Yes, yes, Pope Francis is more conciliatory than his predecessors, but he’s still coming out with some howlers. The latest is this, reported by Reuters:
Pope Francis delivered another criticism of some members of his own Church on Thursday, suggesting it is better to be an atheist than one of “many” Catholics who he said lead a hypocritical double life.
In improvised comments in the sermon of his private morning Mass in his residence, he said: “It is a scandal to say one thing and do another. That is a double life.”
“There are those who say ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this and that association’,” the head of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church said, according to a Vatican Radio transcript.
He said that some of these people should also say “‘my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my employees proper salaries, I exploit people, I do dirty business, I launder money, (I lead) a double life’.”
“There are many Catholics who are like this and they cause scandal,” he said. “How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”
Well, I’d say that’s as much a criticism of atheists as it is of bad Catholics. Yet it contravenes what the Pope said in 2013. As CNN reports:
It isn’t the first time the Pope has mentioned atheists, either. In 2013, he raised questions for saying that heaven is open, potentially, to all people.
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”
Francis continued, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
If taken literally, that last statement contravenes virtually everything I know about Catholic dogma. If you don’t accept Jesus as your savior and fail to confess your sins before you die, you’re not going to Heaven. But atheists never formally confess their sins! In other words, if you’re a good person, you’re going to heaven, and you just don’t need the Catholic Church.
Apparently the Vatican “explained” this statement as follows: “The Vatican later issued a note clarifying that the Pope was simply saying that God’s grace is free to all, even atheists, and urging Christians and non-believers to work together.” But as far as I remember—and Catholics can help me out here—the Church by and large believe in “salvation by grace” (right belief), and if that’s free to all, then apparently salvation is still free to all. Good news for atheists! Even if you lose Pascal’s Wager you can still go to Heaven!
It’s interesting that I’ve never heard someone compare a bad atheist to a believer. On the other hand, I take that back: people like Richard Dawkins are often described by believers as “fundamentalists” who are “operating on faith as well.” What those detractors don’t seem to realize is that what they’re really saying is this: “See, you’re just as bad as we are!”