Pope Francis has said that sins of the flesh – that is, sins of lust or impurity – are “the least serious” of all sins. The controversial statement can be found in Chapter 5 of the book entitled “Pope Francis, the Path of Change in Politics and Society: A Future of Faith”. The book, released last August 2018, contains an interview of Pope Francis by the French sociologist and acknowledged agnostic, Dominique Wolton.
Below is the relevant excerpt from Chapter 5 (page 173-174) showing the full context of his remarks:
DOMINIQUE WOLTON: The paradox is that the Catholic Church condemns capitalism, money, inequalities, but those criticisms go rather unheard. On the other hand, on morals, it knows how to make its critiques and condemnations heard …
POPE FRANCIS: The least serious sins are the sins of the flesh.
DOMINIQUE WOLTON: All right, but that needs to be said more forcefully, because the message isn’t getting across.
POPE FRANCIS: The sins of the flesh are not necessarily (always) the gravest. Because the flesh is weak. The most dangerous sins are those of the mind. I have talked about angelism: pride and vanity are sins of angelism. I understood your question. The Church is the Church. Priests have been tempted — not all of them, but many of them — to focus on the sins of sexuality. That’s what I’ve already talked to you about: what I call “below-the-waist” morality. The more serious sins are elsewhere.
DOMINIQUE WOLTON: What you say is not being heard.
POPE FRANCIS: No, but there are good priests … I know a cardinal here who is a good example. He admitted to me, talking about these subjects, that when people come to see him to talk to him about these below-the-belt sins, he says, straight away, “I’ve got it; let’s talk about something else.” He stops them, as if to say, “I’ve understood, but let’s see if you have something more important.” “I don’t know.” “But do you pray? Do you seek the Lord? Do you read the Gospel?”
He makes them understand that there are more important failings. Yes, it is a sin, but … he lets them know, “I’ve understood,” then moves on to something else.
Conversely, some priests, when they receive confession of a sin of this kind, ask, “How did you do it, and when did you do it, and for how long?…” And they have a “film” playing in their head. But those priests need a psychiatrist.
DOMINIQUE WOLTON: That’s true, there are much more serious “sins” than the sins of the flesh, but what you say is not in the cultural tradition…
Sacred Scripture is clear that unrepented sins of impurity make the sinner worthy of eternal punishment. St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “Let Marriage be honourable in all, and the bed undefiled. For fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13:4). St. Jude wrote in his epistle: “As Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbouring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication, and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). And St. Paul warned the Corinthians: “Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Examples could be multiplied exponentially, but this is not necessary.
St. Alphonsus Liguori, doctor of the Church, wrote:
My brother, do not say, as many do, that sins against chastity are light sins, and that God bears with them.
What! Do you say that is a light sin? But it is a mortal sin: and if it is a mortal sin, one act of it, though it be only the consent to a wicked thought, is sufficient to send you to hell. No fornicator … hath inheritance in the kingdom of Jesus Christ and of God [Eph 5:5]. Is it a light sin? Even the pagans held impurity to be the worst of vices on account of the miserable effects that it produces. Seneca says: “Immodesty is the greatest evil of the world;” and Cicero writes: “There is no plague so fatal as bodily pleasure;” and (to come to the saints) St. Isidore says: “Run through all sins, you will find none equal to this crime.”
Finally, it will be helpful to remember what Sister Lucia of Fatima said regarding sins of the flesh, as relayed to her by Our Lady: “The sins which cause most souls to go to hell are the sins of the flesh.”
By Paul Simeon, Veritas