Who am I to judge the Pope?
Let us not be confused. Let us know our terms.
Definition of Judgment – Fr. John Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary: [ Emphasis Mine]
In general, an act of the mind affirming or denying something.
Philosophically, judgment is the mental act of combining two ideas in affirming their agreement, e.g., God is good, or separating them in denying their agreement, e.g., God is not evil.
In ethics, judgment is a right decision about what is just or proper or prudent.
It is also the decision of a superior in a natural society (such as the State) or a supernatural society (such as the Church), prescribing what should be done or administering justice.
Which of these was Pope Francis referring to when he said the most famous phrase of 2013, “Who am I to judge?”
Bishop Morlino sheds light:
When Francis was telling us about that, he was talking about a particular bishop whom he had just given a job in the Vatican, and it was found out that in South America where this bishop had been, he had been charged with certain misconduct. So the question came to Francis, “How could you bring him in?” And Francis said, “The man has admitted he did wrong, he is sorry, and he has changed his life through the grace of Jesus Christ. Who am I to judge him now?” That is hardly a statement that somehow justifies homosexual behavior.
The answer is that he was referring to the final context, “the decision of a superior,” and simultaneously the context of ethics, “a right decision about what is just or proper or prudent.” He was not referring to the general or philosophical context as to whether we can legitimately think, in our minds, that homosexual acts are not sin. We Catholics all know, or should know, intellectually, that homosexual acts are wrong, always have been wrong, and always will be wrong. No Pope can, or would, change that. What we cannot do is see with our minds into the hearts of other people. Only God can do that, so if a person says that he is sorry for his sins, and if the shows that he is sincerly “seeking God,” then our ability to judge that person has evaporated, hence, “Who am I to judge?”
Bishop Morlino had something else to say about all of this that the faithful who are upset with Pope Francis should read. That is, we are not to speak as Pope Francis does, because we are not the Pope.
State Journal: Would you say your approach is primarily pastoral?
Bishop Morlino: Yes, because what is pastoral has to be true. In other words, pastoral is loving. It includes love, and loving always includes respecting. If you don’t respect people enough to tell them the truth, well then you couldn’t be pastoral. There can’t be anything pastoral that does not include inviting people to see the truth. To pretend the truth is not there or to water it down, that really couldn’t be pastoral. That honestly is a kind of appeasement. It might make the person feel better right now, but it really does not help in terms of a person’s salvation. We don’t use the terminology very often — and I think it’s too bad — we don’t talk about saving souls for Christ. We don’t describe ourselves as doing that. We have all sorts of other ways of describing ourselves. If I withhold the truth, I’m actually endangering souls, not saving souls, and endangering souls could never be pastoral.
Who am I to judge the Pope? I can judge the Pope in “general,” as above under the definition, and I can judge the Pope “philosophically,” as above under the definition. That is to say that I can use my mind to judge whether what he is saying is true or not true. I can judge on the basis of whether some act is “ethical” or not. The Pope can judge as a superior, but as a lay person, I cannot. Just as the Pope cannot see into anyone’s heart, neither can I. Neither can you. So, if a person says that he understands that he has committed a homosexual act, that this was a sin, that he is sorry for it and seeks to never do it again, we cannot judge him. Otherwise, we can judge.
By the way, both Pope Francis and Bishop Morlino used the word “gay” to refer to persons. For example, the Pope said, “If someone is ‘gay’.” Some people have asked me about this because, according to the catechism (2333), no one is “gay.” Sexual identity is clearly spelled out in that paragraph, and everyone must accept his or her sexual identity. So, why did they use the term? I don’t know why, but I have never seen a bishop write down the word “gay,” as opposed to speaking it orally. I use the word in quotes: “gay.” I don’t recall ever seeing a bishop use his fingers in the air to make “quote marks” for anything, either. Regardless of the fact that bishops, and even the Pope, have used this term in this context, the catechism is clear and the Pope has been clear that we should follow the catechism when it disagrees with what he says. Any bishop would say the same.
I’m giving the Pope the benefit of the doubt. I hope you will, too. Who are we to judge the Pope?