A Sin Today, but Not Tomorrow: The Curious Doctrine of Pope Francis

“Today it is a sin to possess atomic bombs; the death penalty is a sin,” Pope Francis told a gathering of Jesuits in Lisbon earlier this month. These are stern, clear, uncompromising statements. But, the Pope continued, “it was not so before.”

Thus in the past, the Pope tells us, it was not (or at least not necessarily) sinful to have nuclear weapons or to execute a convicted criminal. But now, he tells us, it is.

If something which was not sinful in the past is sinful today, can it work the other way around? Can something which was once sinful become morally acceptable—perhaps even welcome? Pope Francis was confronted with that question during the same meeting in Lisbon. One of the Jesuits in attendance asked about young people who identify as homosexuals:

They feel that they are an active part of the Church, but they often do not see in doctrine their way of living affectivity, and they do not see the call to chastity as a personal call to celibacy, but rather as an imposition. Since they are virtuous in other areas of their lives, and know the doctrine, can we say that they are all in error, because they do not feel, in conscience, that their relationships are sinful?

The Pope’s answer was not nearly as strong and clear as his condemnation of the death penalty. But he certainly did not confirm the age-old Christian teaching that homosexual acts are immoral. Instead he expressed his impatience with what he sees as an undue preoccupation with “sins below the waist.” But after calling for “sensitivity and creativity” in pastoral care, he concluded by saying: “Everyone, everyone is called to live in the Church: never forget that.”

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