Vatican City | Pope Francis lays out his case for emphasizing the merciful face of the Catholic Church in his first book as pontiff, saying God never tires of forgiving and actually prefers the sinners who repent over self-righteous moralizers who don’t. The Name of God Is Mercy, a 100-page conversation with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, is being published this week in 86 countries to help kick-start Francis’ Holy Year of Mercy.
In the book, Francis condemns what he calls the scholars of law the doctrinaire-minded rigorists who throughout the history of the church have challenged Jesus’ message of unconditional love and mercy for even the most wretched of sinners. He says often these self-righteous Christians are hypocrites themselves, using the law to hide their own deep wounds.
These are men who live attached to the letter of the law but who neglect love; men who only know how to close doors and draw boundaries, Francis is quoted as saying. Francis has rankled many conservatives with his frequent dismissals of theological and legalistic arguments stressing doctrine over his more pastoral message of welcome and mercy for society’s most marginal. The clash in approaches has been particularly evident in recent church debates over marriage and divorce. We must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother’s eye while remaining unaware of the beam in his own, Francis says.
Let us always remember that God rejoices more when one sinner returns to the fold than when 99 righteous people have no need of repentance. The Vatican is officially launching the book Tuesday with a high-level panel discussion featuring Francis’ secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and ‘Life Is Beautiful’ actor Roberto Benigni, signaling the importance Francis places on getting the message out. In the book, Francis insists that his now-infamous Who am I to judge comment about gays was merely a repetition of the church’s teaching on homosexuality.
Francis won praise from gays with the comment, uttered during his first press conference in 2013. But many conservatives have criticized the remark as vague and incomplete since church teaching also holds that gay acts are intrinsically disordered. Francis says the church has long held that gays should be treated with dignity and respect and seen as individuals. And he goes to some length throughout the text to cite scripture and previous popes to make clear that his radical agenda is fully rooted in the church’s basic teachings.
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