By now, most of us are well aware of how Alana Horowitz (and any number of other secular writers), writing for The Huffpost, informed us of just how surprised people were when Pope Francis encouraged Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna to speak out against a bill that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children in Malta. And this, after the LGBT magazine, The Advocate, named him their “Man of the Year,” and Time Magazine named him “Person of the Year.”
Wasn’t Pope Francis to be the first Pope to finally reverse the Catholic Church’s antiquated stance against homosexual unions? How could he do such a thing?
Damian Thompson, columnist for The Daily Telegraph, and editor of their Telegraph Blog, writes: “Pope Francis ‘shocked’ by gay adoption. Will Time take back its Person of the Year award?”
Oh, the humanity!
You’d think the fact that he’s the Pope would be enough for folks to know Pope Francis is Catholic, i.e., he believes homosexual acts to be sinful. It’s not like the Pope has the authority to send Moses back up the mountain to make changes.
News Flash: Homosexual acts are sinful always and in every situation. There can be no exceptions. This is an infallible and therefore irreformable teaching of the Catholic Church. Just so we all know (see CCC 2357; CDF; Persona Humana 8).
But even if the pundits are completely in the dark as to the above, wouldn’t they have known that then Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio (before he became Pope Francis), in a letter written to four monasteries in Argentina, urged them to pray “fervently” that legislation would not pass in his native country that was to give same-sex couples the right to both marry and adopt children? He warned if approved, it would “seriously damage the family.” Even more, he said:
In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts…
Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a “move” of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.
I guess not.
In fact, because then Cardinal Bergoglio declared same-sex couples adopting children to be a form of discrimination against children, he was publicly rebuked by Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
I don’t think there is much to be confused about here.
The reason why I am only now chiming in to a story that has been beaten to death, resurrected, and beaten to death again, is that I believe folks have for the most part missed the fact that much of the confusion surrounding this matter stemmed from, among other things to be sure, a colossal misapprehension of Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” That’s where I would like to jump into the fray.
During an interview the Holy Father gave on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro’s World Youth Day on July 28, 2013, when he was asked about an alleged “gay lobby” at the Vatican, his fateful response was as follows:
So much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find anyone who can give me a Vatican identity card with “gay” [written on it]. They say they are there. I think that when you encounter a person like this, you must make a distinction between the fact of a person being gay from the fact of being a lobby, because lobbies, all are not good. That is bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?
In a subsequent interview the Holy Father gave to La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal, later translated into English and published in the Jesuit journal America for the English-speaking world, he reiterated:
In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are “socially wounded” because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says.
These profoundly Christian responses ended up being transmogrified into the Pope’s acquiescence to the moral liceity of homosexual acts. And that is where the trouble started. In fact, Barbara Walters, in an interview with Pierce Morgan on CNN, concerning the revealing of her “10 Most Fascinating People of 2013,” said the Pope is now “embracing” homosexuals and saying words to the effect of, “What these people do in their private lives is none of my business.” This would represent a sort of Ebenezer Scrooge version of Christianity. Our Holy Father could not be further removed from this sentiment. “Humanity [is his] business!”
This level of disconnect is odd when you consider in that same article in America the Pope made clear that while emphasizing Christians should not “insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” spoken in the context of the importance of the initial proclamation of the Gospel to a world in desparate need, he also said:
The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear [on these matters of abortion, homosexual acts, and contraception] and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
Again, what part of this don’t they understand? I would suggest the answer may lie simply in wishful thinking. It is amazing what a human can will himself to either see or not see when he wants to.
Judge Not Lest You Be Judged
In order to understand Pope Francis’s words, we have to separate two senses in which he used the term “judge.” When the Pope said, “Who am I to judge?” he was alluding to our Lord’s famous words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1—Judge not, that you be not judged. This is speaking of the judging of the actions of others. Our Lord is all in favor as we will see below.
When he Pope spoke of homosexuals being judged in the sense of being “condemned,” he was referring to the absolute prohibition of “judging” the inner motives of the heart, or the eternal destination of souls. According to St. Paul, in I Cor. 4:3-5, this we ought never do as Christians.
Let’s begin with Matt. 7:1. Unfortunately, this text, I would argue, is not only the most often misapplied verse in the Bible (a photo finish with “turn the other cheek”—fodder for another blog post), but it is right up there with John 3:16 and Psalm 23 as one of the most recognized passages in the Bible. People who have never darkened the door of a church know it and quote it, while very few actually understand it… in context.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1-5).
To many, and evidently to Barbara Walters, “judge not” here means if you want to follow Jesus, you cannot judge anyone in any sense. Committed adultery, did you? Just pull out your Matt. 7:1 “judge not” card and no one can say anything about what you’ve done. I mean, after all, “You don’t want to judge anyone,” right? Homosexual sin? “Don’t you dare judge!”
But the context of Matthew 7 makes clear that our Lord was not condemning all judgment. He was condemning being hypocritical in judgment. He condemns the tendency all of us have, and we must guard against, to judge others more severely than we judge ourselves.
Our Holy Father also brought to the fore the importance of mercy when it comes to judging. Notice, he was speaking of homosexuals who are attempting to follow God’s will for their lives when he said, “Who am I to judge;” He was not speaking of those who live openly and willingly in sin. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7) immediately comes to mind. That’s another quite famous line from that same Sermon on the Mount.
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (cf. Matt. 18:23-35) serves as a dramatic reminder for us that justice must always be tempered with mercy. This, it seems to me, is at least one of the Pope’s points. After the “unmerciful servant” was forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents (that would represent all of us who have been forgiven by the Lord), he refused to forgive his fellow servant who owed a mere one hundred denarii. Jesus said of that servant:
You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me; and should not you have had mercyon your fellow servant…? And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
I find it interesting how so often it will be those known for demanding strict justice when it comes to other people’s failings who quickly change their tune decidedly when the crosshairs of justice focus in upon them. Anybody remember Jimmy Swaggart? Suddenly, the concept of mercy comes into focus.
The bottom line here is this: Our Lord asks us in the Gospel to judge both consistently and mercifully. Our Lord’s Vicar predictably does the same.
Contrary to popular opinion, an emphasis on mercy and consistency in judgment need not diminish the importance of justice—and the essential judgments that must be made in order for there to be justice—in the slightest. It is to bring balance. Jesus condemned those who would pass over either justice or mercy:
Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith… (Matt. 23:23)
I have no reason to believe the Holy Father does anything different.
Jesus Commands Christians to Judge
Now we proceed to one of the least known Bible verses when it comes to the topic of “judging.” John 7:24:
Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
Here, Jesus commands us to judge.
For those who misunderstand Matt. 7:1, this sounds like a contradiction. But if we pause to think about this for a moment, the spiritual works of mercy we should have been taught from our childhood represent the classic example of this truth. And these are not optional, folks. Our eternity depends upon fulfilling them in our lives.
What are the Spiritual Works of Mercy (see CCC 2447)?
1. To comfort those who are suffering.
2. To console those who have suffered loss.
3. To forgive those who ask for pardon.
4. To forbear with those who hurt us, even if they are not sorry.
5. To admonish the sinner
6. To educate the ignorant.
As Catholics, we are generally aware of the corporal works of mercy. Jesus lists five out of six of them in his famous depiction of the final judgment in Matt. 25:31-46: To feed and give drink to the hungry (I am joining those two into one work as does CCC 2447), clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and to visit the sick and imprisoned. The sixth is to bury the dead, and is found in Tobit 1:16-17.
Our Lord used the strongest of terms in teaching these corporal works of mercy to be constitutive of the Chrisian life. One day we will all stand before the Lord and give an account of our lives—every thought, word, and deed. And an essential part of that judgment will involve an examination of how we fulfilled the corporal works of mercy. Catholics generally get that. If we cannot actually perform all of these ourselves, we need to support those who do through our prayers and financial gifts.
But what many of us don’t seem to get is the fact that the spiritual works of mercy are not optional either. We will also be judged as to how we’ve fulfilled these in our lives. And most imortant to our point: the last two—to admonish the sinner, and to educate the ignorant—necessarily involve making judgments concerning the actions of others.
My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way… that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
These two texts are examples of the Christian calling to admonish the sinner.
I Tim. 4:16:
Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
This is an excellent example of the call to educate the ignorant. In order to admonish the sinner or educate the ignorant, judgments simply must be made about either the actions or the state of knowledge of others. These texts are both clear in their exposition of these truths and reminders that these matters bind each of us gravely.
St. Paul Brings Clarity
When it comes to judging in the sense of “condemning,” St. Paul definitely concurs with Pope Francis that this kind of judging is out of bounds for Christians:
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not prounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God (I Cor. 4:3-5).
Notice, St. Paul says he cannot even judge himself, much less others, but in the context of judging inner motives and eternal destinations. Why? Because God alone knows the hearts of men (cf. II Chr. 6:30). God alone is, therefore, the judge of souls.
When Pope Francis speaks of judging mercifully or not judging (i.e. condemning) at all, he is coming from a long Christian tradition that distinguishes between the judgment of actions that all Christians are required to make both in their own lives and in the lives of others they are called to love with the truth, and the judgment of the inner motives of people that is the domain of God alone.
What Pope Francis was certainly not saying is that the Church is about to change the unchangeable. This we can know for certain because our Lord himself guaranteed when he promised the keys of the kingdom to Peter, “I will build my church” (cf. Matt. 16:15-18). Peter and his successors couldn’t change infallible teachings of the Church if they tried. Jesus simply would not allow it.
No need to worry, the Ten Commandments are safe and protected.