Christians who exploit people, lead a double life and get involved in “dirty business,” scandalize the church, Pope Francis said in a sermon Thursday in Rome. In fact, it might be better just to be an atheist.
“And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others. 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. You destroy. You beat down,” Francis said, according to Vatican Radio.
Examples of such scandals abound, the Pope said, adding that they erode the church and the guilty Christian from within, by causing others to sin and lose faith.
Francis’ sermon, as is customary, was an extended riff on Thursday’s Mass readings, which include a passage from the Gospel on Mark in which Jesus says it is better to be drowned than to cause others to sin.
Drawing on that passage, the Catholic Catechism describes “scandal” as a “grave offense,” whether committed by “business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger or, manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.”
“Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged,” the catechism says.
In the United States, some Catholics have cited the church’s teachings on scandal to argue that priests should not distribute Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights.
And 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.”
Thursday’s sermon is far from the first time Francis has targeted Christian hypocrites. In asermon last February, the outspoken Pope called out the “fakeness” of Christians who talk piously, but do little to help others.
“To be a Christian means to do: to do the will of God — and on the last day — because all of us we will have one — that day what shall the Lord ask us? Will He say: ‘What you have said about me?’ No. He shall ask us about the things we did.”