Who Am I to Judge?
There is probably no other statement of late that has been quoted, or should I say misquoted, more than the off-the-cuff comment by Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” Since making it, this particular quote has made headlines around the world, and continues to be used to justify any cause or action that involves the homosexual agenda. Ironically, while the secular media, which lives in a sound bite world, has frequently used this quote to justify a greater “tolerance” of the gay agenda by Catholics, it has also become a favorite of cardinals, bishops, priests, and religious. Based on the ongoing misuse of this quote, it has now reached a point where one is led to believe that Pope Francis has completely reversed the Church’s Teaching on homosexuality, which could not be further from the truth.
This creeping belief has grown through an ongoing manipulation of what he actually said, and this manipulation constitutes an abuse of language. Sadly, the abuse continues to spread without much thought. It is interesting to note that Pope Francis offered this quote in response to a question that was posed within a much longer interview. The two-part question itself was the last of many, and it dealt with the case of a particular priest appointed by Pope Francis to work in the Vatican bank, and the presence of a so-called “gay lobby” in the Vatican. Apparently, the priest had been in an open homosexual relationship in Uruguay before being transferred to the Vatican years earlier. While the allegations may well be true, they remain allegations as nothing was ever proven in the case. The question posed to Pope Francis was about this particular priest, and, based on this appointment, the presence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican. The latter part of the question was a follow up to a comment made by Pope Francis earlier that year.
In his extended answer, Pope Francis noted that there is a fascination today, especially by the media, with the “sins of youth.” The point he made is that if someone confesses a sin and then repents, “the Lord forgets and we do not have the right not to forget.” As Pope and leader of the Catholic Church, he is keenly aware of the sacramental theology of Reconciliation. At the heart of this theology, for forgiveness to be absolute, is contrition and repentance. When these conditions are met, the sin is not only absolved, but the Lord “forgets” it. Unless there was a crime committed, according to Pope Francis, we too should forget.
In this light, we must keep in mind that he taking part in an interview and not speaking from prepared notes. The interesting part is that he was asked about a specific priest who may have acted on homosexual tendencies in the past and whose working in the Vatican could be taken as proof of the presence of a “gay lobby.” The Pope did confirm that there may well be gays working in the Vatican, but he has yet to have anyone give him “an identity card with ‘gay’ written on it.” He goes on to note that just because someone may be gay or that just because gays might be working somewhere does not mean that a “lobby” exists. He confirms that the problem is not the presence of a gay person. The problem for him is when others see that presence as the formation of a lobby, which he states is bad. In his answer, he expressed his opposition to lobbies that are formed for any reason, not just for the gay agenda.
It is within this context that we find the quote everyone knows. What most people tend to overlook when quoting this part of the Pontiff’s response is that it was not an isolated clause, as many quote it today, but part of a larger grammatical construction. The entire sentence he used was, “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?” Notice, it is not two sentences or separate thoughts, but one complete thought in the conditional tense. To create this particular grammatical construction, there must be a conditional or dependent clause, which cannot stand alone, and a main clause. In using this grammatical construction, the validity of the main clause is conditioned or dependent on the existence of the circumstances spelled out in the dependent clause. In other words, the conditional clause spells out the required circumstances under which the main clause is true. Typically, the conditional clause in the English language begins with the word “if”. So in the entire sentence spoken by Pope Francis, the conditional part is that the person is gay and searching for the Lord and has good will. All of these conditions must exist for the main clause, “Who am I to judge?” to be valid. Thus, if someone is gay but not searching for the Lord, or, if someone is gay and not a person of good will, then the conclusion becomes, “Who am I not to judge?”
In saying this, I realize we are dealing with a very delicate situation because no human person or member of the Church is the “judge” of another person. I repeat, no one except God alone can judge a person. However, that does not mean we do not make judgments, particularly with regard to actions and situations. In fact, the power to bind and loose was given to the Apostles and their successors by Jesus Himself. On the basis of the Natural Law, we can make a determination that specific acts are disordered (i.e., acts incapable of fulfilling the end to which they are ordered) and, if done by anyone who meets the conditions, is a mortal sin. In effect, a person empowered to make such distinctions has the power also to judge the action itself.
Because the Work of Mercy demands it of a believer, if the Church determines that a particular action is sinful, and someone commits it or intends to commit it, She is responsible to warn the sinner. That warning is the direct result of a judgment made on the particular action in question. The final judgment of the person who commits it will be left to God, but out of Love for the person, it is our responsibility to warn them that, in committing such actions, they have endangered their eternal salvation. In making the statement in the way he did, the Pontiff has upheld this Teaching. If an action someone commits is virtuous, then who am I to judge? If the action someone commits is sinful, that is, there is grave matter, then a judgment must be made. It is not the person judged in this case, but a judgment of the action.
Yes, there are acts that a person may know is grave matter, and still will it at some point in his or her life. If so, another can judge it for what it is, a mortal sin. To judge that a particular action someone has committed is a mortal sin does not mean the person has been judged, or that the eternal destiny of that person has been determined. The latter is reserved to God alone. But it is God Who has given the Church the authority and capacity to Teach the faithful the ways of virtue and sin. One leads to final vindication, and one to final damnation. Thus, if a warned sinner repents and changes his or her way, then we rejoice and embrace that sinner as someone who, like ourselves, is striving for goodness and truth. But if a warned sinner refuses to change, we should never turn our backs on him or her but should always be there to encourage him or her to virtue.
When I first saw this quote in the news, I immediately looked up the entire transcript to see what the Pope actually said, and to check the larger context in which he said it. In this regard, we all have a responsibility to verify something before repeating it to others, particularly when it is something of great importance. As can be seen in this case, to quote something out of context is an abuse, effectively usurping Papal authority to advance a personal agenda. Unfortunately, there are many people today whose lives are overloaded and tend to take things at surface value. In our fast-paced world, there are those who read the headlines in a paper and the first paragraph or two of an article, but rarely go any further. These same people typically do not verify the claims made. In most cases, doing so is fine. But when it comes to something important, especially if it relates to the Pope or Church Teaching, we should all go above and beyond to ensure that we have not been given something out of context and remember that anything unverified should not be repeated.