Theology of Pope Francis

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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 85)
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[lower-alpha 1]
Signature {{{signature_alt}}}
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}

Pope Francis is the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church, elected on 13 March 2013. In his over 40 years as a Catholic priest, he has drawn "high marks as an accomplished intellectual, having studied theology in Germany."[2] He is seen as someone who personally straddles the divide between the liberals and conservatives in the Catholic Church.[2] Francis has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.[2] At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.[2] He is seen as "unwaveringly orthodox" on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception.[2]

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This article is part of a series on the
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This article covers the theology of Francis, and the effects it has on his approach to issues in the modern world.

Role of the Church

In 2008, Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, delivered the following catechesis at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec:[3]

The Christian, when looking at the Church, sees her as holy, spotless and without blemish, as [he would] Mary, bride and Mother. The Christian sees the Church as the Body of Christ, as the vessel that guards with absolute integrity the deposit of faith, as the faithful Spouse who communicates without addition or subtraction all that Christ entrusted. In the Sacraments the Church communicates to us the fullness of life the Lord came to bring us. Although as sons we sometimes/often break our Covenant with the Lord at an individual level, the Church is the place where that Covenant – which we are given for ever in Baptism – remains intact and we might recover it with the [Sacrament of] Reconciliation....

The Church as a fully “sanctified” reality and capable of receiving and of communicating – without error or defect, from its own poverty and even with its own sins –the full sanctity of God, is not a “complement” or an “institutional addition” to Jesus Christ, but a full participation of his Incarnation, of His Life, of His Passion, death and Resurrection. Without these “new wineskins” that are the Church and Mary – a concrete universality sin parallel, whose relation is paradigmatic of all else – the coming of the eternal Word into the world and assuming flesh, the Word in our ears and His life in our history, could not be received adequately....

As the Church always defends its integrity – as always there have been and are those who take evil advantage of the strength of an institution (which is pathetic for how reductive it is to use something so beneficent as eternal life for the pleasures of transitory life), world has the impression the Church always defends its power and it is not so. In defending its purity, its indefectibility, its sanctity as the bride, the Church is defending the “place” through which the gift of the life of God passes on to the world and the gift of the life of the world to God.

After his election to the Papacy, he noted that scripture "should be inserted within the current of the great tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: 'For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God.'"[4] Citing the Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, Pope Francis said: "The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church…. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers…to nourish the faith …respect for this profound nature of Scripture conditions the very validity and effectiveness of biblical hermeneutics."[4]

He said the Church must, therefore, not make any doctrinal compromises because "faith cannot be negotiated."[5] Pope Francis asks, when the going gets tough "are we courageous like Peter or a bit lukewarm?"[5] "Throughout history, the people of God have always been tempted to chop a piece off faith."[5] More or less everyone is tempted "not to be too rigid."[5] "But when we start to cut down on faith, to negotiate faith, selling it to the highest bidder – he emphasised – we take the path of apostasy, we begin to lack faith, lack faith in the Lord."[5]

As an example of this "courageous testimony" of the faith, Francis lamented not only the material poverty of the early 21st century but also its "spiritual poverty," meaning a rejection of God and objective standards of morality.[6] Francis referenced Pope Benedict XVI's famous critique of a post-modern "dictatorship of relativism":[6]

There is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism," which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.

And that brings me to a second reason for my name: Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.

John L. Allen noted in response that the speech "offered a clear reminder ... that [Pope Francis] may have a different style than Benedict XVI, but on substance, he's cut from much the same cloth.... References to universal human nature are often shorthand in Vatican discourse for defense of traditional teaching on matters such as sexuality, marriage and the family."[7]

The Aparecida Document, produced by an editorial committee chaired by Cardinal Bergoglio (later Pope Francis), reiterates this point:

Undoubtedly, [the family] is currently suffering a degree of adversity caused by secularism and by ethical relativism, by movements of population internally and externally, by poverty, by social instability and by civil legislation opposed to marriage which, by supporting contraception and abortion, is threatening the future of peoples.

Encountering Jesus and rejecting worldliness

In both his first homily as pope and in his first address to the cardinals, Francis talked about walking in the presence of Jesus Christ and stressed the church's mission to announce him. In the audience with the cardinals, he emphasized the concept of "encounter with Jesus":

Stimulated by the Year of Faith, all together, pastors and faithful, we will make an effort to respond faithfully to the eternal mission: to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and, at the same time, in every person. This encounter makes us become new men in the mystery of Grace, provoking in our hearts the Christian joy that is a hundredfold that given us by Christ to those who welcome Him into their lives.[8]

In his homily, he stressed that "if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord." He went on to teach that "When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil... when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly".[9]

The theme of rejecting "spiritual worldliness" has been described as a leitmotif of his teachings even before he became pope.[10] Understanding this worldliness as "putting oneself at the center", he said that it is the "greatest danger for the Church, for us, who are in the Church".[11]

In addressing "spiritual worldliness" Pope Francis has said that it is "according to Henri De Lubac, the worst evil into which the Church can fall."[12] This is a reference to a passage from De Lubac's book The Splendor of the Church:[12]

The-Church-as-Mother is never at the end of her labor to deliver us to the life of the Spirit, and the greatest danger we are to the Church, the most subversive temptation, the one that is ever and insiduously reborn when all the rest are overcome, and even strengthened by those victories, is what Abbot Vonier called the temptation to "worldliness of the mind ... the practical relinquishing of other-worldliness, so that moral and even spiritual standards should be based, not on the glory of the Lord, but on what is the profit of man; an entirely anthropocentric outlook would be exactly what we mean by worldliness. Even if men were filled with every spiritual perfection, but if such perfections were not referred to God (suppose this hypothesis to be possible) it would be unredeemed worldliness."

If this worldliness of the spirit were to invade the Church and set to work to corrupt her by attacking her very principle, it would be something infinitely more disastrous than any worldliness of the purely moral order...

Morality as response to God's mercy

Francis preached on his first visit to a parish that "this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy."[13] His motto, Miserando atque eligendo, is about Jesus' mercy towards sinners. The phrase is taken from a homily of St. Bede, who commented that Jesus "saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: 'Follow me'" (italics added to refer to English translation of the Latin motto).[14]

The motto is a reference to the moment he changed his life when he was 17 years old and found his vocation to the priesthood. He started a day of student celebrations by going to confession. "A strange thing happened to me ... It was a surprise, the astonishment of an encounter ... This is the religious experience: the astonishment of encountering someone who was waiting for you ... God is the one who seeks us first."[15]

As cardinal he viewed morality in the context of an encounter with Christ that is "triggered by mercy": "the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin." And thus, he says, a new morality—a correspondence to mercy—is born. He views this morality as a "revolution": it is "not a titanic effort of the will", but "simply a response" to a "surprising, unforeseeable, and 'unjust' mercy". Morality is "not a 'never falling down' but an 'always getting up again.'"[16]

The Gospel reading for the Sunday he was scheduled to give his first public address as pope was on Jesus' forgiveness of the adulteress woman. This allowed him to discuss ideas such as: God never wearies of forgiving us; hearing the word mercy, this word changes everything; mercy is beautiful; never tire in asking for forgiveness.[17]

Creative transformation in evangelization

Another theme Pope Francis emphasized in his first address to the cardinals is the new evangelization. He talked about "the certainty that the Holy Spirit gives His Church, with His powerful breath, the courage to persevere and to search for new ways to evangelise."[8]

It is a theme he has repeated in other occasions, specifically in his biography, where he spoke about "transforming pastoral modes" and "revising the internal life of the church so as to go out to the faithful people of God," with "great creativity." He observed that church cannot be passively waiting for clientele among people who are no longer evangelized and who "will not get near structures and old forms that do not respond to their expectations and sensibilities." He asked for pastoral conversion from a church that regulates the faith to a church that transmits and facilitates the faith:[15][18]

He said that the heart of the mission is summarized in this: "if one remains in the Lord one goes out of oneself... Fidelity is always a change, a blossoming, a growth." Key to evangelization is the role of the laity who should avoid the "problem" of being clericalized as their "baptism alone should suffice".[19]

Bergoglio has linked an unwillingness to evangelize with the problems of the Church. "When the church does not emerge from itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick".[20] "The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism."[20]

In Buenos Aires, he called on his priests to evangelize in this way:[21][22]

Our sociologists of religion tell us that the influence of a parish has a radius of six hundred meters. In Buenos Aires there are about two thousand meters between one parish and the next. So I then told the priests: «If you can, rent a garage and, if you find some willing layman, let him go there! Let him be with those people a bit, do a little catechesis and even give communion if they ask him». A parish priest said to me: «But Father, if we do this the people then won’t come to church». «But why?» I asked him: «Do they come to mass now?» «No», he answered. And so! Coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced garden of one’s own convictions, considered irremovable, if they risk becoming an obstacle, if they close the horizon that is also of God.

In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage... These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!... Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.

Criticising overemphasis on sexual morality

In a book-length interview by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, entitled "El Jesuita," Bergoglio while a cardinal criticised those who reduce the faith to its precepts on sexual morality. He criticizes those homilies "which should be kerygmatic but end up speaking about everything that has a connection with sex. This can be done, this cannot be done. This is wrong, this is not. And so 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. We overlook a very rich catechesis, with the mysteries of the faith, the creed, and we end up concentrating on whether or not to participate in a demonstration against a draft law in favor of the use of condoms."[18] As an example, Bergoglio related a story of a young Priest giving preparing girls for their first communion (generally girls around the age of eight):[23]

What a wonderful opportunity to speak of the beauty of Jesus! But no: before Communion he recalled the conditions to receive: a fasting time, being in God's grace and ... not using birth control! The young girls were all dressed in white and he reproached them about contraception. That is the distortion that sometimes arrives. That's what I mean when I speak of the reduction of the beauty of kerygma to sexual morality.

He does not, however, argue that the Church's sexual precepts can or should be changed. Rather he emphasizes that moral catechesis is not the heart of evangelization:[18]

"I am sincerely convinced that, at the present time, the fundamental choice that the Church must make is not that of diminishing or taking away precepts, of making this or that easier, but of going into the street in search of the people, of knowing persons by name. And not only because going to proclaim the Gospel is its mission, but because if it does not do so it harms itself. It is obvious that if one goes into the street it can also happen that one has an accident, but I prefer a thousand times over an accident-ridden Church to a sick Church."

"After the encounter with Jesus Christ is the reflection, which is the work of catechesis."[24] This involves "reflection on God, Christ and the Church, from which can then be deduced the [Church's moral] principles, religious moral behaviors that are not in contradiction with the human, but give greater fullness."[24]

Poverty and economic inequality

At a meeting of Latin American bishops in 2007 Bergoglio said "[w]e live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most, yet reduced misery the least" and that "[t]he unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers".[25] On 30 September 2009, Bergoglio spoke at a conference organized by the Argentina City Postgraduate School (EPOCA) at the Alvear Palace Hotel titled "Las deudas sociales de nuestro tiempo" ("The Social Debts of Our Time") in which he quoted the 1992 "Documento de Santo Domingo"[26] by the Latin American Episcopal Conference, saying "extreme poverty and unjust economic structures that cause great inequalities" are violations of human rights.[27][28] He went on to describe social debt as "immoral, unjust and illegitimate".[29]

During a 48-hour public servant strike in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bergoglio observed the differences between "poor people who are persecuted for demanding work, and rich people who are applauded for fleeing from justice".[30] In 2002, during an economic crisis, Bergoglio harshly criticized those in power, saying, "Let's not tolerate the sad spectacle of those who no longer know how to lie and contradict themselves to hold onto their privileges, their rapaciousness, and their ill-earned wealth."[31] During a May 2010 speech in Argentina regarding the poor, he directed his message to the wealthy by saying: "You avoid taking into account the poor. We have no right to duck down, to lower the arms carried by those in despair. We must reclaim the memory of our country who has a mother, recover the memory of our Mother".[32] In 2011, Bergoglio stated: "There is a daily anesthesia that this city knows how to use very well, and it is called bribery, and with this anesthesia the conscience is numbed. Buenos Aires is a bribe-taking city."[33]

In 2011, Bergoglio decried sweatshops and homelessness in Buenos Aires as forms of slavery:

In this city, slavery is the order of the day in various forms, in this city workers are exploited in sweatshops and, if immigrants, are deprived of the opportunity to get out. In this city, there are kids on the streets for years....... The city failed and continues to fail in the attempt to free them from this structural slavery that is homelessness.[33]

In line with the Catholic Church's efforts to care for AIDS victims, in 2001 he visited a hospice and he washed and kissed the feet of 12 AIDS patients.[25]

In 2013 he said, Francis of Assisi "longed for a poor Church that looked after others, accepted monetary help and used it to help others with no thought of itself".[34]

Impoverished migrants

The first pastoral visit outside Rome that Francis made was to the Italian island of Lampedusa where many illegal Muslim immigrants land. Some are refugees, others are economic migrants. Francis threw a wreath into the sea as a memorial to those drowned attempting to get to Europe and said that these deaths thorned his heart. The Pope stated, "We have lost a sense of brotherly responsibility," and "have forgotten how to cry" for migrants who die on the journey, also "We have become used to other people's suffering, it doesn't concern us, it doesn't interest us, it's none of our business!". The pope also condemned people traffickers who profit from carrying desperate migrants in unsafe boats.[35]

Food waste and starvation

Pope Francis believes wasting food is like stealing from the hungry people. He said:

This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.[36]

Pope Francis said he feels it is scandalous that in the 21st century people are still suffering and dying of starvation and calls on the FAO to ensure that adequate food reaches everybody, that food resources are adequate but food is distributed unequally. He requested more proactive international activity to reduce poverty, and thought that the international crises should not be used as an alibi.[37]

Organized crime

Speaking a day after the beatification of Pino Puglisi, a priest killed on orders of the organized criminal syndicate Cosa Nostra (Sicilian mafia), Pope Francis condemned the Mafia. He called for prayer to God to convert the hearts of these people, to convert the men and women involved with the mafia to God. "I think of the great pain suffered by men, women and even children, exploited by so many mafias," Francis said, he condemned the mafia further for, "making them do work that makes them slaves, prostitution."[38][39] David Willey of the BBC said that the Catholic Church had been accused in the past of an ambiguous relationship towards Cosa Nostra, the men who for decades controlled organized crime on Sicily, and that by beatifying Father Puglisi, the Church is making a strong stand against mafia crime—which has been protected by a code of silence.[40]

On 21 March 2014 Francis spoke at a meeting by Libera, a citizen organisation, the meeting showed the Roman Catholic Church opposes organised crime. Further the Church discards historic ties to mafia bosses who allege they are good Catholics. Francis spoke out against the Mafia telling them to convert or face consequences hereafter. He told Mafia bosses they have blood stained money and blood stained power which they cannot take with them after death. Previous popes were sometimes considered unwilling to censure Mafia bosses though John Paul II advised conversion for the guilty and two months later two churches in Rome were bombed amid widespread violence.[41][42] During a one-day visit to Calabria, Italy on 23 June 2014, Francis denounced the 'Ndrangheta as the "adoration of evil and contempt of the common good" and vowed that the Church would help tackle organized crime, saying that Mafiosi were excommunicated.[43] However, Vatican spokesman clarified that the pope's comments were only informal and under canon law, a formal excommunication requires a legal process.[44]


Pope Francis with the U.S. President Barack Obama.

Pope Francis urged world leaders to prevent excessive monetary ambitions, which he said had become similar to an idolatry of money, and urged them to provide more welfare aid.[45] Dealing with the Great Recession, the pope criticized unbridled capitalism, considering that it judged human beings purely by their ability to consume goods and made people miserable.[46] He said that social inequality is caused by economic liberalism, and preferred economic systems with a higher intervention by the state.[47]

Francis said that the economic crisis happened because people accept the rule of money, and ethics are too frequently treated as inconvenient and disregarded. Speaking to non-resident ambassadors at the Vatican, Francis said:[47]

Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have begun a throw away culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling.[48]

Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel consulted Francis on 18 May 2013, and later the same day called for more stringent controls of financial markets.[49] Francis has referred many times to the Eurozone crisis that affect Greece and Roman Catholic Southern European nations.[50] Nevertheless, Pope Francis considers that starvation and homeless people are bigger problems than the financial crises.[49] George Haley of New Haven University said that Francis thinks that capitalism should reduce income disparity, and proposed that he used the diplomatic influence of the Vatican to suggest changes in national economies.[51] Rohit Arora is concerned that Francis has not come up with any specific way to solve income inequality and believes if the pope is serious he should do so. Joseph Pastore believes the wealth of the Catholic Church prevents Francis from taking a polarizing position and is unsure how far Francis can reform the Church.[51]

Pope Francis denounced the "autonomy of the marketplace" and "financial speculation" as tyranny in his 84-page apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium:

Just as the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shalt not" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. ... A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.[52][53]

Pope Francis' views were called Marxist by Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives as a result of his critique of capitalism with absolute market autonomy.[54] Pope Francis responded that "Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended ... there is nothing in the exhortation that cannot be found in the social doctrine of the church."[54]



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.[55] 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 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."[56] Francis believes bishops and priests should resist the temptations of money, "careerism" and "vanity".[57]


As a cardinal, Francis' views regarding the celibacy of priests were recorded in the book On Heaven and Earth, a record of conversations conducted with a Buenos Aires rabbi.[58] He commented that celibacy "is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change" but added: "For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures [...] Tradition has weight and validity."[59] He noted that "in the Byzantine, Ukrainian, Russian, and Greek Catholic Churches [...] the priests can be married, but the bishops have to be celibate".[59][lower-alpha 2] He said that many of those in Western Catholicism who are pushing for more discussion about the issue do so from a position of "pragmatism", based on a loss of manpower.[59] He states that "If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option."[59] He emphasized that, in the meantime, the rule must be strictly adhered to, and any priest who cannot obey it "has to leave the ministry".[59]

National Catholic Reporter Vatican analyst and Jesuit Thomas J. Reese called Francis' use of "conditional language" regarding the rule of celibacy "remarkable".[58] He said that phrases like "for the moment" and "for now" are "not the kind of qualifications one normally hears when bishops and cardinals discuss celibacy".[58]

Nevertheless, Francis rejects any connection between celibacy and pedophilia: "The idea that celibacy produces paedophiles can be forgotten," he says.[60] "If a priest is a paedophile, he is so before he becomes a priest. But when this happens you must never look away. You cannot be in a position of power and use it to destroy the life of another person."[60] He proposes taking a hard line against those priests credibly accused of abuse: "I think that is the solution that was once proposed in the United States; of switching them to other parishes," he says. "That is stupid, because the priest continues to carry the problem in his backpack."[60] The only answer to the problem, he adds, is zero tolerance.[60]



During most of the 14 years that Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, rights advocates say, he did not take decisive action to protect children or act swiftly when molestation charges against Church clergy surfaced; nor did he extend apologies and compensation to the victims of abusive priests after their misconduct came to light.[61] Later, Argentina was among 25% of bishops conferences that did not reach the deadline for putting policies in place to deal with complaints and priests accused of abuse.[62][63]

Pope Francis told Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who leads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is the Vatican official in charge of dealing with the crisis, to act decisively, protect minors, help victims of past abuse and introduce unspecified "necessary procedures" against perpetrators who should be punished.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called for action instead of words.[64][65][66] Others, including Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney who fought many court cases on behalf of abuse victims, are hopeful that Francis will act to protect children.[62][67]

In October 2007, Bergoglio denounced the tolerance of child abuse, which he called "demographic terrorism". He told a conference:[68]

Children are mistreated, and are not educated or fed. Many are made into prostitutes and exploited. And this happens here in Buenos Aires, in the great city of the south. Child prostitution is offered in some five star hotels: it is included in the entertainment menu, under the heading "Other".

In 2011, Bergoglio again condemned child trafficking and sex slavery in Buenos Aires:

In this city, there are many girls who stop playing with dolls to enter the dump of a brothel because they were stolen, sold, betrayed ... In this city, women and girls are kidnapped, and they are subjected to use and abuse of their body; they are destroyed in their dignity. The flesh that Jesus assumed and died for is worth less than the flesh of a pet. A dog is cared for better than these slaves of ours, who are kicked, who are broken.[69]

The Holy See under Francis failed to provide information about child sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church to a UN Committee, The Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).[70] Keith Porteous Wood of the UK based National Secular Society said,

Pope Francis has already missed opportunities to assert his authority to reverse the church's damaging policies over clerical abuse and unless he responds positively and quickly to the demands of the committee, he risks history judging his whole papacy a failure. Lawyers confirm that evidence abounds of the church at all levels continuing, even following the resignation of Pope Benedict, to do everything in its power to shield abusing Catholic clerics from justice and maintain secrecy, and do the least possible for victims.[71]

As of mid January 2015 Pope Francis has not commented on reports that the Philippine police are rounding up beggars, notably street children some as young as 5. This is done to sanitize the streets and give a good impression for the pope's visit. The children are sent to notorious detention centres where they are physically and sexually abused, starved, lack education and basic human dignity. Children are chained to pillars if they try to escape. Father Shay Cullen, a priest who works with street children stated, “Sadly, there is no way the Pope will be visiting these detention centers in Manila. They are a shame on the nation. Officials here would be horrified at the prospect of the Pope seeing children treated in this way.” [72]


Pope Francis described child labour as a plague which prevents children getting a normal healthy childhood; children should have time for play, study and growth. The pope said that many girls endured domestic labour in conditions comparable to slavery, and many endured abuse.[73] He had already spoken strongly in 2011, before his election, against the "structural slavery" of exploitation of the homeless children of Buenos Aires.[69]

Unwed mothers

In criticizing the priests who refused to baptize children born to unmarried women, Cardinal Bergoglio argued that the mothers had done the right thing by giving life to the child and should not be shunned by the church:[74][75][76]

In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!

Aparecida Document

In 2007, as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires and president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, Bergoglio edited the text of the Concluding Document of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) – the "Aparecida Document"[77] Bergoglio later described this document as "an act of the magisterium of the Latin-American Church" recognized by Pope Benedict XVI as carried out cum et sub Petro – "with and under Peter" (the Pope).[78] The document called on the Church to rethink its mission to meet the needs of the 21st century:[79] Pope Francis later quoted the Aparecida Document in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel. His quotations drew several themes from the Document: Against the routinization of religious practice,[80] on the importance of missionary activity to the church,[81] and repeatedly on the importance of popular religion to the Church's mission.[82]

Importance of popular religion

The Apericida document followed a theme of Argentinian theology, favored by Cardinal Bergoglio, which emphasized "'the rich and profound popular religiosity' of the Latin-American peoples".[83] The bishops further noted:[84]

We cannot deprecate popular spirituality, or consider it a secondary mode of Christian life, for that would be to forget the primacy of the action of the Spirit and God’s free initiative of love. Popular piety contains and expresses a powerful sense of transcendence, a spontaneous ability to find support in God and a true experience of theological love, [and] an expression of supernatural wisdom.

Routinization of religion

Noting that pastors and priests must not be satisfied with "mere administration",[85] the bishops also deplored:[86]

A Catholic faith reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time.... We must all start again from Christ, recognizing [with Pope Benedict XVI] that “being Christian is ... the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

Need to go out as missionaries

The Aparecida document noted that nothing human can be alien to the proclamation of the Gospel,[87] consequently, the bishops stated:[88]

We need to go out to meet individuals, families, communities, and peoples to communicate to them, and share the gift of encounter with Christ, who has filled our lives with “meaning,” truth and love, joy and hope! We cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings, but we must move out in all directions to proclaim that evil and death do not have the last word, that love is stronger, that we have been liberated and saved by the Lord’s paschal victory in history.


On contraception, the Aparecida Document states:[89]

Conjugal love is reciprocal giving between a man and a woman, the spouses: it is faithful and exclusive to death, and fruitful, open to life and to educating children, resembling the fruitful love of the Blessed Trinity.


On priestly celibacy, the Aparecida Document states:[90]

The priest is particularly invited to cherish celibacy as a gift from God which allows him a special configuration with Christ’s own lifestyle and makes him a sign of pastoral charity in surrender to God and to human beings with a full and undivided heart. “This choice on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive offering of himself for the Kingdom of God.” The celibate seeks to assume his own affectivity and sexuality with maturity, living them serenely and joyfully on a shared journey....

Special attention must be devoted to the process of human formation toward maturity, so that the vocation to the ministerial priesthood of the candidates becomes in each of them a stable and definitive life project, in the midst of a culture that exalts the disposable and the provisional. The same is true of education for affectivity and sexual maturity. Such maturity should lead to understanding better the gospel meaning of consecrated celibacy as a value that configures one to Jesus Christ, and hence as a state of love, fruit of the precious gift of divine grace, according to the example of the nuptial self-giving of the Son of God; to receiving it as such with firm decision, with magnanimity and wholeheartedly; and to living it with serenity and faithful perseverance, with proper ascesis on a personal and community journey, as surrender to God and to others with a full and undivided heart.

Catholic legislators and church teachings

The Aparecida Document links worthiness to receive the Eucharist to compliance and acceptance of Church teaching against abortion and euthanasia, and raises the powerful threat of denial of holy communion to Catholic members of the civil government and others who go against church teachings:[91][92][93]

We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia; that is their responsibility. Hence, in response to government laws and provisions that are unjust in the light of faith and reason, conscientious objection should be encouraged. We must adhere to "eucharistic coherence", that is, be conscious that they cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of government, and health professionals.[94]

Same-sex marriage

Francis affirms the Church's teaching that homosexual practice is intrinsically immoral but homosexuals should be treated with respect and love because temptation is not in and of itself sinful and[95][96] opposes same-sex marriage. When Argentina was considering legalizing it in 2010, Begoglio opposed the legislation,[97] calling it a "real and dire anthropological throwback".[98] In July 2010, while the law was under consideration, he wrote a letter to Argentina's cloistered nuns in which he said:[99][100][101]

In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God's law engraved in our hearts.

Let's not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to God's plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that's just its form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God… Let's look to St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child to ask fervently that they defend the Argentine family in this moment... May they support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.

After L'Osservatore Romano reported this, several priests expressed their support for the law and one was defrocked.[102] Observers believe that the church's opposition and Bergoglio's language worked in favor of the law's passage and that in response Catholic officials adopted a more conciliatory tone in later debates on social issues such as parental surrogacy.[103][104]

Rubin, Francis' biographer, claimed that while taking a strong stand against same-sex marriage, then Cardinal Bergoglio raised the possibility in 2010 with his bishops in Argentina that they support the idea of civil unions as a compromise position.[105] According to a March 2013 article in the New York Times, "a majority of the bishops voted to overrule him".[105] However Miguel Woites, the director of the Catholic News Agency of Argentina, who works directly for the Argentine Episcopal Conference and as such worked closely with Bergoglio when he was head of the conference, denied that Bergoglio ever made such a proposal.[106]

According to gay rights activists in Buenos Aires, including Marcelo Marquez and Andres Albertsen, Francis also spoke "behind closed doors" with them about his support for the spiritual needs of "homosexual people" and his willingness to support progress in the form of "measured actions".[105][107] According to news reports "a senior Vatican official" could "neither confirm nor deny" reports of Francis' behind the scenes views as cardinal, but that whatever views he might have expressed at that time, "he should be given time to develop his policy position as pontiff".[107]

He also affirmed and welcomed a Catholic female-to-male transsexual, Diego Neria Lejarraga after Lejarrage was rejected by his priest.

On Heaven and Earth

On Heaven and Earth (Spanish: Sobre el cielo y la tierra) is a 2010 book of conversations between the Argentine cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who later became Pope Francis, and the Argentine rabbi Abraham Skorka. The book is about faith, family and the Catholic Church in the 21st century. It was first published in Spanish 2010. Plans have been announced for the publication of an English translation on 7 May 2013, under the title On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century.[108]

The book contains the following quotations on subjects relevant to the theology of Pope Francis:[109][110]

On the nature of Catholic doctrine

For me also the essence of what remains is in the testimony of the Fathers. In our case, that of the Apostles. In the third and fourth centuries they theologically formulated truths of faith revealed and transmitted that are not negotiable, inheritance. That does not mean that throughout history study and research does not shed light on finding those truths as Jesus, as Jesus is configured as configured Church as the true Christian behavior, such as commandments. All this is enriched with explanations. Some things are debatable, but – again – the inheritance is not negotiated. The content of religious faith is likely to be deepened by human thought, but when that deepening collides with inheritance it is heresy. Anyway, religions tune some expressions with time, although it is a slow process because of the sacred bond we have with the inheritance received. Such is the respect that we must be careful not to screw it up by going too fast. A Medieval theologian expressed this progress in the understanding of inheritance, the revelation received: 'The legitimate ruler of all progress and the right standard of all growing are that the inheritance is consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age.' ... I admit that the pace of this development can not follow the speed of social change, but leaders and saints are seeking the voice of God, they have to take the time to go find the answers. We also run the risk of mixing other economic, cultural, geopolitical considerations. You have to know the difference.

Later in the book Bergoglio noted that, throughout its history, Catholicism has evolved without altering its dogmas.[111] Catholicism, Bergoglio argues, has to adapt to the new times of today as well.[111] In so doing, ‘Little parishes’, communities like the first Christians, are key for the development of Christian identity within each individual.[111]

Future of religion

There have been worse times for religions than the present. Nonetheless they pulled through. Perhaps nowadays there is a scarcity of religious people, but there were times in the past when there was a scarcity of virtue. There have been corrupt times in the Church… There were very difficult times and nonetheless religion revived. Suddenly there appear people like Teresa of Calcutta who revolutionise the notion of personal dignity, who spend their time… helping people to die. These deeds create mysticism and renew the religious sense.

In the history of the Catholic Church, the true renovators are the saints. They are the true reformers, the ones who change, transform, lead and revive spiritual paths. Another example: Francis of Assisi, who introduced a new attitude towards poverty in Christianity when faced with the luxury, pride and vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He introduced a mysticism of poverty, of detachment, and he changed history.


When you pick up a volume of the social teaching of the Church you are amazed at what it condemns. For example, it condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it. We have to search for equality of opportunities and rights, to fight for social benefits, a dignified retirement, holidays, rest, freedom for trade unions. All of these issues create social justice. There should be no have-nots and I want to emphasise that the worst wretchedness is not to be able to earn your bread, not to have the dignity of work.


If we think of globalisation as a billiard ball, the rich virtues of each culture will be destroyed. The true globalisation which we have to defend is like a polyhedron, in which everyone fits, but each one keeps their particular characteristics, which, at the same time, enrich the others.

Same-sex marriage

There have always been homosexuals. The island of Lesbos is known as a place where homosexual women lived. But never in history has anyone sought to give it the same status as marriage. Whether it was tolerated or not, whether it was admired or not, no one regarded it as equivalent. We know that in moments of great change, the phenomenon of homosexuality increased. But this is the first time that anyone posed the legal possibility of equating it with marriage. I regard it as a retrograde step, anthropologically speaking. I am saying this because it transcends the religious question; it is an anthropological one. If a union is private, no third parties or society are affected. But now that it has been given the status of marriage and given facilities for adoption, children will be affected. Everyone needs a masculine father and a feminine mother to help them shape their identity.


Catholic morality says that one must do what is needed, the ordinary things, for someone whose life is drawing to a close. Quality of life should be assured. The power of medicine for terminal cases is not fundamentally in making someone live three days longer or two months longer, but in ensuring that the organism suffers as little as possible. One is not obliged to preserve life with extraordinary means. That can go against the dignity of the person.

Euthanasia is something different; it is killing. I believe that nowadays there is a hidden euthanasia: the health services pay up to a certain level of treatment and then they say “may God look after you”. An elderly person is not cared for as he or she ought to be and ends up on a scrap heap. Sometimes the patient is deprived of medicine and ordinary care and that kills them….

In Catholic moral teaching, no one is obliged to use extraordinary means to get better. We are talking about hanging onto a life which one knows is no longer a life. As long as recovery is possible, we do all that we can. But it is proper to use extraordinary means only if there is some hope of recovery.


In our society we used to speak of the oppressors and the oppressed. As time passed, we realised that this framework was inadequate and we had to add another, those who are included and those who are excluded. Today things have become much worse and we need to add another framework: those who are needed and those who aren’t. In a culture driven by consumerism, hedonism and narcissism, we have become used to looking upon people as useless….

God must love old age a lot because someone who treats his parents respectfully is heaped with blessings. At 74, I am about to enter old age and I’m not reluctant. I am getting ready for it and I want to be vintage wine, not sour wine. The bitterness of an old man is the worst of all, because it is beyond the point of no return. An old man is called to peace, to tranquillity. I ask this grace for myself.


The moral problem of abortion is of a pre-religious nature because the genetic code is written in a person at the moment of conception. A human being is there. I separate the topic of abortion from any specifically religious notions. It is a scientific problem. Not to allow the further development of a being which already has all the genetic code of a human being is not ethical. The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill someone who cannot defend himself.


You cannot acquire the virtue of hope by yourself; the Lord must give it to you. But another thing is how we use it, administer it, accept it... The way we look at it, hope is one of the three theological virtues, along with faith and charity. We normally give more importance to faith and charity. However, hope is what structures our path in life. One danger is that we fall in love with the path and lose sight of the goal; another danger is quietism: to be looking at the goal and doing nothing on the path. Christianity has experienced times when there were powerful quietist movements. These go against the commandment of God which says that we have to transform the world, to work.


Science has its own autonomy and it must be respected and encouraged. We should not meddle with scientists’ autonomy. Unless, that is, they step outside the boundaries of their own fields and step into the transcendent. Science is fundamentally a tool for the commandment received from God which says, increase, multiply and dominate the earth. Within its autonomy, science transforms a world without culture into a world with culture. But we must take care. When the autonomy of science is unaware of its own limits and steps out of bounds, its own creation can slip from its hands. This is the story of Frankenstein.

Religion in state schools

In the Bible, God presents himself as a teacher. “I myself taught Ephraim to walk, I myself took them by the arm,” it says. A believer is obliged to raise his children. Every man and every woman has a right to educate their children in their religious values. When a government deprives children of this formation, it can lead to cases like Nazism, when children were indoctrinated with values which were alien to the ones held by their parents. Totalitarianism tends to take over education to feather its own nest…

Liberation theology

Roberto Bosca at the Austral University in Buenos Aires says that Pope Francis is to some extent sympathetic towards Liberation theology: "Despite Bergoglio's reputation as an opponent of liberation theology during the 1970s, Bosca insists that wasn't actually the case. He said Bergoglio accepted the premise of liberation theology, especially the option for the poor, but in a 'nonideological' fashion."[112]

Leonardo Boff says the label of a closed-minded conservative doesn't fit Francis. Others appreciate that the new pope ministered frequently in slums, and that his writings do not see social action as heretical.[113]

Boff said,

With this pope, a Jesuit and a pope from the Third World, we can breathe happiness. Pope Francis has both the vigor and tenderness that we need to create a new spiritual world. Pope Francis comes with the perspective that many of us in Latin America share. In our churches we do not just discuss theological theories, like in European churches. Our churches work together to support universal causes, causes like human rights, from the perspective of the poor, the destiny of humanity that is suffering, services for people living on the margins.[113][114]

Rachel Donadio of the New York Times wrote,

Francis’ speeches clearly draw on the themes of liberation theology, a movement that seeks to use the teachings of the Gospel to help free people from poverty and that has been particularly strong in his native Latin America. (...)

Amid Argentina's financial crisis in 2002, then Cardinal Bergoglio offered a sermon in Buenos Aires in which he declared:[115]

To those who are now promising to fix all your problems, I say, ‘Go and fix yourself.’ . . . Have a change of heart. Get to confession, before you need it even more! The current crisis will not be improved by magicians from outside the country and nor will [improvement] come from the golden mouth of our politicians, so accustomed to making incredible promises.

Others think that Francis is more conservative. Consortium News claims Francis has a traditional, limited approach to helping poor people and is uneasy about Liberation theology: "The new pope has not been comfortable with liberation theology. It is possible to speak on behalf of the poor without supporting the real fundamental changes that are present with liberation theology."[116] and that "Bergoglio's approach fits with the Church's attitude for centuries, to give 'charity' to the poor while doing little to change their cruel circumstances – as Church grandees hobnob with the rich and powerful."[117]

Author Matthew Fox wrote in an article in Tikkun magazine that Bergoglio "fought liberation theology tooth and nail as head of the bishops' conference and he was an effective instigator of papal attitudes in this regard (the CIA under Reagan linked up with Pope John Paul II to kill liberation theology...)."[118] On the other hand, Historian Roberto Bosca considers that Bergoglio's opposition to armed revolutionary violence "wasn't opposition to liberation theology in itself or the option for the poor."[112]

According to Sandro Magister, Pope Francis is more concerned about militant secularism than liberation theology. Magister said that Francis cared about the global spread of concepts including easy legal abortion and gay marriage, which Francis sees as the work of the devil and the Antichrist. Magister said that the aims of liberation theology are less important for Francis than fighting secularism.[119]

"Religion a la carte"

In the book-length interview "El Jesuita", Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti asked Cardinal Bergoglio in 1999 whether he thought modern people tended toward "religion a la carte,"[120] a phenomenon which has been called "Cafeteria Catholicism". Bergoglio noted that this "is a very common trend that corresponds to the modern consumerism. Some choose a mass by how the priest preaches. But two months later they say that what doesn't work well is the choir and then change again. There is a reduction of the religious to the aesthetic... They treat religion as a consumer product, and this is very linked, in my opinion, to some vague theism carried out within the parameters of the "New Age", where personal satisfaction, 'relaxation', and 'feeling good' are mixed in. This is being seen especially in large cities, but is not just a phenomenon that occurs among the educated. In poor areas, in the slums, sometimes they seek an evangelical pastor, because 'He moves me.'" [120]


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  1. Press reports have provided a variety of translations for the phrase. According to Vatican Radio: "Pope Francis has chosen the motto Miserando atque eligendo, meaning lowly but chosen; literally in Latin 'by having mercy, by choosing him'. The motto is one Francis used as bishop. It is taken from the homilies of the Venerable Bede on Saint Matthew's Gospel relating to his vocation:'Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an apostle saying to him :Follow me.'"[1]
  2. Both in the Eastern Catholic Churches and in the Eastern Orthodox Church, married men can be ordained to the priesthood, but priests cannot marry after having been ordained. See Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 795