by priests of the Society of St. Pius X

Has the Pope’s recent book (The Name of God is Mercy) been analyzed critically by theologians?

Fr. Matthias Gaudron, SSPX, wrote a book review this past February which appeared on the sspx.org website.1 In fact, he found the book rather inspiring by and large, although the actions and the on-the-fly statements of the Pope often contradict the teaching of the book.

Could you mention some positive things?

Among them, the Pope mentions clearly the notion of sinner and sin. “Sin is more than a spot. Sin is a wound which must be dressed and treated.” To the adulteress, our Lord “does not say: ‘Adultery is not a sin,’ but He does not condemn her according to the law.” We are sinners “because of original sin...our humanity is wounded.” Shame is not a negative sentiment: “When someone feels God’s mercy, he is ashamed of himself, of his personal sin. Shame is ... something positive, because it makes us humble.”

What does the Holy Father say about confession?

The Pope gives great importance to the Sacrament of Penance. Indeed, the second chapter of his book is titled “The Gift of Confession.” Bishops and priests “become...instruments of God’s mercy. They act in persona Christi, which means in the place of Christ.” Also, there are cases in which the confessor must deny absolution to the penitent, e.g., because the penitent is continuing to live in a sinful relationship and is unwilling to end it.

Does the Pope explain his famous comment “Who am I to judge?”

The Pope’s explanation on this point is far from clear. He affirms that he only wanted to say that individuals should be treated sensitively and not marginalized. “I would prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, that we can pray together. One can advise them to pray, to have good will, show them the way and accompany them.”

A Catholic response would not have been difficult to give. A homosexual who is fighting against his inclination and is not living in a “homosexual marriage” or similar relationship can, of course, come to confession and receive absolution, even if at times he falls again into sin.

However, if he is unwilling to give up his homosexual preferences and wants to continue to live in that way, one can only counsel him to continue to pray and to go to Mass, so as not to lose contact with God completely.

The Pope’s statements can be understood in an orthodox sense of leading them to genuine conversion, but one gets the impression that he is afraid of clearly indicating that homosexuality—better named homosexual acts—is a sin.

Does Pope Francis seem to focus on a certain Pharisaism among Catholics?

Certainly there are and will always be Pharisaical Catholics. But is it the first major obstacle to grace? Is it not rather the case that many Christians today have lost the consciousness of sin altogether? Homosexuals, cohabitating couples, those who do not practice the Faith, etc., do not want to hear the message of mercy, but want the Church to approve and bless their situation.

Without faith, man is indifferent to God’s mercy. It is only through the light of faith that man becomes aware of his sins and understands that he needs God’s mercy. Unfortunately, as long as this proclamation of the Faith teaching the Divine Law does not occur, initiatives like the “Year of Mercy” will remain largely ineffective.

Are the Pope’s words on relativism a needed corrective to other things he has said?

A. We can hardly deny the obvious contradiction between what the book states, which condemns relativism in no uncertain terms, and what the same author said and did elsewhere. He released a video this past January giving the impression that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism are ultimately only different paths to the same goal. During his visit to the Lutheran church in Rome last November, he made it clear that the difference touching on faith were ultimately insignificant. Actions speak louder than words!

Cannot we also speak of moral relativism with what the Pope said, this past February, about allowing artificial birth control against the Zika virus?

He explained that contraception may be “the lesser of two evils.” The method of gradual morality in particular cases is now extended to the unnatural act of contraception. This is the same argument which had been put forward by Benedict XVI with regards to male prostitution in 2010: “[The Church] of course does not regard [the condom] as a real or moral solution,” but nevertheless the pope allows it “in certain cases.” At that time, however, the Vatican promptly retracted these unsound statements.

But, now, the same issue comes up again with the use of birth control allowed for tough cases, and, not only is it not retracted, but it is even confirmed by the Vatican spokesman. Yet, this statement is inadmissible from the perspective of the Faith. “No reason,” Pius XI teaches in Casti Connubii (#54), “however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good.” Pius XII recalls this in his Address to Midwives (October 29, 1951): “No ‘indication’ or necessity can turn an intrinsically immoral action into a moral and licit act.” Humanae Vitae of Paul VI clearly states that the use of artificial means to prevent conception is intrinsically immoral. St. Paul condemned the opinion that evil may be done so that good may come of it (see Rom. 3:8).

What of the notion of “graduality”?

Certain anecdotes told by Pope Francis suggest indeed that those living in sin could be shown mercy from the confessor because of their state, without compensation on their part. See particularly the example of his nephew or that of the non-repentant dying man.

Are there any salutary reminders in the text on divine mercy?

There are indeed, as we have seen. And yet, it seems as if some words are absolutely taboo and silenced. Not a word is uttered on the need for the penitent to make reparation for his sins; on the need to flee from the proximate occasions of sin, and on the eternal truths: judgment and hell. God is caricatured as a goody grandfather. And, in a document with long passages on the sacrament of penance, we see no reminder on the firm purpose of amendment or on the severe words of Christ. We leave this reading with the feeling that the Pope’s idea of mercy is germane to the Protestant vision, with its faith with no works and no penance.

1 http://sspx.org/en/news-events/news/review-pope-francis-new-book-13952