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. Bill

    The kinda pope the world needs – tolerance, humility, sensibility, hopefulness !! Bravo, Pope Francis.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • RSAN


      September 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • storm

      Leviticus 18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination. Did the pope miss this verse while he was reading the Bible??

      September 29, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
      • Mark

        You completely missed the point of the Pope's message

        December 25, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  2. Satan

    Most people don't know it, but I ALSO had one son...

    See you all soon my little sinners 🙂 YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE

    September 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  3. Applaud Aloud

    I really like this Pope. He is talking like a Jesuit (taking the big picture ) and acting like a leader .. vocalizing where things have to go .. He is not advocating more of the same (which is failing) He is going to go in a (good) direction and the rest and follow as they are able. That is leadership. It is a desperate time - if they do not wise up they will cease to exist. I think he wised up and he is ready to lead the way .. that is a pastor .. a leader .. a "Moses"

    September 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • WOW!!

      and the jesuits were key in abusing children in NY state.. Great group

      September 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
      • jc

        IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT AMERICA!. Jesuits exist all over the world, and they've done great things. This Pope is trying to change what you speak about, haven't you been listening? There is a world beyond the tip of your nose, try to look further. The point is that Francis is making an effort to change the very same thing you are complaining about. Don't be a fault finder!

        September 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
      • storm

        Exactly so- and it is written: 1 Corinthians 6:9 – Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

        To ignore God's Holy word and turn a blind eye says you do not follow Jesus Christ. I wonder then if they do not agree with the words of Jesus, who they DO agree with?

        September 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  4. Christine loves the Park on Tuesdays

    I like this guy a lot.

    But he is not very Pope-ish, at least not like the others I have studied from the centuries past.

    Religion is in a new place these days. It still has a big voice and wide reach but without the threat of death that usually accompanied it's message, it does seem much weaker and less fearful. (well maybe not in the middle east)

    Looking forward to more Humans leaving behind unproveable/unknowable (insane) metaphysical constructs i.e souls/afterlife/gods


    September 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
      • jc

        Dippy leave people alone, this is just a coloquial discussion. We are not trying to win a spelling or grammar contest!

        September 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  5. KR

    Pope Francis is awesome! I am a true fan of this kind, humble & gentle servant who holds the highest elected position in the Roman Catholic Church.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • WOW!!

      yes,, good marketing ploy by the cardinals. They taught him well,, in manipulating.

      Odd the pope doesn't tell law makers to support laws that would expose the truth and help children victims of abuse..

      it's all a con from this group

      September 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Just an American

      This Jesuit pope is a wolf in sheeps clothing. He is desperately trying to maneuver the sinking church to survive. So all of a sudden he's a human? I see a man that is not who he portrays himself to be. Like when they murdered JP2 and replaced him with a double, as other popes. This church is rotten to the core and it must go. Get rid of the satanists inside of it and it may survive. This pope ain't it.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • jc

        you ain't it either buddy. What do you mean "all of the sudden he is human"?? How long have you been following him? what do you know about him? and your comment about replacing JP2 with a double??? are you nuts?

        September 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  6. WOW!!

    The new mob chief speaks and the lunes follow his crap

    September 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  7. WOW!!

    we live in a free country and the cathoholics just love a dictator.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • jc

      ok, last time I reply to you, but I couldn't help it. You sound like you are about 12. How is this man a dictator??

      September 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  8. Question to a catholic

    Why did the Pope say, "Do good we will meet one another there" to an atheist??? That is not what Jesus said.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Theta

      Exactly, the rich ruler's story in the Bible was quite different .

      September 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
      • justathough

        I read that part of "do good and we will meet each other there" at first as contradictory as well. The Bible says the only way of salvation is Jesus. When I though more on what the Pope said, he was somewhat subtle in his comment. He didn't say the atheist will do good and be saved or even make it into heaven. He said "we will meet each other there." All go to heaven to face judgment where they are then at that point told "well done" or "I do not know you." The Pope, I believe, answered correctly.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
        • kobe

          Too many people trying to read into his comments in the negative light or not understanding. Religion labels aside, Pope Francis is teaching Christ like principles and Universal way of life, in two easy rules. Love God and follow him with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. Second, Love everyone else, as you would yourself.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • JA

        I think you assume "there" is heaven. The pope said "We must meet one another doing good." I read it in the context of a place to have a dialogue and that believers and non-believers alike can join together to help the world.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
        • justathough

          @JA – I can see that point as well. I was mostly addressing an earlier response, but I can see how his saying could be interpreted also as those who do good meet each other due to the direction of good which they are headed in. The "problem" with that is that scripture states that is isn't just about doing good works. We must also believe and be saved and follow the example of Christ. So though I agree that good people meet by doing good and because of doing good and for the purpose of doing good, there is also the fundamental point that just doing good works won't make you enter heaven.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  9. Why is it always all about gays at CNN?

    Let me set this straight. Gays make at most 5% of the population. My church is about the only place where I feel insulated of their toxic influence. They first corrupted the justice system by ramming though gay marriage against the expressed will of the people. Now they want to convert the pope? The Catholic Church might become a place where that 5% of perverts might feel welcome (they would make a great company with their army of pedophiles) but it will surely become toxic for those of us who take Jesus' teachings seriously.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • dmanthree

      You feel insulated from gays in church? Really? I guess except for the child molesters, right?

      September 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
      • Why is it always all about gays at CNN?

        Correct, but at least when I go to mass, I know that most who share their experience with me are not gay. Now I will have to find a different church. From all the options I studied, anticipating that this day might come, becoming a Southern Baptist seems to be the best.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
        • Plato

          You're a lunatic.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
        • Chris B.

          I am praying for you, that the Lord will soften your hardened heart and forgive you for judging others. When I falter regarding judging others, I re-examine Matthew 23, I recommend that to you, as well. ALL are the children of God, no one is lesser or greater than you in His eyes.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Christine loves the Park on Tuesdays

      If you had a child that was "born gay" your mind would be unbending right now Mr Bigot.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • kobe

      Just reading your comments, you have lost the one thing Christ and the Apostles, taught at the core of every one of their teachings. LOVE! You have "boxed" your life and soul with fear and understanding. Step out, and into the light brother!

      September 19, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • jc

      and who the heck do you think you are to try to keep anyone, gay or not, from anything? worry less about what other people do and worry more about your prejudicial and judgemental ways, which God doesn't like at all either.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  10. Roy

    The malachy prophecy told how this pope will take the church into the tribulation.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      I wish others would read it and take note too Roy. It's not far off. God protect us all.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Why is it always all about gays at CNN?

      And Our Lady of Akita re-warned us, as she had previously done in Fatima, about the great apostasy of the Church that would start at the top. God cannot say we haven't been warned enough :D.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
      • Deus Ibi Est

        It also says the Pope will have much to bear and will have to walk over the bodies of the dead. So OBVIOUSLY the Pope will have to face the same evil as the rest of us. Therefore you have just taken one part out of context haven't you?
        Peace my friend.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
        • Why is it always all about gays at CNN?

          There is a lot of controversy about what the true content of the Third Fatima secret is, controversy that comes from the fact that the version that was made public had several pages while the original secret had only one. There is no controversy though about the content of the Akita message and that Ratzinger in 1984 being on record saying that both messages are essentially the same. I think that with this pope, we are assisting at the materialization of this warning. He is fooling many, with his gestures about the poor -which BTW have always been a concern for the Church- but he is not fooling any of us who have been paying attention. I always felt that I might end up my life as a protestant; I never thought it would happen this quickly and for this reason.

          September 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
        • Bert

          Both the third secret and the Akita message are warnings that should be heeded and can be abated through prayer, specifically the importance of praying the Rosary. You mean to protest the 'materialization' of these warnings by converting to another religion that has no tradition of praying the rosary? and you blame this Pope for what? He is spreading a message of Love and healing intended to open hearts and minds and you think he will be responsible for "hardening the hearts of pastors" as Ratzinger revealed is warned in the third secret. You seem to be the one providing the poison, take a step back and stop perpetuating that which you warn against.

          September 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Christine loves the Park on Tuesdays

      It is all fiction people. Made up. Just words, like Parvati, Isis, Hades... Wow Humans are gullible (yes yes, hell awaits me, judgement by the lord, yada yada yada....what utter nonsense)

      If Humans are christ, then religions/gods/"stupid belief systems with no proof only faith", certainly must be the spear in our side 🙁

      September 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Kate

      Read prophecies at http://www.thewarningsecondcoming.com. More info about False Prophet, changes in liturgy, new cross to be introduced in the Catholic Church ( cross without Jesus Christ) and change of the meaning of Eucharist. One World Religion to be introduced, embracing all faiths, including atheists. Jesus Christ will not be center of Catholic Church any more. Read the prophecies and pray prayers to help people understand what is going on, especialy Holy Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet.

      September 19, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  11. mamgo

    Pope protect gays ,because most gays in Catolik Churches, what about Words of God in Bible?? Does he read it or he does not care what God say about Sadom i Hammora

    September 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  12. Bill

    It is about time that someone pointed out that it is Gods place to judge man and Gods alone, we men and women of lortal flesh are commanded to love and serve our fellow man regardless of his or her personal beliefs. We do not have to argree with others beliefs or practices but we do need to treat them with respect and dignity and leave the judgement to God. I hope that the Popes words are heard by all religions.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Roy

      Don't worry God is soon to judge.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  13. Mike

    I like this pope. He's not judgemental like christian conservatives, especially southern baptists. I was raised catholic but am no longe religious. One good thing about catholics is that they don't dwell in rapture end of the world conspiracy theories. People like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell had been predicting the end of the world within their lifetime since before they had gray hair. I remember watching a video of them in black and white and still predicting the end back then.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • kobe

      Your right! They teach FEAR in their church. The message of Love, Hope, Kindness, Charity, Salvation, etc., has been lost in the congregation.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  14. djs

    ecru is a great color on him

    September 19, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  15. nornoel

    I am an atheist, but I am touched by the honesty and humility of this man. He is a true son of humankind.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • mike

      Sounds more like a "love everybody regardless" kind of fellow. Gays are OK, so are adulterers, etc.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  16. Mark

    Before this story is overtaken by atheists, I really like this Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  17. Good_Son

    He is a good Man and very humble and simple .

    September 19, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  18. Bill Deacon

    A brilliant and humble man.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Shepherd boy

      Well, God doesn't need brilliance he just needs a humble servant.

      He will grant wisdom to whom He chooses.

      Hope more people can find hope and salvation in Christ in the messages pope Francis delivers.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Yes, Bill he is a refreshing change in the papacy.

      The College of Cardinals has made a good choice in selecting their leader in conclave.

      The retreat from dogmatism and holier than thou divisiveness into a message of love and acceptance of others is a healthy one.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  19. David

    Hope Christ is at the center of all decisions any church makes.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • John 14:6

      The message of Love, Hope and Salvation is at the center of the Lord's ministry.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:17 am |
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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.