What if we are all just sinners?

“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.”

– From America – Their interview with Pope Francis.

What does it mean if we are all, equally, just sinners? If the human condition is to sin and the divine condition is to forgive?

As with many people, I’ve been following Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, very closely since he’s been elected. But I’ve been paying as much attention to the American Catholic Right and how they respond to the changes that Francis seems to be bringing to American Catholicism. So far, reaction seems to focus on his theological orthodoxy. I wrote about this when the interview went public – that the reaction on the right is to pretend that nothing has changed.

Homosexuality, for example. The Pope has not, and I think will not, declare homosexuality non-sinful, as much as I wish he would. There’s too much theological baggage here. Catholic homophobes, therefore, get to point out that sure, Francis suggests we don’t judge, but that homosexuality is still a sin.

As I read more and more, though, I’m increasingly convinced that this reading misses the main point. Instead, I think the point is that we are all sinners, so that we don’t get to judge people for their sins, we don’t get to label homosexuality as somehow more wicked, an “intrinsic evil” (I talked about this here). The condition of humanity is one of sin, so stop judging.

It’s a strange path to equality and not one I would take, but it enables Francis to make radical steps without changing theology. This isn’t a weakness of his revolution, it’s a strength.

That said, discrimination goes on. A lesbian was just fired from a Catholic School in Arkansas 45 minutes after getting married. They invoked Francis in a plea for equality, but so far, to no avail. It’s going to be a long slog.


Meanwhile, Francis is just beginning to put some action behind the rhetoric on poverty. I finished my CNN essay on the interview by writing:

In a recent interview
with the New Catholic Reporter, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York
talked about the new pope. He said that in the wake of Francis, he found
himself “examining my own conscience … on style, on simplicity, on
lots of things.” The cardinal wondered whether his living arrangements,
in the historical residence of the archbishops of New York, were
appropriate. But the cardinal wasn’t quite sure what to do about it,
given that he can’t sell the building.

St. Francis would have
agreed. He carefully never argued for the church to sell of its property
or divest itself of income. Of course, he was outside the church
hierarchy and relied on papal protection for his safety.

Pope Francis, on the
other hand, might have a plan for an empty archbishop’s residence if
Cardinal Dolan wanted to downsize. After all, he did recently suggest
that empty church property should be used to house refugees.

Maybe the Pope isn’t going to push Dolan on his residence, but he did recently draw a line by suspending the “Bishop of Bling,” a German Bishop spending 42 million dollars on his home renovation, including a $20,000 bathtub and marble floors. It’s a start, a small one, but a start.


Update – another example of the way the Pope’s understanding of our fundamental equality stems from his position that we are all sinners. On why he is drawn to prisoners:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis said his care, concern and prayers for those in prison flow from a recognition that he is human like they are, and it’s a mystery they fell so far and he did not.

“Thinking about this is good for me: When we have the same weakness, why did they fall and I didn’t? This is a mystery that makes me pray and draws me to prisoners,” the pope said Oct. 23 during a brief audience with about 200 Italian prison chaplains.

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