The mainstream media made much hay over Pope Francis’ July 2013 remarks in which he said, in response to a reporter’s question about an alleged “gay lobby” within the Vatican, “Who am I to judge?”
The MSM misinterpreted his comment as blanket approval for homosexual acts, and their headlines reflected their misunderstanding. Even now, whenever there’s a news story about the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, reporters are quick to mention that Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” about homosexuals.
Pope Francis said, in full,
A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.
A catechized Catholic who reads these words knows that they are perfectly in line with Church teaching. Pope Francis essentially just restated paragraph 2358 of the Catechism, which says,
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
When Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge him?”, he was referring to paragraph 1861:
Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God. (emphasis mine)
Pope Francis was referring to the judgment of persons with his “Who am I to judge?” comment. He was not saying that a person’s moral acts can’t be judged, because (as he knows) the Catechism says otherwise:
Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil. (CCC 1749)
Scripture is also very clear on the fact that not only can we judge, we are actually called to judge.
“Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Drive out the wicked person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:12-13)
“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!” (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
When Jesus said “Judge not, lest you be judged,” he wasn’t condemning all judgment. Rather, He was condemning rash or unjust judgment. He was not telling Christians that they could not evaluate acts and behavior of others according to the moral law – because if that was what He meant, He would have been violating his own dictate. To quote blogger and apologist Jimmy Akin, “If it is wrong to make moral judgments regarding the behavior of others then it would be wrong to judge others for judging!”
Many who quote those words from the Sermon on the Mount in order to condemn someone who is judging fail to read the rest of the passage:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Notice that Jesus says that one can take the speck out his brother’s eye! However, he cautions that the person doing the judging has to make sure that their judgments are just, because God will judge hold that person to their own standards.
In the same vein, the Church cautions against rash judgment, a form of unjust judgment, which is defined in the Catechism as “assum[ing] as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor.” To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
“Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.”
Another Scripture passage that is often brought up in defense of the argument that “judging is wrong” is the woman caught in adultery from John 8:
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
Notice that Jesus asks the woman if anyone has condemned her, not if anyone has judged her. There is a distinction between judgment and condemnation, and Jesus clearly differentiates between the two. He does not say that her adultery was right, or justified, or worthy of praise. Nor did Pope Francis, in his comments about homosexual individuals, say that homosexual acts were right, or justified, or worthy of praise. The full context of his remarks shows that he was careful to make a distinction between judging based on a homosexual’s orientation, which is unjust, and judging a homosexual’s acts (or politicizing in order to advocate in favor of those acts), which is just.
As Catholics, we can judge and we are called to judge. We can’t practice the spiritual works of mercy, one of which is admonishing the sinner, without judging. Pope Francis knows this, and those who try to use his words to justify their own support of sin only display their own ignorance of Scripture and Catholic teaching by doing so.