If you’re a Christian who exploits people, leads a double life or manages a “dirty” business, perhaps it’s better not to call yourself a believer, Pope Francis suggested in a homily on Thursday in Rome.
“So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others,” Francis said during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, according to Vatican Radio. “How many times have we heard — all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere — ‘But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.’ It is that: scandal.”
“But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another.”
Examples of such sins abound, the Pope said, from money launderers to business owners who take beach vacations while stiffing their employees.
Francis’ sermon, as is customary, was an extended riff on Thursday’s Mass readings, which include a passage from the Gospel on Mark. In it, Jesus says it is better to be drowned than to cause others to sin.
Drawing on that passage, the Catholic Catechism says scandals include business leaders who encourage fraud, teachers who agitate students and manipulators who turn people away from moral values.
In other words, anyone who leads others to do wrong, directly or indirectly, is responsible for the evil he has encouraged, the church says. So when Francis compares hypocritical Christians to atheists, he’s not being flip; he’s trying to protect his flock.
While many of this Pope’s pronouncements are often assumed to be novel interpretations of Christian doctrines, Francis was also touching on an ancient debate: Is salvation open to all believers, or only those who do good while on earth?
The Pope suggested the latter, in characteristically blunt language.
He imagined a wealthy Christian knocking at the gates of heaven and saying, “Here I am, Lord! … I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this… Don’t you remember all the offerings I made?”
To which Jesus may reply, according to the Pope:
“Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don’t know you.’ That will be Jesus’ response to these scandalous people who live a double life.”