Sep 162013

When the media covers what the Pope says they are expected to get it totally wrong. They have a specific narrative more informed by a political ideology than a concern to get coverage of the Catholic Church right. So no surprise here in this regard.

Maybe this is not all that surprising, but it seems to me more and more Catholics are doing the same thing and while their narrative is different, it still comes to a jumping to conclusions. There is a hermeneutic of suspicion when to comes to the words of Pope Francis and a look for evidence that in some way he is departing from Catholic teaching.

The latest example is the letter Pope Francis wrote to Dr Eugenio Scalfari, Italian journalist of La Repubblica. The Vatican just released the English translation of this “Letter to Non-Believers.”

A typical headline was something like “Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God …” or "“Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.”

The media’s dumb reaction was echoed in some Catholic sites and blogs which made much more out of what the Pope wrote than he actually did.

Jimmy Akin once again does a fine analysis in Did Pope Francis say atheists don’t need to believe in God to be saved? (9 things to know).

I now wish to address the three questions from your article of 7 August. I believe that in the first two questions, what interests you is to understand the attitude of the Church towards those who do not share faith in Jesus. Above all, you ask if the God of Christians forgives those who do not believe and who do not seek faith. Given the premise, and this is fundamental, that the mercy of God is limitless for those who turn to him with a sincere and contrite heart, the issue for the unbeliever lies in obeying his or her conscience. There is sin, even for those who have no faith, when conscience is not followed. Listening to and obeying conscience means deciding in the face of what is understood to be good or evil. It is on the basis of this choice that the goodness or evil of our actions is determined.

The Pope here is not speaking specifically about salvation or equating following your conscience as the only condition for salvation.

While the Catechism classes Atheism and Agnosticism as sins against religion it also says is the following section:


1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

1793 If – on the contrary – the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

1794 A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time “from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.”

So I in no way think the Pope was speaking at all contrary to the faith. Still I think there is a little bit of a problem at times. I have had no problem with what the Pope has had to say, more often it is what he doesn’t say that can add to confusion in understanding him. I believe he is making certain pastoral emphasis fully in accord with Church teaching, but that these emphasis can leave out a more fully articulated view of Church teaching. This in part causes a confusion among Catholics when only a pierce of doctrine is illuminated. This pastoral language sometimes lacks the theological precision that might be desired. No doubt this is always a difficult balance especially within the context of how some of these pastoral messages are presented.

The caveat being that I might be fully off-base here. It just seems to me that there seems to have been more effort to try to explain what the Pope said regarding the faithful. We expect a continuous apologetic effort with the media, but when we have to do the same with Catholics something might be wrong here in how this is being presented.

Although there are other things that enter into this problem. For example the delay between the publishing of the text in what the Pope said and the translation into English and other languages. The story can be generating headlines for a week before we see an official translation.

  5 Responses to “The Pope said what?”

  1. I am deeply tired of “pastoral” being used as a code for “skip over the hard parts”. It is gravely unjust to the people of the Church to lead them in any way to believe that the tricky bits are optional. Pastoral considerations are important, but not nearly as important as getting it right. Diluting the medicine may make it taste better, but then it doesn’t actually cure what’s wrong. Soft Catholicism, to be “pastoral” rather than strictly orthodox, ultimately drives away believers. A faith not worth defending is a faith not worth having.

    I likewise loathe how “Catholic Social Justice” has come to be used almost entirely as an excuse for voting for pro-abortion politicians, but that’s another discussion.

  2. Jeff! Where do I start with this post of yours and by the way, for what it is worth, you and Jimmy are doing a good job?

    You know what Victor?

    You know what sinner vic! You always embarrass us.

    You know what! You him bare ass, “I” mean embarrass U>S (usual sinners) “I” mean us gods more than not and why can’t you realize that you’ve struck out Victor!

    You know what sinner vic? It takes “ONE” to know “ONE” NOW!


    You know what? You’re right and maybe we should learn to work together now sinner vic?

    You know what? Let’s try working to get her, “I” mean together! RIGHT NOW!? OK Victor?

    You know what? What if Jeff simply ignores U>S (usual sinners) again like he’s done in the past sinner vic?

    You know what? You’re being silly again Victor! When as Fred, “I” mean Jeff ever stopped us gods from doing a little skit to get her, “I” mean together NOW, “I” mean now Victor?

    You know what? We should give it a try sinner vic so where and when do we start?

    You know what? Us gods think that we should start left, “I” mean right now Victor butt YA will start us off! OK Victor?

    (((The story can be generating headlines for a week before we see an official translation.)))

    You know what Victor! That’s got to stop Right NOW?

    You know what sinner vic! I’m starting to think that you’re really not a god cause why have you not put a stop to stuff like this in your twenty first century now?

    You know what Victor! You’re starting to think? “I” mean look and listening too and obey your con science, “I” mean, this means deciding in the face of what is understood to be good or evil. It is on the basis of this choice that the goodness or evil of our actions that these pup pets, “I” mean humans which includes all of us (usual sinning cells) must have that determination in mind, body, soul and spirit now!

    You know what? That was deep so we better stop while we still have a chance now sinner vic?

    You know what? No pup pets, “I” mean humans know this only your so called four per sent age cells of your Father, Mother, Son and Holy Spirit Victor and that only because we 96% gods told YA so..

    You know what? Did not Jesus Himself say: “I am the way, the truth, and the life?”

    Go figure brothers and sisters in Christ now? 🙂

    God Bless Peace

  3. I wish this was just about atheists being saved or WHO AM I TO JUDGE but this is going way beyond that. Forget the pastoral aspects. Confusion on all sides. Currently it is about the state of divorced Catholics and while we talk about this just today on CHIESA a story of five canon law experts who are saying the FFI decision on the Latin Mass violated not only Benedicts Moto Proprio but more serious a papal decree of ST Pius V. IT explains that this was a grave violation for the Franciscans and should be reconsidered. It is from five Italian clerics and it was sent to not only the Pope but also the new Secretary of state and even to Raymond Burks. There is a concern from these men that it will spread to other groups and soon the whole Latin Mass will be abrogated which Pope Paul luckily did not do.

  4. Let’s face it, after years of poor Catechsis, people are willing to believe that Francis could say “you don’t need God”
    Thanks to the Bishops who believe more in pushing political agendas than leading their flock, people find EVERYTHING believable.
    It’s sad.

  5. […] Africa, and the relatively recent “Get into Heaven Free” cards given to homosexuals and atheists. You can chalk a big portion of the kerfuffles up to media ignorance on pretty much anything having […]

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