When my translation of St. Peter Damian’s Book of Gomorrah was first published, I sent a copy to Pope Francis. The book was dedicated to him as pope and to all of his successors, “that they might heed the counsel of St. Peter Damian and fulfill their solemn duty to protect and preserve the moral and doctrinal integrity of the clergy and laity.” I received a form letter thanking me for the gift.
I doubt that Francis ever saw my translation and if he did, I’m even more doubtful that he read any of it – he’s not fond of English. However, I know that he knows about St. Peter Damian’s crusade against homosexual sodomy in the clergy, because he once gave a talk for EWTN and quoted from the Book of Gomorrah.
As is customary with Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio sought to use Damian’s work to promote his theme of tolerance towards those living immoral lives, claiming that Damian was emphasizing “indulgence and kindness” towards sinners, when in fact the Book of Gomorrah’s main focus is the permanent defrocking of priests and monks who commit acts of sodomy.
“[St. Peter Damian] knew how to treat sinners, with goodness and indulgence, instead of condemning them from the start, just like Jesus who ate with publicans and sinners, and when the Pharisees accused him to his face he said, ‘The sick have need of a doctor, not the healthy.’ And they came close to him,” Bergoglio states in the video, which is part of a series of meditations on the lives of saints made by the cardinal sometime in the 2000s.
“The hardness and crude realism of their words contrasted with those of tenderness that he expressed when he found himself with a sinful person,” adds Bergoglio, and then proceeds to a paraphrased quotation of Damian’s Book of Gomorrah, in which Damian is denouncing the sin of sodomy among clerics. However, he does not mention the sin being addressed by the saint.
“He writes, ‘Poor sinful soul. I cry for you. It is not a temple that is made by human hands that had collapsed, but a soul, a noble soul, made in the image and likeness of God and rescued by the blood of Christ,’” says Bergoglio.
Although Bergoglio claims that the words he is quoting are Damian’s words to an individual sinner, they are in reality a statement made in a general way to all of those who fall into the sin of sodomy. They appear in chapter 18 of the book, which traditionally carried the heading, “A weeping lamentation over souls surrendered to the dregs of impurity.”
St. Peter Damian, a Doctor of the Catholic Church, wrote the Book of Gomorrah as a letter to Pope St. Leo IX to convince him to apply firm and strong penalties to those among the clergy and religious orders who commit homosexual sodomy and other forms sexual perversion. Pope Leo received the book with high praise, speaking of Damian’s “worthy reasoning,” and assuring Damian that he will “obtain the palm of victory from God the Father” and “rejoice in the celestial mansion with the Son of God and of the Virgin.”
Although he also expresses deep compassion for the sinner, encouraging him not to give up hope and instead to repent and do penance, Damian uses strong language to condemn sodomy and to urge the pope to remove sodomites from the priesthood, noting that “this disgrace is not unworthily believed to be the worst of all offenses.”
“It is certainly obvious that no subsequent religious life can restore a man for the reception of an ecclesiastical grade of order if he has been debased by a crime worthy of death,” Damian writes to Pope Leo. “Nor does it enable him who is not doubted to have fallen into the pit of mortal sin, to rise to attain the height of honor. Therefore it is clearer than light that it is altogether against the norm of sacred law, altogether against the standard of divine authority, to promote anyone to ecclesiastical order who has been convicted of having lain between masculine thighs in fornication, which is undoubtedly a mortal sin.”
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