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"Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?" The pope stares at me in silence. I ask
him if this is a question that I am allowed to ask.... He nods that it
is, and he tells me: "I do not know what might be the most fitting
description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It
is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner."
- From America - Their interview with Pope Francis.

What does it mean if we are all, equally, just sinners? If the human condition is to sin and the divine condition is to forgive?

As with many people, I've been following Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, very closely since he's been elected. But I've been paying as much attention to the American Catholic Right and how they respond to the changes that Francis seems to be bringing to American Catholicism. So far, reaction seems to focus on his theological orthodoxy. I wrote about this when the interview went public - that the reaction on the right is to pretend that nothing has changed.

Homosexuality, for example. The Pope has not, and I think will not, declare homosexuality non-sinful, as much as I wish he would. There's too much theological baggage here. Catholic homophobes, therefore, get to point out that sure, Francis suggests we don't judge, but that homosexuality is still a sin.

As I read more and more, though, I'm increasingly convinced that this reading misses the main point. Instead, I think the point is that we are all sinners, so that we don't get to judge people for their sins, we don't get to label homosexuality as somehow more wicked, an "intrinsic evil" (I talked about this in an Atlantic essay). The condition of humanity is one of sin, so stop judging.

It's a strange path to equality and not one I would take, but it enables Francis to make radical steps without changing theology. This isn't a weakness of his revolution, it's a strength.

That said, discrimination goes on. A lesbian was just fired from a Catholic School in Arkansas 45 minutes after getting married. They invoked Francis in a plea for equality, but so far, to no avail. It's going to be a long slog.


Meanwhile, Francis is just beginning to put some action behind the rhetoric on poverty. I finished my CNN essay on the interview by writing:

In a recent interview with the New Catholic Reporter, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York talked about the new pope. He said that in the wake of Francis, he found himself "examining my own conscience ... on style, on simplicity, on lots of things." The cardinal wondered whether his living arrangements, in the historical residence of the archbishops of New York, were appropriate. But the cardinal wasn't quite sure what to do about it, given that he can't sell the building.

St. Francis would have agreed. He carefully never argued for the church to sell of its property or divest itself of income. Of course, he was outside the church hierarchy and relied on papal protection for his safety.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, might have a plan for an empty archbishop's residence if Cardinal Dolan wanted to downsize. After all, he did recently suggest that empty church property should be used to house refugees.

Maybe the Pope isn't going to push Dolan on his residence, but he did recently draw a line by suspending the "Bishop of Bling," a German Bishop spending 42 million dollars on his home renovation, including a $20,000 bathtub and marble floors. It's a start, a small one, but a start.

Update - another example of the way the Pope's understanding of our fundamental equality stems from his position that we are all sinners. On why he is drawn to prisoners:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said his care, concern and prayers for those in prison flow from a recognition that he is human like they are, and it's a mystery they fell so far and he did not.

"Thinking about this is good for me: When we have the same weakness, why did they fall and I didn't? This is a mystery that makes me pray and draws me to prisoners," the pope said Oct. 23 during a brief audience with about 200 Italian prison chaplains.

Cross-posted and edited from my blog (updates daily) How Did We Get Into This Mess?

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

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Originally posted to Lollardfish on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 08:08 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  I can wait patiently (14+ / 0-)

    I think you're exactly correct, that this is a stealth path to equality. I think we might be returning, if not ALL the way back to Rerum Novarum, to at least the empathy that John XXIII showed for his fellow men, Catholic or not.

    Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 08:21:53 AM PDT

    •  it is equality (7+ / 0-)

      anything else leads to judgement.  you can't say we're not all sinners, because clearly some are, ergo ...

      •  Distinction: repentance. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elwior, anna shane, Yoshimi

        The distinction many theologians would draw among sinners is that some are sorry for their sins and try to stop committing them, while others are not sorry at all.

        E.g., if you lie or steal, you regret it and try to stop lying and stealing. But if you marry your same-sex partner, obviously you don't regret it at all, and don't intend to stop your same-sex intimate relationship.

        So "we're all sinners" isn't the same as "we're all equal." But it's getting closer.

        Someday, I hope, a Pope will recognize that same-sex intercourse is not per se sin.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 08:57:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  i get it (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          HeyMikey, Yoshimi

          but if you're Catholic thinking about sex with someone who isn't your married in the church spouse while having sex with your spouse  is a sin. I mean, it's all sin, and he's saying all sin is equal. In man's law there are differences, murder is a bigger deal here and in these times, then elsewhere and in different times, but according to the church, it's equal.  

          If sex isn't for enjoyment, it's only for procreation?  I mean, that's the problem, and why oral sex is a sin, and birth control, et al.  

          He won't see it that way any more than he could see masturbation, or sexual fantasies, or any of the other ways humans enjoy our bodies outside the procreation angle. That's why birth control is a sin, not because it stops babies, but because it 'subverts' the non-pleasure purpose of sex.  

          Married heterosexual old people only get away with it because, who knows, a miracle could occur.

          I'd say, accept the equality, it's not that same sex sex is any more sinful than sexual fantasies while having sex, which means really any  sex at all.  He didn't elevate gay sex, he reality tested all the forms of sex, and pretty much none would pass that test.  Enjoyment? How un-Christian?  

          •  I can't speak for Pope Francis, but... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            anna shane

            ...there are no doubt some theologians who agree with you and other theologians who disagree.

            Which camp is Francis in? Well, he hasn't changed any church teachings, AFAIK. Just emphasis.

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 09:55:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  he'd call them ideologues (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              HeyMikey, Yoshimi

              those who pick and choose which sins are worse, and know what god really thinks.  He hasn't changed the teaching, he's changed the emphasis.  And he's applied the teaching to the ideologues, who had been hiding behind their pointed fingers.  (he really is cool)

              I mean, it goes both ways, the ones that think God is pro-miliary and pro-USA and against gay marriage (but you can't say god is against the military and the USA and for same sex marriage either.) If you 'know,' you're an ideologue.  Francis doesn't pretend to know god, he pretends (or believes) god knows him.    

              Francis says if we're trying to be good we're doing our best and no one is perfect and no one has the right to judge anyone else.  He says that kind of good can get you to heaven, even if you don't believe in the baby Jesus. (that is radical, it's back to good works, and not harming others)

              That part of Catholic teaching is really just anti-sex, it isn't need to be especially anti gay sex, unless you're an ideologue.  Fortunately Jesus was for love, and for leaving the judging to the end, to what is called the final judgement.  

              for someone like me, never a believer but surrounded by them, (and me being more lefty generous and less selfish nasty, but still the 'bad' one) Francis is just great.  Finally there is a Christian who isn't judging me.  

              •  Excellent comment. But an important distinction. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                anna shane
                He says that kind of good can get you to heaven, even if you don't believe in the baby Jesus. (that is radical, it's back to good works, and not harming others).
                I haven't followed Francis as closely as you might have, though I have paid significant attention. But...I don't think Francis thinks good works save anyone. I think Francis thinks Jesus saves everyone...even those who don't believe it.

                While Francis has certainly encouraged believers and non-believers to agree on the world's need for us to do good works, I do not think Francis has maintained they are necessary for salvation.

                But as I noted above, I can't speak for Francis.

                "Salvation"--much to be written on the term. I think envisioning it as my individual consciousness dwelling in an eternal perfect city is too simplistic.

                "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                by HeyMikey on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 02:33:18 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  he does (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  he did say that, a few months back, it was sooo radical.  Someone who believes but who doesn't follow the teaching of Jesus won't get in, according to him, and those who do (and Jesus said nothing about who anyone is allowed to love), who live their lives with generosity and love, will.  So says Francis.  

                  It's about serving the least among us.  It's not about the so-called 'personal responsibility' that is so-called subverted by the so-called redistribution of wealth.  As say the Christian right. As says Sarah Palin, and that so-called Catholic Paul Ryan (who the nuns on the bus have also called out - the pope is on the side of the nuns on the bus)

                  I don't believe in heaven, of course not, but I do believe that life feels a lot better on earth when you're looking out for more than just yourself.  And I think we'd all feel better if there were more equality of opportunity and a whole lot less poverty and safer and more interesting schools.  

                  he's the real deal (I wonder if his life is in danger).  

                  •  Re-read what Francis said. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    anna shane
                    The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter  that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

                    Seems to me what he's saying is:

                    * the duty to do good is a response to the human condition--specifically the human need for more peace;

                    * the human condition also includes being redeemed--already--by Jesus.

                    Analysis from various sources on this topic--I do not vouch for the quality of any:

           [note official Vatican response at the end of this one, which seems counter to Francis's remarks]





                    All that was in a sermon. Francis apparently said in a separate letter:

                    "God forgives those who obey their conscience...The question for those who do not believe in God is to follow their own conscience. Sin, even for a non-believer, is when one goes against one's conscience...[the] mercy of God has no limits."


                    I'm Presbyterian. I believe everyone is saved by Jesus, though not all Presbyterians agree with me. I see it this way for a number of reasons, mostly a trust in the goodness of God. I see it as implicit in the Presbyterian practice of baptizing infants--we are saved not by what we do, but by what God has already done. All that is to say that I'd like Francis to agree with me, and that desire may color my interpretation of his remarks.

                    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                    by HeyMikey on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 03:52:31 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  John 8:8 (10+ / 0-)
    Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

    And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

    So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

    And from this week's homily by Pope Francis:
    Christians who lose the faith and prefer ideology become rigid, moralists, ethicists, but without goodness. But this may be the question, no? Why does a Christian become that way? What happens in the heart of that Christian, that priest, of that bishop, of that Pope, that makes them that way. It is simply one thing: that Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you will always close the door.”
    The clear theme that I see since he became pope is that all of us need to be humble and not judgemental.
    •  Yes (7+ / 0-)

      Other diarists commented on that wonderful homily, so I left it out here. But yes!

    •  Jesus was a prisoner too (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cotterperson, Timaeus, Yoshimi

      Pope Francis is a deep thinker no doubt.  His comfort with prisoners reflects in my mind the fact that Jesus was judged a threat to the religious and political authorities of his day, arrested as a criminal and imprisoned until his execution.  Jesus was deeply subversive in his ministry and a threat to the civil and religious bodies of his day.  He stood up for those who had no voice including women.  Like the parable of Martha and Mary, when Martha continued her womanly work, Jesus berated her for judging Mary, who took time to listen and learn from his sermons, rather than just work.

      I like this Pope and hope that change, however slow, comes to the church which needs to stop the condemnation and judgement of others more harsely than itself.  Time to pluck the log from the churches' eyes rather than judging others.  

    •  Why does a bitter, consumed with power (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Cardinal or Bishop have the nerve to deny Senator Ted Kennedy or then Senator John Kerry Holy Communion?  The gall of someone whose power has infected him and is destroying him.  No.  No.  No.  Those Cardinals and Bishops in the American Synod were so very wrong.  I detest them and their little, shrunken souls.

  •  A very long slog (6+ / 0-)

    A lesbian was just fired from a Catholic School in Arkansas 45 minutes after getting married. They invoked Francis in a plea for equality, but so far, to no avail. It's going to be a long slog

    John Paul II and Benedict had 30 years to centralize power to the Vatican, and appoint conservatives to open bishop and cardinal seats. It even filtered down the the parish level --where conservatives got to lead the comfortable suburban parishes.

    It seems to me like a Pope's main powers are to give speeches and sermons, and to appoint bishops and cardinals.  It will take a very long time to undo the last few decades -- if this is even Frances' intent.

    The Modern GOP-- Accept no Responsibility, Blame the Innocent, Punish the Vulnerable.

    by RickinStLouis on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 08:56:47 AM PDT

    •  yeah (9+ / 0-)

      And yet, those cardinals elected Francis.

      •  I don't think they quite understood him. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I commented on another thread that he is the papal equivalent of David Souter.

        The Modern GOP-- Accept no Responsibility, Blame the Innocent, Punish the Vulnerable.

        by RickinStLouis on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 09:32:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Maybe, Maybe Not (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          vc2, cotterperson, Timaeus, Yoshimi

          We'll never know for sure but I think they knew what they were getting -- maybe not to the extent that they got it but they knew that after 35 years of JPII and BXVI they needed something different, particularly after all of Benedict's PR disasters.

          It was widely reported that what put Francis in the running was that during the pre-conclave meetings was a speech he made about the importance of being a church for the poor.  They knew about his shinning the big bishop's residence in favor of a small apartment, of his fixing his own meals, and his riding the bus.

          As I say they may not have know the degree to which he was going to change the focus and tone of the conversation but they knew there would be some changes.

          Put it another way -- when they voted for a Jesuit pope they knew the apple cart wasn't going to be pushed the same way it had been for 35 years.

          “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point--race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.” ― Molly Ivins

          by RoIn on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 10:08:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  But recall that Cardinal was prominent for a long (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cotterperson, Yoshimi

            Time.  He was no. 2 in the vote that elected Ratzinger.

            •  Francis Was Also Elected Pretty Quickly (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I think it was only five ballots which was faster than anticipated suggesting he had a good chuck of support going into the conclave and that it only took a few ballots to get him over the needed threshold of 2/3.

              A big factor in Benedict's election was a feeling that he would be in a good position to clean up the mess in the curia.  He was seen as being in the curia but not of it.  That didn't work and as the curia problems got even worse under Benedict there was a view that they needed someone who was not even in it.

              Thus, word has been, that any cardinal associated with the curia was a non-starter as was any Italian.

              “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point--race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.” ― Molly Ivins

              by RoIn on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 11:20:32 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  It tells me that the Spirit is still with us (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cotterperson, Timaeus

          I doubt the College of Cardinals intended a radical change in substance (and it's not yet clear we will get one, though I am hopeful).

          As a Catholic priest and a Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio took vows of obedience. In his role as priest and Bishop he is required to follow the teaching and instruction of his superiors. Thus nothing other than his personal conduct told us much about him prior to his elevation as Pope. Now he answers only to the Gospel and he seems to feel that keenly. In this I think he bears a great resemblance to John XXIII. With luck he will have a similar positive influence on the church and hopefully a longer papacy with which to make that influence permanent.

          “Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.” ― Wendell Berry

          by epc3 on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 10:19:28 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'd say the origins are in the sermon on the mount (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, Yoshimi, duhban

    In Matthew. Good diary.

  •  What hints at disappointment in the church's (0+ / 0-)

    view on gay marriage is the very recent article in L'Osservatore Romano by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller.

    In reaction to the question of receiving communion when a parishoner is remarried, Muller does a deep dive into Biblical and church history of the sacrament of marriage and finds that  most current marriages aren't "valid" in the church's eyes. It appears that Pope Francis agrees with his argument .This is disappointing because Muller is a proud follower of Liberation Theology and it is also disappointing because the church takes issue with indissolubility and the rejection of being married and rejecting the openess of having children.

    This doesn't bode well for anyone looking for a non-traditional marriage.

    Muller Rejects Remarriage Permitted in the Orthodox Church

    •  But then again it could open the door (0+ / 0-)

      to "we are all sinners" when it comes to the Sacrament of Marriage. Right? How can I judge that your marriage isn't a sacrament when the church views mine as one that isn't a sacrament either?

  •  I have so much hope (0+ / 0-)

    and I left the church in the '70's after being taught a sweet and profound social gospel by Notre Dame nuns and Diocesan priests at Catholic Schools.  The church skewed to the right in subsequent years and that was so regrettable and sad.

    Now, Frances brings hope to the world.  I really feel he is a gift to our world.  Something transcendental, something magical.  Oh I hope so.

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