world are unemployment among the young and the solitude in which the elderly are left. This, in my opinion, is the most urgent problem facing the Church”.
While it is true that youth unemployment is a serious issue, should this be THE number one priority of the Church? The Catholic Church is not an NGO. It is not the private sector. It is not the government. Youth unemployment is a societal problem that should be the main responsibility of the government, with cooperation from NGOs and the private sector.
On a practical level, even if it wanted to, the Church does not have the means and resources to solve this problem. Priests are not equipped or trained to solve this problem. The formation of priests is not about solving youth unemployment – priestly formation is all about learning the Catholic Faith and Catholic Spirituality, so that priests can subsequently impart this to their flock.
If solving youth unemployment is the number one priority of the Church, does this mean that priests should spend more time finding ways to provide employment to the youth? Doing so will mean priests spending more time on worldly, secular affairs – working with the private sector to promote employment, launching job fairs, encouraging local businesses and industries, perhaps even launching their own job-promoting businesses as well. Private industry and government are the only ones who can solve this unemployment problem – not the Church.
Priests are NOT NGO workers. Priests are not businessmen. Priests are not government workers. Priests are, first and foremost, caretakers of souls. The main goal of priests should be to help their flock advance spiritually in order to go to heaven. Heaven is the ultimate goal. The sacraments – the Eucharist, Confession, Baptism, etc – are the spiritual tools that the flock need that nobody else can provide except priests.
As the Lord Jesus said, “What profit is there for a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul in the process?” If we were to re-phrase this within the context of the problem of youth unemployment: “What profit is there for all the youth in the world to find profitable employment but lose their souls in the process?” What use is there in providing the youth jobs if they end up squandering their spiritual lives? Saving souls is the most important priority of priests – and the Church in general.
On Abortion, Life
While previous pontiffs have emphasised the fight for life and protection of the unborn, as well as preservation of Catholic dogma in the midst of a secular world, Pope Francis has instead de-emphasised these things. In an interview with “La Civilta Cattolica”, he said: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible…it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Furthermore, he stressed: “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
As a result of this interview, secular newspapers and publications around the world screamed their headlines: “Pope says Church is ‘Obsessed’ with Gays, Abortion and Birth Control” (New York Times), “Pope says Church must end obsession with gays, contraception, abortion” (Reuters),“American Catholics back pope’s downplaying of social issues” (CNN).
Some abortion clinics even went to the extent of placing the pope’s words (“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion..”) in their premises. NARAL, a large pro-choice and pro-abortion organisation in the United States, posted a note in their Facebook page the day after the pope’s interview: “Dear Pope Francis, Thank You. Signed, Pro-Choice women everywhere.”
On Homosexual Marriages
The pope likewise made headlines all over the world when, on an interview onboard a plane after World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil, he proclaimed to journalists: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” This is in marked contrast to Pope Benedict XVI who, while emphasising the need to respect people with homosexual tendencies, emphasised that “deep-seated homosexual tendencies…are objectively disordered.”
That simple, one line comment sparked a wave of headlines around the world. Secular newspapers screamed: “Pope signals openness to gay priests” (Wall Street Journal); “Pope Francis says he won’t judge gay priests” (Fox News); “Pope charts new ground on gay priests and women”(Forbes).
Politicians pushing for legalisation of homosexual marriages latched on to the pope’s words. Illinois recently became the 16th state in the United States to legalize homosexuality, and several Catholic politicians, who were previously unsure of their stand, cited the pope’s words as the basis for their “change of heart” that led to them voting for the measure. Michael Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, went so far as quoting the pope in supporting the measure. In his final speech during the deliberations on the proposed bill, Madigan said:
…the quote that I offer is a quote from Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic church, who is quoted as saying, “If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord, and he has good will, who am I to judge?” Pope Francis has spoken, and he has articulated the ba-sis of my thinking on this issue… For those that just happen to be gay – living in a very harmonious, productive relationship but illegal – who am I to judge that they should be illegal?
A Major Change in Emphasis
While there seems to be no clear change in doctrine with regard to marriage and the Church’s stand on abortion, there is a very clear change in emphasis. Many conservative Catholics, embroiled in the midst of a fierce battle with governments on issues such as gay marriages and abortion, have been caught off guard.
Many Catholics have defended the pope, saying that the secular media is taking Pope Francis’ words out of context and taking advantage of this to promote their own causes. They emphasise that the pope has not really changed any of the Church’s teachings in this regard. But while that is true, what is clear is that this very unmistakeable change in emphasis cannot be interpreted any other way except for this: we should not be “too obsessed” with issues such as the fight for life and defence of the family. The fight for life and defence of the family are NOT the most important problems facing the Church today.
The slaughter of millions of defenseless, unborn babies is NOT our priority. The defence of the traditional family unit – the view of marriage as only between a man and a woman – is NOT our priority. Fighting the government’s efforts to legalise abortion and homosexual marriages in our countries is NOT our priority. Rather, our priority should be focused on solving the problem of “unemployment among the young” and “the solitude in which the elderly are left.”
The subtle, dangerous message to Catholics, particularly pro-life advocates, is this: Tone down, don’t be too obsessed with your cause. The pro-life movement is NOT the Church’s priority. Rather than spending so much time petitioning your government and the supreme court to defend life and defend the family, we need to spend more time helping find employment for the young.
Is youth unemployment a more important problem than the slaughter of millions of innocent babies in their mother’s wombs? Is youth unemployment more important than the defence of the traditional family unit – the bedrock of society? Isn’t it that when you destroy the family unit, you destroy society? Look at the Western world today – it is a society in decay and moral collapse. At the root of this decay and collapse is the destruction of the family – through divorce, gay marriages, abortion.
Is there a “Catholic God”?
The pope said to Scalfari: “… I believe in God. Not in a Catholic God; a Catholic God doesn’t exist.”
What is the problem with the above statement? It essentially tells us that the Catholic view of God is not the only true view of God. Every religion has its own view of God. For Muslims, God is Allah – Jesus Christ is not God, He is just a prophet. For Buddhists, God is not a real entity, a real Being, but “nirvana” – a state of mind. For satanists, their “God” is the “Great Architect of the Universe” – Lucifer, the “light”.
Based on the pope’s statement, all of these various perspectives of God are correct. There is no single interpretation of God that is correct. The Catholic interpretation of God does not exist. In other words, our view of God as a Most Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is not the only valid view of God. The Muslim view is valid as well. The Buddhist view is all right. Even the satanic view is all right.
But isn’t it that we should be absolutely insisting on the Catholic view of God? The Catholic view of God is that of the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus is not just a prophet, but the Son of God made flesh. Shouldn’t we be emphasising that the Catholic view of God is the one, true view? This Catholic view of God is not something that can be diluted. It is non-negotiable. We cannot accept the Muslim interpretation of God that denies the divinity of Jesus. We cannot accept the Buddhist view that God is not a real entity but just a “state of mind.” We cannot compromise the Catholic view on God for the sake of “ecumenism” and “unity” with our non-Christian brethren.
Is there an Absolute Right and Wrong?
Scalfari asked the pope: “Your Holiness, is there only one vision of the Good? And who determines what it is?”
The pope answered:
Each one of us has his own vision of the Good and also of Evil. We have to urge it [the vision] to move towards what one perceives as the Good…I repeat it. Everyone has his own idea of Good and Evil and he has to choose to follow the Good and to fight Evil as he understands it. This would be enough to improve the world.
In his original letter to Scalfari, the pope expounded on the above point:
The question for one who doesn’t believe in God lies in obeying one’s conscience. Sin, also for those who don’t have faith, exists when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen to and to obey it means, in fact, to decide in face of what is perceived as good or evil. And on this decision pivots the goodness or malice of our action.
The pope’s statement above is moral relativism – a dangerous heresy that, if adopted by the world, will cause widespread adoption of sin. “Each one of us has his own vision of the Good and also of Evil” – in other words, there are no absolute truths. There are no absolute moral codes of conduct. No institution, no Church has the right to definitely say what is right and what is wrong. The ten commandments are not relevant – each one of us can write our own version of the ten commandments. Everyone is free to judge for himself what is good and what is bad.
Imagine the problems that this statement will cause in the world. The terrorist has his “own vision of the Good and also of Evil”. For him, the act of beheading innocent people for the sake of Allah is “good”. Blowing himself up to kill and maim hundreds of people is “good” – it is his ticket to heaven. There is nothing wrong with these brutal actions – for as long as they do not go against the terrorist’s conscience which, in his own personal version, absolves these actions as actually “good.”
For the teenager who gets impregnated, her “own vision of the good” is that since she is not emotionally ready to have a baby, and does not have the financial resources needed, it is perfectly within her right to terminate the pregnancy.
For homosexuals who decide to get married, their “own vision of the good” is that everyone in love, regardless of their gender, has a right to marriage. For government officials who plunder and steal the people’s money, their “own vision of the good” is that for as long as they are able to help the people somehow, it is OK to personally reward themselves through corruption. The list goes on and on.
To say that “each one of us has his own vision of the Good and also of Evil”is to give everyone the license to do whatever he or she wants to do in this life. You can do absolutely whatever you want in this life – commit an abortion, kill, commit slander, steal – for as long as your action is aligned with your “own vision of the good and also of evil.” Any action in this life is OK – for as long as we “choose to follow the Good and to fight Evil as he understands it.”
Moral Relativism is a Grave Heresy
Peter Kreeft, a known Catholic apologist and writer, warned against moral relativism, saying that it is “the single most important issue of our age”. He defines moral relativism as follows:
Moral relativism usually includes three claims: That morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual. That it is relative first to changing times; you can’t turn back the clock. Secondly, to what we subjectively think or feel; there is noth-ing good or bad, but thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals; different strokes for different folks. Moral absolutism claims that there are moral principles that are un-changeable, objective, and universal.
Compare the above definition of moral relativism to the statement of Pope Francis: “Each one of us has his own vision of the Good and also of Evil. We have to urge it [the vision] to move towards what one perceives as the Good…I repeat it. Everyone has his own idea of Good and Evil and he has to choose to follow the Good and to fight Evil as he understands it. This would be enough to improve the world”.
Clearly, the pope’s statement (“Each one of us has his own vision of the Good and also of Evil”) is consistent with Kreef’s definition of moral relativism: morality is changeable, it is subjective, and it is individual.
Kreeft says that “no society has ever survived without rejecting” moral relativism:
Moral relativism is a philosophy that denies moral absolutes. That thought to me is the prime suspect—public enemy number one. The philosophy that has extinguished the light in the minds of our teachers, and then their students, and eventually, if not re-versed, will extinguish our whole civilization. Therefore, I want not just to present a strong case against moral relativism, but to refute it, to unmask it, to strip it naked, to humiliate it, to shame it…How important is the issue? The issue of moral relativism is merely the single most important issue of our age, for no society in all of human history has ever survived without rejecting the philosophy that I am about to refute.
Pope Francis’ position on moral relativism is a complete reversal to Pope Benedict XVI’s view that moral relativism is a danger that the Church must fight. Just before the College of Cardinals entered the 2005 conclave to vote on the successor to John Paul II, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, warned against the dangers of moral relativism. He said: “A dictatorship of relativism is being formed, one that recognises nothing as definitive and that has as its measure only the self and its desires.”
Are we Obliged to Follow a Heretical Teaching?
Is it acceptable to criticise the pope? Aren’t we, as Catholics, obliged to obey the pope in all things? One may answer that in cases where the pope teaches heresy, yes we can criticise the pope, and no we are not obliged to obey in cases where the teaching is heretical. The teaching that “each one of us has his own vision of the Good and also of Evil”, as Pope Francis has said, is moral relativism and is a clearly heretical teaching that will lead to widespread disorder and sin, were it to be obeyed.
Canon 188.4 (1917 Code of Canon Law) states that if a cleric (pope, bishop, etc.) becomes a heretic, he loses his office, without any declaration by operation of law. St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Antonius, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and many other theologians all taught that a heretic cannot be a valid pope. St. Alplhonsus said: “If however, God were to permit a pope to become a notoriously and contumacious heretic, he would by such fact cease to be pope, and the apostolic chair would be vacant.”
St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. also wrote: “Just as it is lawful to resist the pope that attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist the one who attacks souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed.”
Why is the Pope Saying these Things?
Why is the pope saying these things? The personal opinion of this author is that we are witnessing the unveiling of prophecies foretold long ago right before our very eyes. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich saw a vision of a future false church in the period preceding the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus: “I saw also the relationship between two popes…I saw how baleful would be the consequences of this false church. I saw it increase in size; heretics of every kind came into the city of Rome.”
Many other prophecies and apparitions foretell of the emergence of the “False Prophet” in the bible, who will lead the church into error, before the Second Coming of Jesus. For more info on these visions and prophecies, read this article.
The Need to be Watchful
Is this all too incredible for us? The controversial remarks of Pope Francis should lead one to ponder them seriously. At the very least – was the pope just being careless, not realising the impact of his statements on the morals of mankind? Or is he paving the way for more drastic changes?
Either way, we – especially the religious and clergy – cannot just be indifferent. There is a famous quote: “Evil thrives when good men do nothing.” Let us be watchful and vigilant. Most of all, we pray for our beloved Church – and the two popes.