As Catholics around the world enter the Lenten season of seeking forgiveness, many are acutely aware that the man they regard as Holy Father, Pope Francis, thinks of himself as a sinner. From his first public moment when he asked a crowd of thousands in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, Francis has been weaving together a “theology of sin,” which Catholics understand as an account of both human failures and an encounter with a loving God. Francis’ most well-known retort — “Who am I to judge?” — came amidst an attention-grabbing interview late last summer, but in the same interview, he emphasized for reporters: “This is what is important: a theology of sin.”
Pope Francis and his theology of sin have been experienced by many of us only in reporter-chosen soundbites and headlines. So here’s some context for the the soundbites — a selection of Francis quotes, Tweets, and sermons that reveal a theology of sin underway for all to see.
“Who am I to judge?”
But if a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of Saint Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought. . . . If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?
– Transcript of interview on flight returning from World Youth Day
Your sins are great? Just tell the Lord: Forgive me, help me to get up again, change my heart!
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) December 2, 2013
“I am a sinner”
“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The pope stares at me in silence. I ask him if this is a question that I am allowed to ask. . . . He nods that it is, and he tells me: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description. . . . I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.
“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
– Interview with America Magazine, “A Big Heart Open to God”
Let us never lose hope! God loves us always, even with our mistakes and sins.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) February 22, 2014
“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Does God forgive those who don’t believe in him?
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.
– Pope Francis’ letter to prominent Italian journalist and atheist Eugenio Scalfari
Mercy is the true power that can save humanity and the world from sin and evil.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) October 7, 2013
Understanding social sin
No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members — often a young person — is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.
– Pope Francis’ Lenten message, delivered on February 4, 2014
We are all sinners. But may the Lord not let us be hypocrites. Hypocrites don’t know the meaning of forgiveness, joy and the love of God.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 23, 2013
How to approach confession
But Jesus in the confessional is not a dry cleaner: it is an encounter with Jesus, but with this Jesus who waits for us, who waits for us just as we are. “But, Lord, look . . . this is how I am,” we are often ashamed to tell the truth: “I did this, I thought this.” But shame is a true Christian virtue, and even human . . . the ability to be ashamed: I do not know if there is a similar saying in Italian, but in our country those who are never ashamed are called “sin vergüenza:” this means “the unashamed,” because they are people who do not have the ability to be ashamed, and to be ashamed is a virtue of the humble, of the man and the woman who are humble.
– Pope Francis’ homily on Monday, April 29, 2013
The crucifix does not signify defeat or failure. It reveals to us the Love that overcomes evil and sin.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) October 22, 2013