In a Dec. 21, 2018 audience, referring to Our Lady and St. Joseph, Pope Francis told employees of the Vatican that “saints are not born, they become thus, and this is true for them too.” Below is the exact message of the Pope:
Our Lady and Saint Joseph are full of joy: they look at the Child Jesus and they are happy because, after a thousand worries, they have accepted this gift of God, with so much faith and so much love. They are “overflowing” with holiness and therefore with joy. And you will tell me: of course! They are Our Lady and Saint Joseph! Yes, but let us not think it was easy for them: saints are not born, they become thus, and this is true for them too.
Needless to say, it is most certainly generally true that saints are not born but made over time, with penance and prayer, enabled and aided by the grace of God (cf. Mt 11:30). However, the Blessed Virgin Mary is an exception in that she was perfectly holy from the very beginning of her existence, and this is a dogma defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854:
…To the honor of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, to the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, to the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and the increase of the Christian religion, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and by Our own, We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine, which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the human race, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and on this account must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.
Wherefore, if any should presume to think in their hearts otherwise than as it has been defined by Us, which God avert, let them know and understand that they are condemned by their own judgment; that they have suffered shipwreck in regard to faith, and have revolted from the unity of the Church; and what is more, that by their own act they subject themselves to the penalties established by law, if, what they think in their heart, they should to signify by word or writing or any other external means. – (Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus; Denz. 1641)
So, not only was the Blessed Virgin Mary born a saint — “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) — she was conceived one, too. In other words, she has always been a saint, even from the very first moment of her existence. There was never an instant in which she existed without this fullness of grace; at no point was she ever under the dominion of the devil. This was already hinted at right after the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” (Gen 3:15).
Not the First Time
In his General Audience on September 11, 2013, the Pope also subtly denied the Immaculate Conception, implying that the Church is like Mary and has flaws. In particular, he said that “what is said of the Church can also be said of Our Lady”:
The Church and the Virgin Mary are mothers, both of them; what is said of the Church can be said also of Our Lady and what is said of Our Lady can also be said of the Church. Do we love the Church as we love our mothers, also taking into account her defects? All mothers have defects, we all have defects, but when we speak of our mother’s defects we gloss over them, we love her as she is. And the Church also has her defects: but we love her just as a mother. Do we help her to be more beautiful, more authentic, more in harmony with the Lord?
Pope Pius XVI: A “Daring Method Used by Innovators to Establish Error”
It is true that Pope Francis also says very noble and beautiful things about the Holy Mother of God, affirming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. However, it is also true there is documented proof that the Pope has subtly denied the Immaculate Conception multiple times.
We recall what Pope Pius VI said about the “innovators” he was condemning at the end of the eighteenth century:
Their way of speaking and acting cannot be excused in the way that one sees it being done, under the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected; as if allowing for the possibility of either affirming or denying the statement, or of leaving it up to the personal inclinations of the individual – such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it. – (Pope Pius VI, Apostolic Constitution Auctorem Fidei, introduction)
Regarding the heretic Nestorius in particular, the same Pope said:
…he expressed himself in a plethora of words, mixing true things with others that were obscure; mixing at times one with the other in such a way that he was also able to confess those things which were denied while at the same time possessing a basis for denying those very sentences which he confessed.∎
Paul Simeon, Veritas