Theology of Pope Francis

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Pope Francis
Papacy began 13 March 2013
Predecessor Benedict XVI
Ordination 13 December 1969
by Ramón José Castellano
Consecration 27 June 1992
by Antonio Quarracino
Created Cardinal 21 February 2001
by John Paul II
Personal details
Birth name Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Born (1936-12-17) 17 December 1936 (age 80)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Nationality Argentine with Vatican citizenship
Previous post Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina (1973–1979)
Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires (1992–1997)
Titular Bishop of Auca (1992–1997)
Archbishop of Buenos Aires (1998–2013)
Cardinal-Priest of St. Roberto Bellarmino (2001–2013)
Ordinary of the Ordinariate for the Faithful of the Eastern Rites in Argentina (1998–2013)
President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference (2005–2011)
Motto Miserando atque Eligendo
Mercifully choosing him
Signature Pope Francis's signature
Coat of arms Pope Francis's coat of arms

Theology of Pope Francis is an analysis of his significant words and actions which indicate his personal understanding of Christian beliefs and practices. The focus here is on salient features, what he emphasized during his papacy, what characterized his pontificate. This is usually seen from his manner of expressing himself, at times distinguishing his own views from previous practices.[1] Also, the focus is on his papacy, as distinct from his time as Jesuit provincial or as archbishop in a very special Latin American context.

Pope Francis is the first member of the Society of Jesus to be appointed Pope of the Catholic Church, elected on 13 March 2013. With training as a Jesuit educator, he received "high marks as an accomplished intellectual, having studied theology in Germany".[2] He can be seen as someone who personally straddles the divide between the liberals and conservatives in the Catholic Church. At the same time, he has consistently supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.[2]

As pope he has become known for his emphasis on God's merciful love for all people, regardless of religious belief, and for intolerance of triumphalism and smugness in the Church. These emphases emerge from the various sections in this article, on the Church's mission and leadership, on its pastoral sense and liturgy, and on charity as the foundation for morality and as motivation for environmentalism today.

The apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, released eight months after his election, has been described as his programmatic, "a core document of this pontificate",[3] in his own words "pointing new paths for this pontificate for years to come".[4] Additional references are given in this article that show a consistency between this early exhortation and his later words and actions. Citation numbers in parentheses in this article apply to paragraph numbers in Evangelii Gaudium (EG), except for the section on Environmentalism where the numbers refer to Laudato si' (LS).

The Church's mission

Chapter One of Evangelii Gaudium (EG) is entitled “The Church’s Missionary Transformation”. In the opening paragraph Francis proposed “pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey for years to come”. He emphasized: "Missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity” (EG15) and it is “the entire People of God which evangelizes” (EG 17). In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (EG 120). And he was addressing all Catholics when he said:

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light, and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. (EG 49)

Francis was schooled in the Spiritual Exercises of the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola,[5] which immerse one in the life of Jesus to gain “an intimate knowledge of our Lord, … that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.”[6] He writes that “The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (EG 88), mentioning "tenderness" eleven times in Evangelii Gaudium, where he also uses the personal name ”Jesus” 125 times, revealing the focus of his own life.

On the issue of proselytizing, Francis said:

We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: "I am talking with you in order to persuade you". No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.[7]

— Top 10 secrets to happiness, from interview, Catholic News Service

Choosing words from Vatican II, he calls the Church “to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth” (EG 26). He says:

I dream of a "missionary option", that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. (EG 27)

Speaking of the Church as "a mother with an open heart", Francis says of the Church:

(It) constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel ... whenever perfection is not possible. A missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself "weak with the weak, ... everything for everyone" (1 Cor 9:22). It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. ...In discerning the paths of the Spirit, ... it always does what good it can, even if in the process its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street. (EG 45)

He repeats what he told the Church in Buenos Aires, that he prefers a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security, ... caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures” (EG 49), adding:

If part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems. ...An administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization. (EG 63)

"The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism."[8]

Church leadership


Francis argued for “sound 'decentralization'... It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory” (EG 16). He mentions that “Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding ‘a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation’. We have made little progress in this regard” (EG 32). Francis adds that “a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach” (EG 32).[9]

Francis decried the imbalance that can occur “when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word” (EG 38).[10][11] Also, he understands the search for truth as a dialogical process, mentioning dialogue 60 times in Evangelii Gaudium. He speaks of consensus building (EG 240) and calls for attention to the sensus fidei, learning in a special way from the poor (EG 198), and adds:

God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression. (EG 119)


Francis emphasized that the "hour of the laity" had arrived and decried clericalism as rife in the Church, saying that it “leads to the functionalization of the laity, treating them as ‘errand boys [or girls]’.”[12] And he also decried what it was doing to priests: “A careless priest can become seduced by the prospect of a career, ... turning him into a functionary, a cleric worried more about himself, about organizations and structures, than about the true good of the People of God.”[13] He spoke of pastoral customs that become a protocol which instead of welcoming might distance people.[14][15] Addressing apostolic nuncios he said:

In the delicate task of carrying out inquiries for episcopal appointments be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people, fathers and brothers, that they are gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life, that they do not have the psychology of "Princes”.[16]

He castigated and took action against clerics who were living a princely life.[17][18] Francis believes clergy should be shepherds looking after the people, but knows that clerics can be tempted and corrupted by power. When the clergy take from the people instead of giving, simony and other corruption can follow. Love between the clergy and the people is destroyed.[19]

Francis fears some clerics "become wolves and not shepherds". He criticized "spiritual worldliness", which can be defined as deceitfully trying to appear holy, and said that "careerism and the search for a promotion [to the hierarchy] come under the category of spiritual worldliness". Francis became known for his snarky remarks, that captured attention, and here he gave an example of clerical vanity: "Look at the peacock; it's beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth. ...Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them".[20]

Pope Francis ended his address to 138 newly-appointed bishops by saying: “Please, do not fall into the temptation of sacrificing your freedom by surrounding yourself with courtiers, climbers and yes-men, since the church and the world have the right to always find on the lips of the bishop the Gospel, which makes them free”.[21]

Speaking to 120 superiors of religious orders, Francis kept up his campaign against clericalism, that seminary formation must be “a work of art, not a police action” where seminarians “grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told ‘Good, you have finished formation’. ... This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism, which is one of the worst evils”. Priestly formation "must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps”.[22]

Francis described the Church’s “temptation to triumphalism, ... a Church that is content with what it is or has – well sorted, well organized, with all its offices, everything in order, everything perfect, efficient”. But this, he said, is “a Church that denies its martyrs, because it does not know that martyrs are needed”. A healthy Church, on the other hand, recognizes “triumph through failure – human failure – the failure of the Cross”, he said.[23]


“Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology, and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow” (EG 40). Distancing himself from attacks on secularism that characterized the previous papacy,[24] Francis said:

The complaints of today about how "barbaric" the world is, these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today. ...God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history.[9]

In response to the “signs of the times” (EG 51), he looks to theologians to discern the way ahead:

A theology – and not simply a pastoral theology – which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences is most important for our discernment on how best to bring the Gospel message to different cultural contexts and groups. The Church, in her commitment to evangelization, appreciates and encourages the charism of theologians and their scholarly efforts to advance dialogue with the world of cultures and sciences. (133)

Francis frequently calls for “discernment”, an important notion from the Jesuit founder’s Spiritual Exercises. The word occurs twenty times in Evangelii Gaudium. He says that by discernment we “avoid a kind of legalism” and find the way for people that is “most transformative, ... that can contribute toward their holiness, to their growth in conforming to Christ.”[25]

Francis expresses the need for discernment in a variety of contexts: for “a renewed appreciation of the liturgical signs of Christian initiation” (EG 166) and to foster “spiritual growth in response to God’s completely free gift” (EG 179). Discernment is also needed so that the missionary impetus might tend to peoples’ “concrete life, both personal and social” (EG 181, 31) which requires a “rethinking of goals, structures, style, and methods” (EG 33), “where deeper discernment about our experiences and life itself is undertaken in the light of the Gospel” (EG 77), responsive to the “historical situation” and to the “particular circumstance” of each person (EG 154).

Time magazine selected Francis "Person of the Year" in the first year of his papacy, writing:[26]

What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), “the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed”. In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church – the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world – above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors.

Important role of women

Francis does not see women being ordained to the ministerial priesthood, but says: "Our great dignity derives from Baptism. ...When we speak of sacramental power 'we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness' " (EG 104). And he says:

Many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families, and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church ... in the various other settings where important decisions are made. (EG 103-104)

Looking ahead, he said that many women are well prepared to contribute to religious and theological discussions at the highest levels, alongside their male counterparts. It is more necessary than ever that they do so.[27]

Married priests

The Church does not require married clergy who are converts to cease their ministry if it considers their ordination valid. And celibacy has never been regarded as a divine law for priests. Francis expressed his openness to consider having some older married men ordained, especially in mission areas where there is an extreme shortage of priests.[28][29] Consistent with his idea of collegiality, he chose to wait for the conferences of bishops to request this in the light of local situations.[30]

Pastoral sense

Francis in the Philippines

In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis quotes a passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which stands out in his own thinking: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. He goes on to distinguish between the "evangelical ideal" and the "stages of personal growth". The confessional, he says,

must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. (EG 44)

He quotes St. Ambrose: the Communion bread “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (EG 47). Such talk led a few cardinals in the church to speak of an impending schism.[31]

Francis decries self-absorption and failing to find God in every human being (EG 92). This sometimes happens with those who observe "certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism" (EG 94). This he decries as

spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, [and] consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: "How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?" (Jn 5:44). It is a subtle way of seeking one’s "own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Phil 2:21) ... [and] is based on carefully cultivated appearances. (EG 93)

To overcome worldliness it is necessary that the “Church constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ, and her commitment to the poor” (EG 97). He adds:

The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel. ...The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). ...The Church does not evangelize unless she constantly lets herself be evangelized. It is indispensable that the word of God "be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity”. (EG 114, 169, 174)

The Church's liturgy and devotions

In September 2017, Francis made changes in Canon Law to leave to the discretion of local bishops’ conferences the wording of liturgical texts. This effectively reversed the efforts of those who, under popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, had required that these texts conform closely to the original Latin expression. In Francis’ words, “the vernacular languages themselves, often only in a progressive manner, would be able to become liturgical languages, standing out in a not dissimilar way to liturgical Latin for their elegance of style and the profundity of their concepts with the aim of nourishing the faith.”[9] This was seen by some as the end of the “reform of the reform” movement that sought to overturn the principles of liturgical reform proposed by the Second Vatican Council.[32] Earlier Francis had written: “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history” (EG 118). And he had distanced himself from the previous popes who gave broad permission for reversion to the Mass in Latin,[33] observing:

In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few. (EG 95)

Of the Eucharistic celebration he says: “A sacrament is not 'a magical rite' but rather the instrument God has chosen in order to continue to walk beside man as his travelling companion through life”.[34] In a brief address to liturgists on the anniversary of Musicam Sacram, Francis mentions eight times the importance of the peoples’ active participation in song.[35] In an address to charismatics he reemphasizes this: “You are able to shout out when your team scores a goal, and you cannot sing the Lord’s praises and leave behind your composure a little to sing”.[36] As regards his own singing at Mass, he has pointed out that since he had the upper portion of his right lung removed, he is too short of breath.[37]

Reflecting on the deep meaning of the Communion bread, he draws on Paul's epistles:

Whenever we hear the word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, ... we become aware of what we receive: the Body of Christ. In this body there is no room for the indifference which so often seems to possess our hearts. For whoever is of Christ, belongs to one body, and in him we cannot be indifferent to one another. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor 12:26).[38]

Communion is assimilation: partaking of Him, we become as He is. ...The Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual exercise. ... Nourishing ourselves of Him and abiding in Him through Eucharistic Communion, if we do so with faith, transforms our life, transforms it into a gift to God and to our brothers and sisters. Nourishing ourselves of that “Bread of Life” means entering into harmony with the heart of Christ, assimilating his choices, his thoughts, his behaviour. It means entering into a dynamism of love and becoming people of peace, people of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of sharing in solidarity. The very things that Jesus did.[39]

Explaining how sacraments are means or instruments, not ends in themselves, Francis says:

A disciple of Jesus does not go to Church simply to observe a precept, to feel he/she is in good standing with God who then will not “disturb” him/her too much. "But Lord, I go every Sunday, I do ..., don’t interfere in my life, don’t disturb me." This is the attitude of so many Catholics, so many. A disciple of Jesus goes to Church to encounter the Lord and to find in his grace, operating in the Sacraments, the power to think and act according to the Gospel. This is why we cannot mislead ourselves of being able to enter the Lord’s house and "cover up", with prayer and acts of devotion, conduct contrary to the requirements of justice, honesty, and/or charity to our neighbour. We cannot substitute with “religious tributes” what is owed to our neighbour, postponing true conversion. Worship, liturgical celebrations, are the privileged setting to hear the voice of the Lord, who guides us on the path of rectitude and Christian perfection.[40]

Impact of shrines

Francis sees in shrines a "thirst for God" and "witness to belief". It is "a way of feeling part of the Church and a manner of being missionaries. ...Journeying together to shrines and taking part in other manifestations of popular piety, also by taking one’s children or inviting others, is in itself an evangelizing gesture”. These are the "manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts" (EG 122-6).

Privatized devotion

"The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal" (EG 64). "There is a kind of Christianity made up of devotions reflecting an individual and sentimental faith life. ... Some people promote these expressions while not being in the least concerned with the advancement of society or the formation of the laity" (EG 74). "The spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world, or a passion for evangelization" (EG 78).

Regarding the Mafia, at an outdoor Mass in Calabria, Francis was the first pontiff to suggest automatic excommunication: "Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated".[41]

Primacy of charity

Francis has said: "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, ... even the atheists. Everyone! ... We are created children in the likeness of God ... and we all have a duty to do good”,[13] adding:

The Lord will recognize us if, in our turn, we recognized him in the poor, in the hungry, in the indigent and the outcast, in those who suffer and are alone. ...This is one of the fundamental criteria for evaluating our Christian life, which Jesus calls us to measure up to every day. I read the Beatitudes and I think of how my Christian life should be, and then I examine my conscience with this Chapter 25 of Matthew: [whatever you did to one of the least of my brethren you did to me (25:40)].[42]


Pope Francis with the U.S. President Barack Obama

Francis has been emphatic in his attacks on the trickle-down theory that has characterized the economics of the Republican Party in the United States:[43]

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. (EG 54)

We must say “no to a financial system which rules rather than serves. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God” (EG 57). “It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences.” He added that speculation in agricultural commodities is “a scandal which seriously compromises access to food on the part of the poorest members of our human family”.[44]

While Christian ethics has always taught that the earth's richness is meant for the common good, Francis has been called a Marxist for his demand for more equality:

As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills. ...It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders ... ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education, and healthcare. (EG 202, 205)[45][46]

Option for the poor

Perhaps the most visible priority of Francis' papacy is his reaching out to those who are unable to live a dignified life because of their situation of poverty, reversing some of the emphases of previous pontiffs.[47] "The Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a 'special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness'. ...This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor" (EG 198).

Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk. (EG 207)

"If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection, ... interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent, and self-centred mentality, to ... bring dignity to their presence on this earth" (EG 208).

Francis has been in the forefront of insisting on the importance of helping refugees.[48] His suggestion “to not raise walls but bridges"[49] was widely interpreted by the media as addressed to President Trump,[50][51] and repeated by Francis with regards to Trump's immigration policy.[52] Francis' deeper concern is that "A globalization of indifference has developed; ... the culture of prosperity deadens us; ... those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us" (EG 54).

Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel. Our challenge is not so much atheism as ... a disembodied Jesus who demands nothing of us with regard to others. Unless these people find in the Church a spirituality ... summoning them to fraternal communion and missionary fruitfulness, they will end up by being taken in by solutions which neither make life truly human nor give glory to God. (EG 88-89)

What is demanded is “learning to find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas, ... never tiring of our decision to live in fraternity” (EG 90). Lay ministries should be “reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political, and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society” (EG 94).

“The old question always returns: ‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?’ ” (EG 187). “To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country” (EG 190).[53]


By issuing Laudato si' (LS), Francis lifted environmentalism to the high level of teaching of a papal encyclical,[54] even as other Popes wrote encyclicals to argue for the common good among the moral crises of their day.[55] But as with other issues Francis does not shy away from introducing to the Church a controversial stand, in this case focusing on the human causes of global warming.[56] He addresses Chapter One to all peoples, on our common home, citing "the results of the best scientific research available today" (LS 15). While returning to arguments for this larger audience in chapters three through five, in chapters two and six he addresses largely believers, pointing out that "the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures" (LS 68). He speaks of "the rhythms inscribed in nature" through sabbatical years and the jubilee year which give rest to the land (LS 71). Among his references are: "The earth is the Lord’s" (Ps 24:1); to him belongs "the earth with all that is within it" (Dt 10:14); humans are to "till and keep the garden of the world" (cf. Gen 2:15).

Francis observes that developed countries exploit the non-renewable resources of poor countries and are lax in assisting them to sustainable development.[57] Also, "the poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for reducing environmental impact" (LS 52). Here we are reminded of the option for the poor (above), "In any discussion about a proposed venture, a number of questions need to be asked in order to discern whether or not it will contribute to genuine integral development” (LS 185). He mentions the common destination of the earth's goods, preserving these for the good of all (LS 158). For this Christians must adopt a mindset away from consumerism, and that less can be more in the spiritual realm:

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, ... one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. ...Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess. (LS 222)

In this encyclical, Francis mentions the need for solidarity (14x) and dialogue (25x) to counter widespread indifference (7x) and selfishness (4x).[58]

Morality as a vehicle of God's mercy

Pope Francis, without questioning the staples of the Church's moral doctrine, has advocated pastoral practice in conformity with the judgment: "I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness".[59] He underscored this by washing the feet of prisoners,[60] ending what some saw as Pope Benedict's efforts to revive the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic church.[61]

Francis chose for his motto miserando atque eligendo, literally "by having mercy and by selecting", which refers to Jesus' selection for apostleship Matthew the tax collector, considered unclean by Jewish law. He mentions God's mercy 32 times in Evangelii Gaudium and says: "God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy" (EG 3). Francis declared 2016 a yearlong celebration of God's mercy, and describes it as fundamental to the pastoral sense which he enjoins on all those who would exercise ministry in the Church (see above).

He warns against turning faith into a moral system: “Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy, or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others, and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others” (EG 39).

Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”. Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation "so as not to burden the lives of the faithful" and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas "God’s mercy has willed that we should be free”. (EG 43)[59]

He warned against "codification of the faith in rules and regulations, as the scribes, the Pharisees, the doctors of the law did in the time of Jesus. To us, everything will be clear and set in order, but the faithful and those in search will still hunger and thirst for God". He went on to describe the Church as a field hospital where people should come to know the warmth and closeness of God to them.[62]

Application to specific issues

Regarding gay people, Francis said: "I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally". But he goes further and says:

I believe that the church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended, but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons.[63]

While strongly advocating openness to migrants and refugees, Francis acknowledged the difference:

The migrant must be treated with certain rules, because to emigrate is a right, but it is a very regulated right. On the other hand, being a refugee, one comes from a situation of war, of anguish, of hunger, ... from a terrible situation.[64]

Speaking of those who cannot satisfy their basic needs for food and health care, Francis calls on all nations to show "a willingness to share everything and to decide to be Good Samaritans, instead of people who are indifferent to the needs of others".[65]

Francis acknowledged that he carried his emphasis on mercy too far when he reduced the penalty of a pedophile priest from imprisonment to a lifetime of prayer and being barred from saying Mass or being near children, along with five years of psychotherapy.[66] He said of the case: "I was new and I didn't understand these things well, and before two choices I chose the more benevolent one. ...It was the only time I did it, and never again".[67]

Sexual morality as Good News

Francis has criticized those homilies "which should be kerygmatic but end up speaking about everything that has a connection with sex, ... whether or not to participate in a demonstration against a draft law in favor of the use of condoms". He adds: "We end up forgetting the treasure of Jesus alive, the treasure of the Holy Spirit present in our hearts, the treasure of a project of Christian life that has many implications that go much further than mere sexual questions".[37]

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. ...The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.[9]

In the Extraordinary General Assembly of Bishops in 2014, in preparation for the Synod on the Family of 2015, Francis recommended "true spiritual discernment, ... to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families". In the 2015 Synod, the question of Communion for divorced Catholics living in a civil marriage became heated. In Francis' summation of the synod, Amoris laetitia, he followed the line of progressives at the synod and suggested that bishops must move church practice closer to the real life situations, and accompany people in “discernment” and an examination of conscience. Beyond that he left the matter to the local bishops' conferences, in the spirit of collegiality that he had been promoting.[68] Following this, bishops in Germany wrote that “Catholics who have been remarried under civil law after a divorce are invited to go to the church, participate in their lives, and mature as living members of the church,” offering "no general rule", not insisting that priests give Communion to divorced people but calling for “differentiated solutions, which are appropriate to the individual case”. A similar directive had been given by the bishops' conferences in Argentina and in Malta.[69]

Liberation theology

The conservative-progressive divide among bishops in Latin America became apparent in the question of how involved the clergy should be in politics.[47] Óscar Romero was appointed bishop in San Salvador as a conservative, but moved toward the progressive perspective just 17 days after his consecration as bishop, at the assassination of Father Rutilio Grande. Pope Francis gave his clearest support for the progressive perspective by moving forward the causes of canonization of Grande and Romero which had been on hold under the previous pontiffs.[70][71][72]

See also

Chief sources

EG: Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis on evangelization, 24 November 2013.

LS: Laudato si', an encyclical letter of Pope Francis on environmentalism, 24 May 2015.


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