Pope Francis - the first year: From atheists to gay marriage, 12 months in his own words


Elisa Criado
Friday 07 March 2014 11:43
The Pope shares his thoughts
The Pope shares his thoughts

In his first year as pontiff, Pope Francis has enjoyed a very positive media image compared to his predecessors. He is certainly the first pope to have been compared to both a rock star and to Superman. But what are his opinions in his own words, and how have others received him?


On himself:

“I do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff: I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” (Interview with Antonio Spadaro of La Civiltà Cattolica, reprinted in Jesuit journals around the world, all quotes marked A.S)

"I don't like this mythology of Pope Francis. It seems offensive to me to depict the pope as some sort of superman or a kind of star. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps soundly at night and has friends just like anyone else. A normal person." (A.S)

On marriage:

"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptise the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalise the church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptised!"

Pope Francis said that the church "must offer an answer" to divorced couples and their families.

On homosexuality:

On the Argentinian government’s support for a gay marriage bill: "Let's not be naive: this isn't a simple political fight, it's an attempt to destroy God's plan." He described same-sex marriage as "a maneuver by the devil."

"Matrimony is between a man and a woman.” But, he said, efforts to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects."

"I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are 'socially wounded', because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this."

"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 with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person … In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation." (A.S)

"Being gay is not the problem, lobbying is the problem and this goes for any type of lobby... political lobbies, masonic lobbies, all lobbies."

"The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do."

On women in the church:

"We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more.

"But with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says no... That door is closed."

“It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. . The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.” (A.S)

On the distribution of wealth:

"The growth of equality … calls for decisions, mechanisms and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor, which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality."

"The ideology of Marxism is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people.”

"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least."

On the church:

"We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one."

“Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”

"The Church must be taken into the streets. If not, the Church becomes an NGO. And the Church cannot become an NGO."

“I am conscious of the need to promote a sound 'decentralisation'. Excessive centralisation, rather than proving helpful, complicates the church's life and her missionary outreach."

On sexual abuse within the church:

"The cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds. The church has done a lot—perhaps more than anyone….And yet the church is the only one that is attacked." (Il Corriere della Sera)

On creativity and art:

“In general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones. There is a nice definition that Cervantes puts on the lips of the bachelor Carrasco to praise the story of Don Quixote: ‘Children have it in their hands, young people read it, adults understand it, the elderly praise it.’ For me this can be a good definition of the classics.” (A.S)

“For a Jesuit (being creative) is extremely important! A Jesuit must be creative.” (A.S)

On stirring things up:

He told a crowd of 30,000 young Argentine Catholics attending World Youth Day in Rio to "make a mess" in their dioceses, to "stir things up". "Don't forget to disturb complacency, but please don't water down the faith!"

On his relatively unprotected rides in his Popemobile:

"I don't feel afraid. I know that no-one dies before their time. I don't want to see these people who have such a great heart from behind a glass box. The two security teams [from the Vatican and Brazil] worked very well. But I know that I am undisciplined in that respect."

On contraception:

"The issue isn't about changing doctrine, but digging deep into the question and making sure that the pastoral approach considers specific situations and considers what is possible for people."

On atheists:

"Given – and this is the fundamental thing – that God's mercy has no limits, if He is approached with a sincere and repentant heart, the question for those who do not believe in God is to abide by their own conscience. There is sin, also for those who have no faith, in going against one's conscience. Listening to it and abiding by it means making up one's mind about what is good and evil." (letter to La Republica)

On Argentinia and patriotism:

To Argentine veterans of the Falklands War: "We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the Homeland who went out to defend their mother, the Homeland, and to reclaim what is theirs."

On Syria:

“I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs to all of humanity!"

On refugees

“In addition to the dangers of the journey, often these families risk disintegration and, in the country that receives them, having to deal with cultures and societies that are different from their own. We cannot be insensitive to the families and to all our brothers and sisters refugees: we are called to help them, opening up to understanding and hospitality. May people and institutions around the world never fail to assist them: their face, is the face of Christ!”

On breastfeeding in the Sistine chapel during a papal baptism:

"If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here."


President Obama:

“Well, you know, I have been really impressed so far with the way he’s communicated what I think is the essence of the Christian faith and that is a true sense of brotherhood and sisterhood and regard for those who are less fortunate. And my suspicion is based on what I’ve seen of him so far, he’s a pretty steady guy. I don’t think he needs any advice from me about staying humble.” (CNN)

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina:

On Pope Francis’ argument that gay adoptions discriminate against children: “Bergoglio’s position is medieval”.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby:

"The pope has been hugely effective – he is an extraordinary man, quite brilliant in what he does. He has changed the sense of direction and purpose of the Catholic church with his personal example and his words."

Monsignor Osvaldo Musto, who attended seminary with Pope Francis:

"He's as uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church - everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests." (BBC)

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, The Argentine Nobel Peace prize winner:

"There were some bishops who were in collusion with the military, but Bergoglio is not one of them. He is being accused of not doing enough to get the two priests out of prison, but I know personally that there were many bishops who asked the military junta for the release of certain prisoners and were also refused." (BBC Mundo)

Nancy Gibbs, Time Magazine's managing editor, after Pope Francis was named their Person of the Year:

Pope Francis has pulled “the papacy out of the palace and into the streets ... Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly - young and old, faithful and cynical. In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very centre of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalisation, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power ... At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge.”

Fr Alfonso Jose Gomez SJ, who knew Pope Francis as his Rector and Provincial:

"I was struck by his simplicity and the practical nature of his questions; it was very easy to talk to him. He listened. He was humorous. I left impressed. I felt I had met a very good man. He subsequently helped me to follow Christ. At the cook-outs during the holidays, he would be the chef along with us. And, gosh, he would tell us jokes. And take his turn at waiting at tables."

"As far as I know, he did not participate in any rallies or meetings in support to the dictatorial regime. Those were difficult times for all. I have no evidence at all even to suspect that his role was in any way negative. On the contrary, there are several testimonies that he helped some Jesuits and several other individuals sought by the military to leave the country.” (Jivan)

Steve Coogan, who met the Pope at a screening of Philomena:

"He's a very attractive figure. He clearly has a charisma; he laughs a lot and smiles a lot and he has a thing on top of his cap so he can easily doff it."

Philomena Lee, after the same meeting:

"I hope and believe that his Holiness Pope Francis joins me in the fight to help the thousands of mothers and children who need closure on their own stories."

Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Catholic weekly The Tablet:

"Many Catholics in recent years have experienced a certain amount of hostility from certain quarters for being Catholic and now that's really changed and you don't sense that so much.”

Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University:

“He may be too little, too late.”

Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference on the pope’s statement that the door is closed on ordination for women:

“[Pope Francis] could have quoted the Vatican's own Pontifical Biblical Commission that concluded in 1976 that there is no valid scriptural or theological reason for denying ordination to women. Pope Francis could have cited history that documents women's leadership in the early church, or acknowledge the great works Roman Catholic Women priests are doing today. He could have looked to Jesus who welcomed women as his equal.”

Michael Walsh, papal historian and former Jesuit:

"In place of these conservatives, he's brought in people who are moderate – or indeed progressive – figures in the Catholic church. If anything is going to change the nature of Catholicism – or at least the public appearance of Catholicism – and make people more at ease in the church, it's a change of bishops."

"He shows no sign of being anything but conservative on theological matters, so sometime, somewhere, somebody is going to get a nasty shock."

Nicola Gratteri, a magistrate who has fought the 'Ndrangheta mafia:

"Pope Francis is dismantling centres of economic power in the Vatican. If the bosses could trip him up they wouldn't hesitate. I don't know if organised criminals are in a position to do something, but they are certainly thinking about it. They could be dangerous." (Il Fatto Quotidiano)

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in