The Curious Words of Pope Francis


Pope Francis made headlines last week, once again, for curious remarks related to the nature of salvation.  Only six months into his papacy, it seems clear that Francis has an agenda and he is not shy with it.  The more the world learns about this pope, the more he is cheered by some while others are left scratching their heads.

In July, it was the headline comment from the Pope, “Who am I to judge a gay person?” that turned heads.  While these remarks demand context to be fully appreciated, they nevertheless raised the specter that Francis is unafraid to tread on the ground of the hottest of contemporary topics.

Pope Francis’ most recent comments came in the liberal Italian daily, La Repubblica.   Addressing the issue of atheism and those with “no faith,” Francis said, “God’s mercy has no limits… the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.”   This coming as a response to La Repubblica’s editor, Eugenio Scalfari, asking if “God forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.”

Did the Pope, the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, just say that you do not have to follow Jesus in order to go to heaven?  Well that’s the buzz.  This comment came in the form of a letter written by the Pope to La Repubblica, thus eliminating the possibility that this was a slip of the tongue (or mind).  These were well thought out and crafted words.  In short, the Pope knew exactly what he was saying.

Let me say, that as evangelical Christians, we respect the position of the Pope as the leader of the world’s Roman Catholic population.  But our position is that the Pope is a man in the same way that we are all human.  He is not infallible and he is not inerrant.  And the fact that his position is so elevated is why his comments are so troubling.

But what is more troubling to me were his comments in the same letter regarding the nature of sin.  To quote Pope Francis, “Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against the conscience.”

And this is the crux of the matter:  A proper understanding of salvation can only flow from a proper understanding of sin.  If sin is, as the Pope asserts, only a violation of one’s own conscience, then salvation truly would be found in following said conscience.

But this is not what the Bible says.  In my post of a week ago, I said that we are in desperate need of “a recovery of a Theology of Sin in the Church and in the culture.”  Ironically, I penned these words on the same day Pope Francis published his comments on sin and salvation in La Repubblica – which just also happened to be the anniversary of 9-11.

The Bible clearly teaches that sin is not the violation of conscience but the violation of God’s purpose.  When we fight God, when we say “no” to His will and His ways, that is sin.  The cornerstone of fault with the Pope’s comments on sin is that left to our own conscience, we each have a different perspective of what is right and what is wrong.  It seems that, to this new Pope, truth is relative.  This is certainly a break from his predecessor Pope Benedict and a break from the Bible.

Our conscience cannot be trusted to direct us, for it is true that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:25).  But the way of life is found in one, and only one place, at the foot of the cross.  And it is to this cross that we nail all our sin so that the blood sacrifice of Jesus can wash it all away.  “For salvation is in no one else, for there is no other name (Jesus) under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it” (Acts 4:12).


4 responses to “The Curious Words of Pope Francis”

  1. Bob Shine says :

    For Catholics, to act against one’s conscience is a sin because our consciences are that place where God is most fully heard and revealed to each person, when properly formed. Even Thomas Aquinas and Church Fathers claimed that acting against one’s conscience is a sin, and our major councils have affirmed that if this means dissenting from the Catholic Church, than conscience is supreme. Obviously, your evangelical perspective differentiates on this, but perhaps that understanding makes the Pope’s comments clearer

  2. jeffcraw4d says :

    Bob – thanks so much for reading and for the feedback. Very helpful and important. The context of Pope Francis’ comments, being asked to address the atheist, are what is most problematic for we as evangelicals and I suspect some Catholics. He clearly seems to open the door for those with no faith to find salvation based on obedience to personal conscience. That is certainly not what Aquinas or the Church Fathers had in mind.

    Blessings and thank you for the dialogue.

  3. Fr. Tim Sean Youmans+ says :

    Jeff. Old OBU friend here. I check in every once and a while and found your post here engaging. I’m convinced that Pope Francis’ comments were very much meant to catch the attention of the new atheists and the pagan world. He is playing cat-and-mouse with the secular west. Catholic teaching has always been clear; there is no salvation apart from Jesus redemptive work on the cross. But this teaching about conscience is not too dissimilar to Paul’s appeal to readers of his Roman epistle concerning basic accountability through natural law. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, each of us according to how we responded to him. Broader Catholic theology embraces the complexity of the human heart and experience–that how Christ judges is up to him, and not our understanding or constructs. Jesus judges, not us as his followers. The Holy Father knows that following one’s conscience is but a shadow of knowing God fully in Christ, but he is trying to re-engage a lost world. I, along with many of my Anglican brothers and sisters are watching him closely. He is, as Jesus told us to be, wise as a serpent, gentle as a dove. Tim Sean Youmans, OBU Class of `91

    • jeffcraw4d says :

      Tim! Great to hear from you and honored you would take the time to read and follow. What you say regarding clear Catholic teaching is true but many on the evangelical protestant side of the aisle are very suspicious of this Pope. While he may be “playing cat and mouse” as you say, I and others would prefer to see a more clear approach to his apologetic. Whether he is truly wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove – time will certainly tell. One thing for sure, this Pope has the attention of many!

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