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. Robert Dahl

    Thanks to the liberal College of Cardinals we have a 1960's Hippy Pope of LUV (love?)-and a Vatican-II "do-whatever-sinners-do".New Order morality. "Is the Pope Catholic"? First we must ask: what is Catholic? Just LUV? Just trying to be courteous here. We should to be happy that condemnation and eternal punishment are seemingly remitted by a pope who strangely insists on being known as a "sinner"-which obsessive frankness only invites more sinful curiousity? Is this the "New Evangelism" of neo-Catholicism? This is a "Year of Faith"? Will the Church survive this disoriented pontificate?

    September 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  2. Reality

    Why Francis is out of touch with the reality of 21st century reality:

    1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    “New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. “
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.


    September 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Tony

      Why you may be 'out of touch' with reality.

      –You stopped going to Church.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
      • Bible Clown©

        How would THAT matter? Sounds as if he needs to stay far away from anything religious.

        September 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  3. kathy l

    Wow, wow, wow!

    September 19, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • madmax


      September 20, 2013 at 1:22 am |
  4. agdy

    Why don't we look at the original/ old and system only fair system which never had invention of gay philosophy.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • Athy

      Can you translate that for us, agdy?

      September 20, 2013 at 1:54 am |
      • Bible Clown©

        I think he is "speaking in tongues." A rough translation might be "herp derp, I am so conflicted about gay people."

        September 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  5. Andre

    The pope said “I am a sinner"

    –Yes, I am also a sinner, a forgiven sinner.

    September 19, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  6. Alphonsus Jr.

    He's the living symbol of the diabolical disorientation spawned by the Hippie Council, aka the Judas Council, aka the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. God help us.

    September 19, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • Eric Conrad

      It is right that you should be asking for help. It is not the Christian way to judge others.

      September 19, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "Hippie Council?" In 1962? How farking old ARE you, gramps? Oh wait, I get it. Stop trolling, Cardinal Ratzenburger. You aren't pope anymore. I don't think anybody saw a "hippie" before about 1966, but you are probably confused often.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  7. Greg

    "Soon all the places we worshiped will be gone, the new boss (the one who egged us on) is the same as the old boss, who sits in judgment of his own."
    While liberals pretend to not be dogmatic, they simply are to lazy to explain the dogmatic implications and conclusions of their beliefs and actions. ~ It seems that St. John the Baptist is in hell for having judged King Herod. King Herod is in heaven, not because he ever repented for committing adultery or killing St. John the Baptist. For Gods mercy is given to someone objectively judged by someone else in a fashion where they receive a license to sin and offend God and man, so repentance is unnecessary, but not just for someone so judged, it's unnecessary for all sinners. Liberals speak with love of and to King Herod, while ignoring the pain they inflict on St. John the Baptist. They are willing to correct and condemn St. John the Baptist claiming that his duty to judge someone objectively is really as sinful as the sin of subjectively judging someone. King Herod may not be getting corrected or excommunicated by the liberal that takes off his moral tiara, but St. John the Baptist is certainly judged, corrected, condemned, and excommunicated by the liberal with his apparent invisible tiara he claims he is not wearing!

    Without a tiara it is proclaimed with supreme authority, with non dogmatic dogma, that we judge without judging, that St. John the Baptists is guilty of “stubbornly trying to recover a past" (morality) "that no longer exists and that he is locked up in small things, and in small-minded rules!”

    September 19, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "While liberals pretend to not be dogmatic, they simply are to lazy to explain the dogmatic implications and conclusions of their beliefs and actions. "
      You need to look up "dogmatic" and stop using it wrong. No telling what you meant to say there. Look up schizophrenia while you're googling. Were you screaming while you wrote this stuff? Sounds incoherent and angry.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "While liberals pretend to not be dogmatic, they simply are to lazy to explain the dogmatic implications and conclusions of their beliefs and actions. "
      You need to look up "dogmatic" and stop using it wrong. No telling what you meant to say there.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
      • Bible Clown©

        NOW it posts, and twice. Sorry.

        September 20, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  8. Jon


    September 19, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  9. barbaramarincel

    Reblogged this on the little things and commented:
    As a Catholic who has been rather unhappy with the direction the Church appeared to be taking in recent years, all I can say is, Wow. This Pope Francis is a real pastor, "eager to love and be loved" as Fr. James Martin writes. And the fact is, he didn't say anything out of line with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. If you want a black and white Church, this Pope is going to make you very uncomfortable. But if you see the Church as a community of pilgrims seeking "an invitation to encounter a person: Jesus Christ", well then, you might hear hints of "aggionamento" and Saint Pope John XXIII (not to mention St. Francis of Assisi). I certainly do.

    September 19, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • Eric Conrad

      Well said!!

      September 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • madmax

      black and white? unconfortable? why? Did he say that he will not judge gays but YES will judge white or blacks??

      September 20, 2013 at 1:33 am |
      • MoJo

        Please do not be so literal. "Black and White Church" does not refer to the color of the people, but the polarity of their thought.

        September 22, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  10. JOHN

    John 23 was a good and decent man also....Doe's anyone remember him?

    September 19, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • WOW!!

      you bipolar?

      September 19, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
      • Aaron

        Tell us what you think of those darn blacks, now, little man.

        September 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Dippy

      Does, not doe's.

      September 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  11. JOHN

    Leave him alone.....He's the Pope.....Don't try to make him this weeks rock star.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • WOW!!

      he's only popular among those who desire a dictator. Pat that, he's worthless

      September 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
      • Aaron

        What do you think of blacks, son? Keep the hate flowing, little guy!

        September 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
      • madmax


        September 20, 2013 at 1:33 am |
  12. Tracy Carpenter

    Thank God for this pope. He speaks of love and to the heart, rather than ignoring the real pain of his people. Which would Jesus do?

    September 19, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • WOW!!

      he's just the next con man, for the power and money of the vatican

      September 19, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
      • carlo

        Ignorant. TROLL

        September 20, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  13. Mark

    He is so beloved because he says it's OK to do everything. Might as well be just some random person they picked to be the Pope. He ignores all things biblical. He's the cool pope. Worthless.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Jennifer R

      He is so beloved because he preaches love and acceptance. He seems to believe the judging ought to be left to God.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
      • WOW!!

        what has he done for the children abused??? Nothing.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Eric Conrad

      I thought you were supposed to love thy neighbor? Too often Christians miss the point of their religion. It is not up to you to or me to judge others. Many have avoided Christianity for so long because all they heard was fear, hate, and guilt. You should be grateful your religion is being saved at long last.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
      • Bible Clown©

        "I thought you were supposed to love thy neighbor?" Heck no, that's "gay." Hate 'em instead.

        September 20, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • madmax

      worthless? for not judging people? for admitting that he is not perfect? Do you have the right to judge him? or anyone? This is the point, we are all "nobody´s" just trying to be good people.

      September 20, 2013 at 1:37 am |
      • Dippy 

        It's "nobodies," not "nobody's."

        September 20, 2013 at 2:59 am |
      • Bible Clown©

        Heck yeah, I have the right to judge him. But he's done alright so far.

        September 20, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      " He ignores all things biblical." and you know this how? Let me guess, you and Mel Gibson are buddies? You hang with the Cardinals a lot? Stayed at a Holiday Inn Express?

      September 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Brendan

      No he is not telling us that we can just do what we want. Read the real story here http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-francis-focuses-on-the-bigger-picture-with-new-interview/ . He calls us to be like Christ. First we must preach the Gospel, and after that the moral issues. The Gospel must be preached the most.

      September 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  14. Chris

    LOL, he's the PC Pope of the this century. People have itching ears to hear what they want to believe.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • WOW!!

      agreed.. what about the tens of thousand children abused,, lost lives. He ignores that quite well.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
      • Eric Conrad

        All that happened under the watch of your kind of Popes.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  15. tc

    Whatever your belief or station in life, take note that this guy is going to make a big impact.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Vic

      I hope he is on to "Reformation."

      September 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
      • Meredith S.

        Catholicism is just as valid as Protestantism.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:13 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.