Cool Pope Francis Makes His Most Progressive Statements Yet on Social Issues


In the Catholic church, Pope Francis might be as cool as they come. During his visit to the U.S., he made statements calling on Americans to show compassion and support toward immigrants and refugees. In 2014, he urged the parents of gay children to stand by them. The pontiff continued to rack up some major points in an interview with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli that Random House published as a book called The Name of God Is Mercy.

To be released on Tuesday, the 176-page Q&A addresses themes such as homosexuality, marriage annulment, corruption and more, with mercy being the common thread throughout. For Francis, it's the cornerstone of his papacy; for the rest of us it explains why he's so chill compared to his predecessors.

Pope Francis on gay Catholics: "I am glad that we are talking about 'homosexual people' because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love."

Pope John Paul II on gay Catholics: [All Catholics are] "obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions." 

Francis still suggested that being gay is a sin, adding that he prefers "homosexuals come to confession." He continued, "You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it." Even so, it's clear the church has come a long way since Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, who both suggested in a 2003 letter that upholding marriage between a man and woman — and only a man and a woman — was for the "common good" of society. 

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Pope Francis on marriage annulment: "I have a niece who was married to a man in a civil wedding before he received the annulment of his previous marriage ... This man was so religious that every Sunday, when he went to Mass, he went to the confessional and said to the priest, 'I know you can't absolve me but I have sinned by doing this and that, please give me a blessing.' This is a religiously mature man."

Pope Benedict on marriage annulment: "In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognized as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law."

Benedict went on to say that anyone to whom this applies would not be eligible to receive Holy Communion, because their "state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and his Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist."

Pope Francis on the imprisoned: "Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine. I do not feel superior to the people who stand before me."

Though previous popes have historically fallen short when it comes to social issues, they have been accepting and forgiving of prisoners. After he recovered from an attempt on his life, Pope John Paul II visited the would-be assassin in jail, guided him to Christianity and later requested that he be pardoned. 

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Despite being credited with a veritable rebranding of the Catholic Church, there are some still seeking the "limits" of Pope Francis's mantra of leniency.

"Yes, every believer has to accept that we are all sinners and so Francis seems to hope that under this blanket definition all of us will therefore seek the mercy he is so enticingly offering," writes Peter Stanford in his Guardian review of The Name of God Is Mercy. "But how many will want, as also appears necessary from the small print contained in this book, to label as a sin their failed marriage or their love for another person of the same gender?"

Still, Francis's statements offer verification of his cool pope credibility. After all, when Pope Francis arrives in Mexico next month, he'll be drinking tequila.