The “Who am I to judge” Misquote

At a press conference during a papal flight on 28 July 2013, Pope Francis stated:

“If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”.”

The text above is quoted from the Vatican website: Apostolic Journey To Rio De Janeiro On The Occasion Of The XXVIII World Youth Day, Press Conference Of Pope Francis During The Return Flight. The ellipses (…) in the quote are in the text itself (apparently indicating a pause).

The quote above is commonly abbreviated by the mass media to the assertion “who am I to judge?” applied to gay persons. But that is not accurate. The Pontiff did not made the broad assertion “Who am I to judge?” He was specifically referring to persons who are gay AND searching for the Lord AND have good will. What percentage of gay persons fit this description? I don’t know, but certainly a substantial number are not searching or do not have good will.

Sinful secular society wishes to give approval to all manner of sexual sins, homosexual and heterosexual, because repentance is difficult. To admit that you have done something that is wrong, especially gravely wrong, implies that you should change. It implies that you should change the way that you live, and give up activities that may be enjoyable yet immoral. Humility and a willingness to suffer loss (self-sacrifice) are necessary to change in this way. And that path is not pleasing to hedonistic society, nor to narcissistic individuals.

Society wishes that the Pope and the Church would say to them, about their grave sins: “Who am I to judge?” But that is not what the Church is saying. She teaches us not to judge souls, not to judge persons. Perhaps a person is seeking God, and seeking the truth on religious and moral questions. Perhaps a person is of good will and in a state of grace. We cannot judge whether they are in good conscience (in most cases).* But the Church also teaches us to judge between right and wrong.

{7:1} “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

{12:57} And why do you not, even among yourselves, judge what is just?

Jesus teaches us not to judge persons, but to judge acts. If someone robs a bank, we should say “Bank robbery is gravely immoral.” but also “I cannot judge the robber’s soul”. Society wishes us to refrain from any condemnation of any sinful acts, at least, any that are pleasing to the current narcissistic culture. Sinful secular society celebrates grave sins, as long as they are pleasing to many persons. A simple humble life, free from all mortal sins, is an abomination to any hedonistic narcissistic culture. The culture defines good as anything the fallen sinner finds within himself. All that is pleasing is said to be good. And all that is contrary to a pleasure-seeking self-approving culture is condemned as evil.

The Church teaches otherwise. And that is why sinful secular society is increasingly opposed to every form of Christianity.

Now if any person is seeking knowledge of God and a better relationship with God, and if the person has a sincere selfless love of neighbor, then that person is in a state of grace. We cannot judge in the individual case who is in the state of grace, and who is not. But we can understand in the hypothetical case who is and is not in the state of grace. For the state of sanctifying grace is the state of loving God and neighbor. If a person does not believe in God, can he be in that state? Yes, for the true love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. The atheist who love his neighbor implicitly loves God.

In any large group of persons (as long as the definition of the group does not decide the question of their eternal destination), some go to Heaven and some go to Hell. Some bankers go to Heaven and other bankers go to Hell. Some teachers go to Heaven and other teachers go to Hell. Some priests and bishops go to Heaven and other priests bishops go to Hell. Some gay persons go to Heaven and other gay persons go to Hell. Some atheist go to Heaven and other atheists go to Hell. And so on. But all persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin go to Hell. Everyone else dies in a state of loving their neighbor, and so they to to Heaven (often by way of Purgatory).

Some gay persons go to Hell, but only if they die unrepentant from actual mortal sin. Actual mortal sin is an act which the person fully realized was gravely immoral and which was chosen with full deliberation. And the person is sent to Hell only if he never repented from that actual mortal sin. The repentance can possibly be implicit: a full selfless act of love of neighbor implicitly includes sorrow for sin out of love for God and neighbor. Implicit perfect contrition forgives all sins. Everyone who dies in the state of truly selflessly loving their neighbor goes to Heaven.

A gay person can love God and neighbor. A gay person who is sexually active or gay-married may have a sincere but mistaken conscience and so still be in a state of grace. Such a person can die without repentance from objective mortal sin and still have eternal life — but only if he loved his neighbor, and never turned away fully from that love by any actual mortal sin.

Does this imply that mortal sin is trivial or acceptable, as long as one loves their neighbor? No, it does not. Every objective mortal sin is fully and objectively incompatible with the love of God and neighbor. The more objective mortal sins that a person commits, even with a sincere but mistaken conscience, the more difficult it is for them to love their neighbor. Self-denial in all things strengthens love. Prayer to God strengthens love. Works of mercy toward others strengthens love. But every type of objective mortal sin weakens, undermines, and contradicts the true love of God and neighbor.

The path to Heaven is difficult, but it is paved with love, faith, hope, prayer, self-sacrifice, works of mercy, and the love of neighbor. God wills all persons to be saved. He also wills all persons to arrive at an acknowledgement of truth, especially on important matters of faith and morals. A person can enter Heaven by invincible ignorance along with the love of neighbor. But God prefers us to know and understand as much of the truth as our fallen sinful minds can bear, as soon as possible. For the path to Heaven is paved with both love and truth.

EDITED TO ADD: “the Virgin Mary in Fatima stated that the number one reason souls go to Hell is due to sins of the flesh.” OK Here’s my thought about that point. Most persons in the world are non-Christian. If most non-Christians were not excused from the objective sin of failing to convert, the number one reason for going to Hell would be a sin against religion, not a sin of the flesh. So her comment implies that invincible ignorance and a baptism of desire or blood are common, not rare.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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* Some acts are beyond the ability of a human person who has use of his faculties of reason and free will to sincerely but mistakenly think to be moral. Examples include: genocide, mass murder, terrorism, rape, sexual abuse of children, and perhaps a number of other acts.

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3 Responses to The “Who am I to judge” Misquote

  1. Matt says:

    I think that there are very far few who can claim sincere ignorance of mortal sin. What person out there in this modern day information World, unless they are living deep in the jungles and never heard of the Gospel, can claim no knowledge that their certain behaviors, i.e., fornication or homosexual relations, are gravely immoral? Even the Virgin Mary in Fatima stated that the number one reason souls go to Hell is due to sins of the flesh. This was in 1917!

    “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.”—Hebrews 8:10.

    • Ron Conte says:

      You have no basis in Tradition, Scripture, or Magisterium for your assertion that few can claim invincible ignorance of mortal sin. You are judging the souls and consciences of persons you have never met, and know little or nothing about. We don’t know how many gay persons are in a state of invincible ignorance, and how many are guilty of actual mortal sin. But I can say the same about Catholics who use contraception. The mere fact that the information was presented, does not justify the conclusion that the sin is an actual mortal sin. The plurality of claims about what is right and wrong among Catholics, among Christians more generally, and in society as a whole makes it impossible to conclude that few possess invincible ignorance. Some do and some don’t. As for natural law, concupiscence and personal sin and the influence of other sinners make it difficult for the individual to correctly perceive right and wrong, esp. when society is strongly promoting the wrong ideas.

  2. Padraig says:

    “Sinful secular society celebrates grave sins, as long as they are pleasing to many persons.”
    This is what the Catholic church needs to be teaching. Right and wrong today for young people especially is becoming increasingly blurry. Society is a powerful influence and as it becomes more secular so to will the amount sincere ignorance in good loving people.

    I live in Ireland and my parents and their life was that simple life you mentioned of which would be frowned upon by today’s hedonistic society. Theirs was a time when Church teachings were taken very seriously. We were thought right from wrong. I always remember my mother wanting us to be good caring people and how it matter more that success or material possession.
    Today, my mother as do I worry about how to raise Catholic children in this society. Teaching simple right from wrong now has become so difficult. I mentioned Ireland as I’m seeing every day how the country has been effected by the many priest child abuse scandals here. The trust that even my mothers generation had with the church has been really damaged. And for my many of my generation and younger, it has been completely destroyed.
    I believe that the sad ironic truth is that the Church itself is a core cause of the misguided, secular society today. Sad and ironic, because an infiltration of dark souls that committed these abuses and lies, has done such damage to the good work of the Church.
    I’m lucky enough to have had good parents that cleared my vision when society was leading me astray. The Church is also a huge part of my life. Those bad souls and future bad souls that will infiltrate the Church will never defeat my faith in God and the teachings of the Church.

    I believe too that people who are currently or eventually start seeking God will inevitably come to the Church and will eventually start following it teachings. They will look for their own answers like we all do. The challenge is getting people to want to follow a path of being a good loving person which will ultimately lead to the Church and God. In conclusion, I think we all should work to help the Church in this sense.

    I think we can all in our own way whether that’s in our daily lives, work, online presence etc at least start planting seeds of good or good news that may trigger curiosity in those wanting the be better people. I believe from once a person takes one genuine step towards God, no matter how small, will lead them on that important journey to Heaven you mentioned.

    “God wills all persons to be saved. He also wills all persons to arrive at an acknowledgement of truth, especially on important matters of faith and morals.”

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