New interview shows why the pope is so beloved
When asked “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” the pope replied, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition."
September 19th, 2013
11:00 AM ET

New interview shows why the pope is so beloved

Opinion by the Rev. James Martin, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Here at America magazine, we’ve been anticipating the exclusive interview with Pope Francis for Jesuit journals worldwide for weeks.

We’ve lived with the 12,000-word article we’ve titled “A Big Heart Open to God,” and, in a sense, with the pope over these last several days.

So let me suggest what I feel to be the most important parts of this remarkable interview. To focus, I’ll highlight a few quotes and unpack them.

1. “My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative."

Pope Francis is speaking of his time as a Jesuit leader in Argentina in the 1970s, a difficult time for him, for the Argentine people and Argentine Jesuits.  The pope is frank about what he sees as his own failings as Jorge Mario Bergoglio during that controversy-filled period.

He says that he made rash and hasty decisions.  Later in the interview he returns to that theme, saying bluntly that he has realized that for him the first decision he arrives at “is usually the wrong thing.”  Without delving into the choices that he made during his time as a Jesuit provincial (at the extremely young age of 36, which he calls “crazy”), what strikes me about this self-examination is its brutal, almost embarrassing, candor.

MORE ON CNN: Pope says church can't 'interfere' with gays

The former Jesuit provincial does not say, “Mistakes were made.” Or, “Things could have been done better.” Rather, he offers a blunt assessment of himself as an imperfect human being who “created problems.”  Part of the Christian spiritual tradition is an “examination of conscience,” an examination of one’s moral activity.

The church is in very good hands with someone able to examine his conscience not only honestly but in a radically open manner in a worldwide interview.

2. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality.  I replied with another question: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”

During his in-flight media conference from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro this summer, Pope Francis made headlines when he uttered his now-famous words, “Who am I to judge?” when asked a question about gay priests in the church.

At the time, several commentators opined that the pope’s words were not only uninteresting (since the pope did not change any church teaching), they were also limited, applying only, they said, to gay priests. But in our interview, Francis speaks about gay persons in general, and he notes that his comments during the in-flight conference referred to gay persons, not simply gay priests.

The new interview continues his more open, pastoral stance toward gays and lesbians. While none of this changes church teaching, the pope’s words have changed the way the church speaks to and about gay persons.  And that is new.  There is a reason why many LGBT Catholics have told me that they feel more welcome in the church these days.

3. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent."

This comment illuminates a part of Catholic doctrine often forgotten today by some Catholics.

Theologians call this the “hierarchy of truths,” a kind of ladder of beliefs in order of importance. The simplest example is that agreeing with what your local pastor says about a Sunday Gospel reading is not on par with believing in the Resurrection.  The latter is essential for belief and communion in the church; the former much less so.  But when you talk about the “hierarchy of truths,” some Catholics grow uneasy, suspecting that you are watering down the church’s teaching. But the pope makes it clear that he understands this tradition.

Francis also says that church teaching is not to be a “disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”  While belief is essential, the transmission of beliefs is not to be forced upon people. Christianity is primarily a religion of invitation, and not simply an invitation to adhere to certain beliefs, but, more importantly, an invitation to encounter a person: Jesus Christ.

4. “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.”

Pope Francis is comfortable with gray. In the America interview, he speaks out against what he calls a “doctrinal security” and offers a critique of those who “stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists.”

Francis asks Catholics to move away from a church that has “locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”  He invites Catholics into the world of uncertainty, which is where most of us live anyway.

But there is one thing that the pope is sure of.  In the best Jesuit tradition, which asks us to “find God in all things,” the pope speaks of his commitment to finding God in every human being.  For me, this was the most moving part of the interview:  “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.  God is in everyone’s life… Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.”

5. “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition.  It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

What may strike people is not only what Francis says in this new interview, but how he says it. Its tone is open, gentle, conversational, thoughtful and above all friendly.

At the beginning of the interview, in answer to the question, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he answers “I am a sinner.”  The pope doesn’t use the traditional Jesuit way of expressing this idea.  Normally, a Jesuit would say that he is a “loved sinner” or a “sinner redeemed by Christ.”

No, the pope is blunt.  No sugarcoating here.  Of course Francis knows that he is redeemed by God, and he knows he is loved by God.  But he feels in his bones that he is a sinner: imperfect, flawed and struggling.  As are we all.

Maybe that’s what makes him so loved, and so eager to love.

The Rev. James Martin is editor at large at America magazine and author of "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Martin.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Opinion • Pope • Pope Francis • Vatican

soundoff (234 Responses)
  1. http://www.radioamahoela.nl/indext.asp?p=104

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    http://www.radioamahoela.nl/indext.asp?p=104 http://www.radioamahoela.nl/indext.asp?p=104

    November 27, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
  2. Win

    Who am I to Judge? – Pope Francis
    We have a philosopher Pope.

    November 18, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
  3. Your being is the truth.

    Pope Francis,

    Only a Christ who has realized the truth, who is the experience of truth,

    can represent the truth?

    Yet you claim to represent the truth?

    Who gave you this authority?

    What then is the truth?

    Exactly where in your teaching can it be found?

    Awaiting your reply,

    An interested Christ.

    November 13, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  4. Steve Finnell



    Acts 2:41 So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added about three thousand souls. Acts 2:47....And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    All three thousand believed the apostle Peter's message and were baptized in water. Then they were added to the Lord's church by the Lord Himself. The Lord did not add the unsaved to His church. They had to believe and be baptized in water prior to being added to the body of Christ.

    1. Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-

    All three thousand believed Jesus was a miracle worker.

    2. Acts 2:31-32 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

    All three thousand believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    3. Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified."

    All three thousand believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ.

    4. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    All three thousand repented in order to have sins forgiven. (repentance meant that they made the commitment to turn from their unbelief and sinful lifestyle and turn toward God).

    All three thousand were baptized in water in order to have their sins forgiven.

    All three thousand received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit after they believed, repented, and were baptized in water.

    5. Acts 2:40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

    All three thousand were saved after they believed Peter's message: They believed, repented, confessed, and were baptized in water. (Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:35-38) THEN THEY WERE ADDED TO THE LORD'S CHURCH! (Acts 2:47)


    1.Peter did not preach that men were saved by grace alone.

    2.Peter did not preach that men were saved by faith only

    3.Peter did not preach that God had selected a few to be saved and that all others would go to hell.

    4. Peter did not preach that water baptism was not essential to salvation.

    5. Peter did not preach that Jesus was just one of many Saviors.

    6. Peter did not preach that once you were saved, that you could continue in a sinful lifestyle and still be saved.

    7. Peter did not preach that God did not have the power to give us an inerrant translation of the Scriptures.

    8. Peter did not preach that God would provide hundreds or thousands of different Christian denominations, and that they would teach different ways of being saved.

    9. Peter did NOT preach that you had to speak in tongues as evidence that you were saved.

    AS BELIEVERS IN CHRIST, MEN SHOULD USE THE BIBLE AS THEIR GUIDE FOR SALVATION. Looking to man-made creed books, Bible commentaries, denominational statements of faith, and church catechisms, is looking in all the wrong places for the absolute truth!

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

    October 28, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Doris

      I see a lot of Peter there. That's a lot of emphasis for writings of unknown authorship. All three thousand blah blah... Who? What were their names? What did they write?

      October 28, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  5. Behold!

    He is loved by the WORLD! Of course now it all clicks! Satan offered Jesus the WORLD if he bowed down to him in worship, "
    Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

    Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.

    October 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  6. A Catholic

    Funny that when the prior Pope Benedict said the same things about abortion, contraceptions and such....the media did not seem to notice. But now Pope Francis's words mean a shift in Catholic teachings. I just hope that the agendas of the right and the left, do not blur the message. The message of mercy and forgiveness which is essential for the foundation for all.

    "I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ’90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us. ” – Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI – Thursday, 9 November 2006

    September 26, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  7. Meredith S.


    September 26, 2013 at 3:20 am |
  8. Philippe

    I accidentally came upon this blog and I will be careful to avoid it in the future. The aggregate of comments reemphasizes the diabolilcal disorientation and confusion that permeates the Church ever since VAT II. So much hate on both "sides".

    September 23, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.