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 81)
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 pronouncements and statements on Christian beliefs and practices. The focus here is on salient features, what he emphasized during his papacy, what characterized his pontificate. Francis has cut his own path and let others speculate on the consequences. He has shown a predilection for dialogue, not controversy.[1] And the focus here is on his papacy, as distinct from his time as Jesuit provincial or as archbishop in a very special Latin American context. He is the first member of the Society of Jesus to be appointed Pope of the Catholic Church, elected on 13 March 2013.

Francis can be understood as in close continuity with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) whose teachings were “founded on the Bible, more directly than those of any previous ecumenical council”.[2] With Vatican II “the monopoly exercised by neo-Thomists in the church collapsed” and Christianity increased its appeal to non-Western cultures.[3] This both explains the world-wide appeal of Pope Francis[4] and the practical differences that he experiences within the Catholic church: it's not so much about individual issues as about whether one prioritizes the New Testament over neo-Thomism (the scholastic philosophy of recent history).

To capture what is special about Francis’ theology it is helpful to let him speak in his own words: the specialty is often watered down in generalizations. His statements have been well described as “snarky” and “stunners”.[5][6][7] The fervor of his determination to turn around the church appears in his way of expressing himself.

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",[8] in his own words "pointing out new paths for the Church's journey for years to come".[9] 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

In Chapter One of Evangelii Gaudium (EG) on “The Church’s Missionary Transformation”, Pope Francis speaks of his dream of "a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs ... and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation" (EG 27). For Francis, "missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity” (EG15) and it is “the entire People of God which evangelizes” (EG 17), called by their baptism to be missionary disciples (EG 120).[10] They should be troubled in conscience that so many, our brothers and sisters, live without the sense of purpose and consolation that come from knowing Jesus Christ and without a faith community for support (EG 49). Francis was schooled in the Spiritual Exercises of the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola[11] 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.”[12] He reveals the focus of his own life by mentioning the personal name ”Jesus” 125 times in Evangelii Gaudium..

He has said that "the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: 'I am talking with you in order to persuade you' ". He calls for dialogue that allows for mutual growth, by attraction.[13] He quotes Vatican II on the Church's continual need for reform (EG 26). He speaks of the Church as "a mother with an open heart", constantly in need of communicating better, becoming "weak with the weak, ... everything for everyone" (1 Cor 9:22).[14][15]

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).[16] He calls for a more welcoming atmosphere in our communities with less focus on administering the sacraments and on Church bureaucracy, which he finds alienating some of the baptized (EG 63), He describes this bureaucracy as self-referential with "a kind of theological narcissism".[17]

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 finds little progress in finding a new way of exercising Papal primacy as requested by John Paul II (EG 32) in continuity with the desire of the Bishops at Vatican II.[18] He seeks to give episcopal conferences "genuine doctrinal authority", and foresees decentralization as facilitating Church life and missionary outreach (EG 32).[19] 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).[20][21]

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 or "instinct of faith" especially of the poor (EG 198), whereby the faithful discern what is of God through a connaturality or intuitive wisdom (EG 119).[22][23]


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]’ ”.[24] And through clericalism a 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”.[25] He spoke of the "eighth sacrament" that some priests would create – the "pastoral customs office" that would close doors on people instead of facilitating their receiving the sacraments.[26][27] 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”.[28]

He castigated and took action against clerics who were living a princely life.[29][30] Francis said clergy should be shepherds looking after the people, but knows they can be tempted and corrupted by power. When they take from the people instead of giving, simony and other corruption can follow. Love between the clergy and the people is destroyed.[31]

Francis fears some clerics "become wolves and not shepherds; ... careerism and the search for a promotion [to the hierarchy] come under the category of spiritual worldliness", deceitfully trying to appear holy. Francis became known for his snarky remarks. He said 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".[32] He admonished 138 newly-appointed bishops not to surround themselves with "courtiers, climbers, and yes-men" but to bring people the Gospel that makes people free.[33]

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”.[34]

Picking up on Bishop de Smedt's much-quoted remark at the Second Vatican Council, that the Catholic church was suffering from triumphalism, clericalism, and legalism,[35] 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”.[36]


During the papacy of John Paul II, one could see a revival of the importance given to scholastic philosophy.[37] Francis, however, called for openness to “differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology, and pastoral practice" (EG 40), saying that being "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". He went on to encourage theologians (EG 133), who at times found themselves in an adversarial relationship during John Paul's papacy.[38]

Also, distancing himself from attacks on secularism that characterized Benedict's papacy,[39] 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.[40]

To find God in today's world, Francis frequently calls for “discernment”, an important notion from the Jesuit founder’s Spiritual Exercises. The word occurs twenty times in Evangelii Gaudium. Francis says that by discernment we “avoid a kind of legalism” and help people conform to the image of Christ.[41] He mentions the need for discernment to adapt the sign of Christian initiation to each cultural context (EG 166) – to see Christ in endless diversity (EG 181) and in all others whoever they may be (EG 179), in the particularity of each situation in which we are to deliver God's call to people (EG 154). This requires “rethinking of goals, structures, style, and methods” (EG 33) and "deeper discernment about our experiences and life itself" enlightened by the Gospel (EG 77).

Time magazine selected Francis "Person of the Year" in the first year of his papacy, writing:[42]

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.[43] It is more necessary than ever that they do so,[44] "because women look at reality with a different, a greater richness".[45]

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.[46][47] Consistent with his idea of collegiality, he chose to wait for the conferences of bishops to request this in the light of local situations.[48]

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".[49][50] 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.[51]

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).[52] 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), and he adds that "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." This requires all its members to learn the “art of accompaniment, ... to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5)", and that the Church itself be constantly evangelized by the Good News (EG 114, 169, 174).[53]

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”.[19] 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.[54] 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,[55] 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”.[56] 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.[57] 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”.[58] 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.[59]

Reflecting on the deep meaning of the Communion bread, he draws on Paul's epistles that point out our oneness as Christ's body, where all suffer together and are honored together (1 Cor 12:26).[60] Communion, he says, is not "a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual exercise" but a means of our transformation, our taking on the heart of Christ: peaceable, forgiving, reconciling, in solidarity with all.[61]

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.[62]

He goes on to say that true disciples encounter the Lord in the sacraments and receive the power to follow Jesus' teaching. One cannot cover up injustice, dishonesty, and uncharitableness against one's neighbor with prayers and devotions.[62]

Impact of shrines

Francis sees in journeying together to shrines a thirst for God and a working of the Spirit. They enable us to witness to our belief and to feel a part of the Church. Bringing one's children or inviting others is an evangelizing gesture (EG 122-6).[63]

Privatized devotion

Francis remarks how religion has become privatized and purely personal through the secularization of society (EG 64). In this atmosphere one's devotional life can fall into sentimentality, bringing personal comfort without encounter with others or an evangelizing spirit (EG 78).[64] He criticizes people who promote such privatized devotion while neglecting the formation of the laity toward the advancement of society (EG 74).[65]

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".[66]

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”.[25] He points to the Last Judgment scene in Gospel of Matthew as proof of how God judges: what we do for the poor, the hungry, the indigent, the outcast, those who suffer and are alone, Jesus regards as done to himself (25:37-40). And he points to the Beatitudes as showing what gives deep happiness, what we should strive to live up to every day: being poor in spirit and meek and humble of heart, merciful and peacemakers, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.[67]


Pope Francis with the U.S. President Barack Obama

Francis has been emphatic in his attacks on the trickle-down theory which claims that economic growth from capitalism will lead to widespread prosperity, as maintained by the Republican Party in the United States.[68] He characterized this as never confirmed by the facts and sacralizing the economic system with a "crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power" (EG 54).

Francis says that 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). He calls it “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 adds 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”.[69]

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. He calls inequality "the root of all social ills" and places on economic and government leaders the responsibility to address its structural causes and to assure all citizens access to education, dignified work, and healthcare. He finds this essential to solving any of the world's problems (EG 202, 205).[70][71]

Option for the poor

Pope Francis, even as the bishops at Vatican II,[2] prioritized the teaching of Jesus over scholastic theologies (see also below: Sexual morality as Good News).[72] He made an option for the poor the most visible priority of his papacy, Few would disagree that this option has enjoyed a special primacy throughout Christian history. Francis concludes that the church should be "poor and for the poor" (EG 198), with "creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone". Without this all the religious practices and talk of social issues will be just a camouflage (EG 207). He expects some to be offended by his words but would help "those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent, and self-centred mentality, to ... bring dignity to their presence on this earth" (EG 208).[73]

Francis has been in the forefront of insisting on the importance of helping refugees.[74] His suggestion “to not raise walls but bridges"[75] was widely interpreted by the media as addressed to President Trump,[76][77] and repeated by Francis with regards to Trump's immigration policy.[78] Francis has said that “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).[79] More broadly he is concerned 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).[80]

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)

He suggests that we should find Jesus in others, in their faces, voices, pleas – redoubling our efforts to live in fraternity (EG 90). Lay ministries must go beyond serving our own community and show real commitment to transform every aspect of life in society with Jesus' values (EG 94). Only in this way can we respond to the evangelical mandate that we have God's love in us, if we do not refuse help to those in need (1 Jn 3:17 in EG 187).[81][82]


By issuing Laudato si' (LS), Francis lifted environmentalism to the high level of teaching of a papal encyclical,[83] even as other Popes wrote encyclicals to argue for the common good in the moral crises of their day.[84] 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.[85] 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).[86] 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 God 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,[87] though these poor areas are least able to adopt new models that reduce environmental impact (LS 52). Here we are reminded of the option for the poor (above), One must discern the impact on the poor and on integral human development before launching any project (LS 185). Francis stresses the common destination of the earth's goods, preserving these for the good of all (LS 158). For this Christians must move away from consumerism to a more Christian concept of quality of life, where we can be "grateful for the opportunities which life affords us ... and appreciate the small things" with a certain detachment based on our Christian philosophy of life (LS 222). The need for solidarity with the poor runs through much of Evangelii Gaudium, with solidarity mentioned 14 times. Dialogue is mentioned 25 times, amidst the need to counter widespread selfishness (4x) and indifference (7x).[88]

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 what "Jesus wants – a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness".[89] He underscored this by washing the feet of prisoners,[90] ending what some saw as Pope Benedict's efforts to revive the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic church.[91]

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 mercy as fundamental to the pastoral sense which he enjoins on all those who would exercise ministry in the Church (see above). He writes that in becoming flesh God's Son "summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (EG 88), mentioning "tenderness" 11 times in Evangelii Gaudium,[92]

He points out that “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).[93]

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)[89]

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 God's warmth and closeness to them.[94]

Application to specific issues

Regarding gay people, Francis quoted the Catechism, "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.[95]

While strongly advocating openness to migrants and refugees, Francis acknowledged that the right to migrate must be regulated, while refugees from war or other intolerable situations must be received with greater openness.[96]

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".[97]

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.[98] 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".[99]

Sexual morality as Good News

The scholastic-philosophical approach to morality stemming largely from Thomas Aquinas was used during the papacy of John Paul II to give most attention to the "intrinsic evil" of abortion. But the misuse of the term to determine the gravity of an evil, along with the narrow delimitation of intrinsic evils, has been noted by theologians.[100][101] 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".[59]

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.[40]

While disagreeing with those who would prioritize sex issues, especially contraception and abortion, over all other moral issues, Francis has not indicated any intention to change the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception which has been poorly received in the living tradition.[102] He speaks freely to reporters on the plane during his travels, and while defending natural family planning he commented: “Some people think that in order to be good Catholics we have to breed like rabbits, right?"[45] He was speaking in the context of the population problem in the Philippines, and mentioned an Italian woman who had eight caesarean sections and so risked leaving her children orphans. However, he attributed the sad condition of the poor to the “culture of waste”[45] and to the world economic system.[103] While some secular media used the snarky “rabbits” headline to advance their position,[104] most Catholic media emphasized the broader context of his remarks.[105]

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 to accompany people in “discernment” and an examination of conscience, "to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations."[106] He wrote that beyond that he left the matter to the local bishops' conferences, in the spirit of collegiality that he had been promoting.[107] 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.[108] A 25-page letter accusing Francis of spreading heresy through Amoris laetitia picked up 62 signatures of conservative Catholics, but no notable scholar signed the letter.[109][110]

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.[111] 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.[112][113][114]

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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