“Who am I to judge?”, thrown in your face? Fr. Z says, “Don’t let them get away with it!”

Mention the Pope’s interview “on the airplane” and we all know immediately what phrase is going to pop up.  The rafters are still rattling.

“Who am I to judge?”

What did the Pope really say? (Italian HERE)

Remember the context: he was asked about a priest, Msgr. Ricca, who was into some nasty stuff while on diplomatic assignment in Uruguay, and his appointment to I.O.R. (“the Vatican Bank”) and about a “gay lobby” of people who work in the Vatican.  Francis wasn’t talking about all homosexuals everywhere.

There’s a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I’ve never seen it on the Vatican ID card.

When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency is not the problem … they’re our brothers.

If they “accept the Lord”, and “have goodwill”… pretty clearly meaning, “if they are trying to live a good Christian life”, which involves continency and chastity, then I can’t point a finger at them and say they are evil, etc.  “Who am I to judge?”, depends on what went before in the same sentence.  It does not mean, “Anyone can do anything and we don’t have a right to make a moral judgement.”

I saw this point addressed another way.  It is good to see this from different angles, because that phrase “Who am I to judge?”, is being hijacked by the ignorant and the malicious alike.   When you hear it, red flags should wave in your head.  When Jesus protected the women taken in adultery from being stoned to death (John 8:1-11), he said, “Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.

From Catholic Insight:

A lesbian couple in Missouri were denied Holy Communion at one of the women’s mother’s funeral when it came to light that the two were in a same-sex relationship. [I wrote about that HERE] The two women had been parishioners at St. Columban Catholic Church for twelve years. Ms. Parker, one of the women, was quoted as saying that she hoped the priest, Fr. Kneib, would “open his eyes and fully receive the LGBT community into the church.” She further added: “We’re all God’s children and we have every right to receive Communion. … Even the Pope has said, ‘Who am I to judge?’” [There it is.]

If Ms. Carol Parker, and presumably her same-sex partner Ms. Josephine Martin, had thoroughly read what Pope Francis said in the famous interview on the plane home from Rio, she would have realized that he wasn’t condoning her disordered relationship with another woman. [Nor did Jesus, in saving the adulterous woman, condone the adultery.] While he wasn’t about to hand down a final judgement on the person, the sin is still a sin. But I suppose she, along with many other people, conveniently ignored that part.

Increasingly, “who am I to judge” and its partner “don’t judge me” have become an over-used defence that validates every sort of behaviour and excuses us from being accountable to moral truths. Too many people wrongly believe that by judging the sinful behaviour, we are judging the person. This isn’t true, of course, and when we are called to charitably speak out against the sin, we are really showing love of our neighbour and a concern for their soul. [Who thinks it is truly charitable to ignore sin?]

The truth is, we all have a moral conscience that enables us to make right judgements. Our conscience “judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1777).

Our moral conscience has been placed in our innermost being by God. Unfortunately, in a world that is loudly booming with distractions it is easy for us to avoid looking within ourselves and therefore we don’t hear the voice of our conscience. It becomes easier to fall under the influence of a secular culture that denies Christ. We need to follow the advice of St. Augustine who tells us to “return to your conscience, question it … Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.”

Who, then, are we to judge? Well, actually, our moral conscience tells us that we have to judge—but we never judge the person. We do however have to judge the act in light of God’s laws to determine whether or not it is sinful.

The last word on this subject belongs to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: [Remember this?  From his Way of the Cross in 2005 for Good Friday just before his election.]

How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves—thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Ephesians 4, 14). Having a clear Faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching,” looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards. [“Who am I to judge?” improperly understood.] We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires. However, we have a different goal: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an “Adult” means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship which opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false, and deceit from truth.

This is one way to parse Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff, non-magisterial, remark made during an interview on an airplane.

If you hear the phrase “Who am I to judge?” and Pope Francis being hijacked in a sly attempt to condone immoral behavior, you must challenge that usage.

Don’t be a self-absorbed promethean neopelagian!  Love the sinner but don’t accept the sin.

Don’t let them get away with it.  Don’t accept their premise.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Biased Media Coverage, Liberals, Linking Back, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Natalie Anne says:

    Too often, I fear, calling a spade a spade gets confused with “judging”. It’s strange that we never hear that someone was judged when they were praised for doing something good.

  2. Eliane says:

    I think many of us have always understood and appreciated the context in which the pope spoke those infamous words. His comment must be one of the most misinterpreted ever and seems bound to outlive him. But as to clarifying it, only he can effectively do that. The rest of us can just argue.

    While I see no inclination on his part to supply clarity, at least he seems to have tempered his tendency toward verbal recklessness lately, or at least let’s hope so.

  3. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    Well, duh!

    The Church has always distinguished among (1) homosexuality as a condition in people; (2) homosexuals as people; and (3) homosexual acts as freely chosen actions.

    This is what Cardinal Ratzinger’s “controversial” letter, “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” which has long been selectively quoted and misinterpreted, affirms. See http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html

    In his letter to the U.S. bishops in 1979, Pope John Paul II also commended them for making this important distinction. See http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1979/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19791005_chicago-usa-bishops_en.html

    Are people aware that the Church considers oral and anal sex sinful even if heterosexuals (married or unmarried) engage in them?

  4. Unwilling says:

    Well, I know the Pope was not “condoning” homosexual behaviour. There is no real doubt (even in most of those who pretend otherwise) that he could or would if he could.

    However, we must distinguish words from speakers. What the Pope actually said in the plane, “Who am I to judge?”, did objectively, in the context of words and paragraphs, condone. Lombardi could see that is what had been said and immediately ended the interview. “Thank you. It seems to me that we cannot do more [damage] than we have done. We have kept the Pope too long, after he already said he was a little tired. We wish him now some time of rest. [Note that bit about him being tired! I will be using it during damage control.]”

    Fr Z does the right thing to defend the Pope and deny the nonsensical idea he supports homosexuality. Nor does Fr Z pretend he did not say what he said.

    But to argue that the Pope’s words did not imply a liberal skepticism [one the Pope does not share] is like saying there is no moral problem to yell [French] “faillir!” in a crowded theatre.

  5. Dundonianski says:

    I am curious regarding the case of Msgr Ricca who, Fr Z asserts, was “–into some nasty stuff while on diplomatic assignment in Uruguay” The (translated) transcript of Francis’ response clearly states that the investigation corresponding to the accusation found nothing! This is repeated again “–and we found nothing” So in effect a judgement was made in this case, and that judgement was wholly positive in respect of the Msgr!!!

  6. Sonshine135 says:

    How offensive is it to gay men and women, who live a life of chastity in love of God, that this quote is continually taken out of context? No one ever talks about how these brave men and women are slapped in the face over and over again- often by these same lobbyists that are supposed to be for their “rights”. Subjective morality and a Dictatorship of Relativism indeed!

  7. anilwang says:

    Even if it were not taken out of context, it’s very easy to turn around.

    “God said it’s a mortal sin. Who am I to judge?”

  8. Johnno says:

    Ever spoken to drug addicts about their drug addiction which is killing them?

    Some of the first things out of their mouths is, “Who are you to tell me what to do with my life? STOP JUDGING ME!!!!”

    I’m starting to believe that the souls in hell are there because they ran away from the Final Judgment because they didn’t want to be judged out of prideful addiction to their sins. Whereas every soul addicted to sin who humbly submitted themselves to judgment by God, found abundant mercy providing they allow God to help them overcome their addiction by to going through intense rehab in purgatory. Those in hell loved their sins. Those in heaven wanted to be cured and freed.

  9. THREEHEARTS says:

    Ages ago I wrote on my blog all the phrases used to stifle one’s conscience. I find it amazing those who go to church and stay awake should realize from the confiteor what they have done and what they have fail;ed to do. They should have also been taught about complicity in sin for us and for other sinners. The grandparents who do not tell their children married for years or ask why only two
    children and it is the same for priests who stand at their bully pulpit and see those whom they married years ago with one or two children and never preach humanae vitae. The Jesuits taught me we have free will, an informed conscience and then the burden of choice. They also taught me it is a dreadful sin not to inform one’s conscience. I often wonder what the God who stood before the Apostles and said I will have to answer to My Father for all the souls I lost. What will He ask priests who have never taught the catechism correctly or never checked it was taught correctly in his parish church. I am frightened even to think of the fate that awaits them.
    Good Luck folks with that one

  10. Official doctrine notwithstanding, whatever denials or clarifications are issued, however their context is explained, the words “Who am I to judge” have changed the belief and practice of millions of Catholics like no other five words in the English language (even if not originally uttered in English), and will continue to do so, and for a long time.

  11. eulogos says:

    Mr. Dimitri Cavalli, I think you are partially mistaken in the certainty of your last sentence. My understanding is that other forms of stimulation are acceptable as part of the totally of the sexual act so long as the act reaches its proper termination in the act which is suitable for the transmission of life. (I am attempting to express this without being graphic.) So one could not use these other forms of stimulation instead of normal coitus, deliberately engage in them to the point of male climax, or use them instead of coitus in the fertile period to avoid pregnancy. But one may make use of them, if both spouses wish, as part of the totality of the sexual act. I would say this was also subject to the act not being deleterious to health, which might actually rule out one form of stimulation you mentioned, but I think that would be a lesser issue in terms of sin, unless one party were urging the action against the reluctance of the other party.

    I know this was not intended to be the subject of this thread, but you raised this issue and I was afraid you might needlessly disturb some consciences.

    The above distinction was made for me by those I consider wise guides, but I am of course subject to correction from an appropriate source.
    Susan Peterson

  12. anilwang says:

    THREEHEARTS says: “They also taught me it is a dreadful sin not to inform one’s conscience. ”

    This is the heart of the issue. A significant number of Catholics (most?) are not taught this. I had an excellent education in Catholic morality and moral reasoning. I didn’t learn about contraception or other more “contentious” church teachings, but I did know enough to know that some form of chastity was necessary within marriage, otherwise we’d be subject to many of the same moral consequences that chastity outside of marriage results in. We were taught (by good lay Catholic teachers) and challenged to think through morality (e.g. why get married when prostitutes are cheaper and less of a hastle?) so we would not only do the right things, but do them with the right reasons, and not be influenced by the pressures of changing times and superficially convincing arguments.

    But despite this, I was never taught to inform my conscience…I was never taught there was anything more than those basic principles. The same with most Church doctrines. I learned the basic principles (reverence, the necessity for consecration of time and place and people, duties to God), but not that I needed to inform myself of the Catholic faith or even that there was anything to more beyond my limited (first communion) knowledge of the faith or even that I needed to be confirmed (it wasn’t just an optional nice to have). As a consequence, I left the faith without realizing that I had and lived that way (with good Catholic morals) for a few decades.

    From speaking with other confirmed Catholics, it seems I had an above average education, and most got a moral education that was essentially what’s taught in public schools, without even being taught that they needed to inform their (deformed by the education system) consciences, or even that there is more that they needed to know (i.e. it’s not just a nice to have if you want to be a saint….and yes you are called to be a saint).

    So it’s understandable why “who am I to judge” is a popular catch phrase….it’s not an excuse. It’s what they’ve been taught.

  13. Uxixu says:

    I’ve used John 8:11 before (and love the Douay translation!) but will make sure to challenge Pope Francis’ words in the proper context, as well.

  14. benedetta says:

    “Who am I to judge” has always been the approach of the Church. As is one man one woman.

  15. jacobi says:

    This remark should never have been made . It is an indication of the Pope’s lack of experience at that time in dealing with the Press. Sadly, it will be quoted back at us by enemies of the Church a hundred years from now.

    The answer to his question, “who am I to Judge?”, is, you are the Pope, the Keeper of the Keys, the Truth, and also you are a priest, and are required in the Sacrament of Confession, acting “in persona Christi”, to judge the confession of the sinner, and on the basis of that judgement, to grant or withhold absolution..

  16. Kensington says:

    This weekend at church I was dismayed by an add for the National Catholic Reporter that ran on the last page of the bulletin. It showed a smiling picture of Pope Francis, and beside it, in quotes, with no context: “Who am I to judge?” Below that, a few lines of text saying that NCR has full coverage(!) of Pope Francis.

    It was like Kevin Smith’s “Buddy Christ” scene from Dogma come to life.

  17. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Thomas Rosica, in the link conveniently provided by Fr. Z, himself provides the text from 2358 of the English version of the Catechism. Is this indeed the text closest to what pope Francis quotes from memory in the interview? If so, it is not very close (whatever one may make of that fact).

    Pope Francis not only takes over the expression “lobby gay” from the questioner, but himself introduces the expression “una persona gay” and the description (in a conditional phrase) “Se una persona è gay”.

    What does he understand “gay” and “una persona gay” to be or mean? He does not gloss or define it, though he does connect it with his (apparently somewhat faulty) recollection of the Catechism: “queste persone”. Perhaps, then, he intends (and understands?) it in the sense of “men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies”.

    But that is not its only, or most common, usage.

    For example, Quest, “the UK association for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends,” (as I understand) posted a “Statement” on their website which includes (in reference to his answer to Ilze Scamparini), “Francis used the word, ‘gay’ not once, but five times. He is the first Catholic leader to do so. This is deeply significant. ‘Gay’ is the term that originated in the struggle for human rights and it is a word that the many in the LGBT community use to refer to themselves. This shift of language suggests empathy and engagement. After the Pentecost, the Apostles left the Upper Room and spoke in many languages. This shift in language enabled them to be understood more widely among many people who had not heard the Christian message.”

    Now, they seem pretty clearly ‘trying to get away with something’. But is their gloss of the word ‘gay’ unusual, far-fetched, etc.?

    Or is the use of that term by Pope Francis a distinct problematical feature of his “off-the-cuff, non-magisterial, remark”?

  18. I’m afraid the damage has already been done. Context or not.

  19. The Cobbler says:

    Having complained on this point myself here recently, I want to say thanks for posting this. 8^)

  20. Vecchio di Londra says:

    It wasn’t just the misunderstood context of the words, and the unfortunate looseness of expression, but the implied abdication of papal judgement on a question of moral doctrine. Even ignoramuses with no understanding at all of the Catholic faith were taken aback.
    I remember the media and general public response here after the statement. It was incredulous, almost satirical. ‘ “Who am I to judge..??” – “Who am I??” He’s the Pope!’ It became a subject for joking. In that moment, and because of insufficient clarification later, the Holy Father lost the natural advantage of his papal authority vis-a-vis the world. He will one day sorely need to regain it.

    The moral distinction between guiltless unwilled attraction and culpable action was lost – a distinction that is so vital to draw clearly, given the general ignorance of Christian chastity even among Christians today. And a golden opportunity for a Pope with the ear of the media to speak authoritatively and above all unambiguously clearly on a burning moral question was wasted.
    The fruits of all this are not particularly auspicious so far.

  21. St. Corbinian's Bear says:

    We have seen in political contests in the United States how a candidate says or does something that defines him, fairly or not. I’m sure you can think of many examples. Pope Francis is the “Who Am I To Judge?” Pope, who is “the nice pope” who doesn’t condemn gays, like mean old Pope Benedict. At the very moment the Church should be taking a stand and cleaning house, it has carelessly lent its moral authority to the homosexual agenda. Not officially, of course, but in the arena of perceptions. A labored explication of the entire remark in its context will be a flop. Accurate, perhaps, but a flop nonetheless.

  22. dominic1955 says:

    “Official doctrine notwithstanding, whatever denials or clarifications are issued, however their context is explained, the words “Who am I to judge” have changed the belief and practice of millions of Catholics like no other five words in the English language (even if not originally uttered in English), and will continue to do so, and for a long time.”

    It just goes to show how many people are maliciously and stupidly ignorant.

    To me it makes sense, the way folks (prophets, visionaries, saints, etc.) spoke of Hell, it seems that this is par for the course. People who are that willing to completely ignore truth, to bend things according to their “perception” in order to lend credence (however flimsy) seem like the perfect denizens of the everlasting flames. Sad, sure, but certainly par for the course.

  23. Baritone recently wrote about judging others and one’s motivation for judging others on our blog: http://www.catholicliving.net/judge-not/

    An excerpt:

    The fact remains that there are public sinners, such as those politicians who, claiming to be Catholic, vote (over and over again) for contraception, abortion, and against marriage. We cannot simply be silent as if these things do not matter. We have to love even the greatest sinners, but if we accept their sins in the name of not being judgmental, do we really love these sinners as ourselves? Would we not want to be admonished to repent and save our souls if we were in their shoes?

  24. Thank you Father Z for this post. It’ll be my “go-to” reply when I hear people (Catholic or not) wonder about the Pope’s “Who am I to judge?”.

  25. albizzi says:

    Who am I to judge? Did St Paul judge when he said:
    “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor EFFEMINATES, nor HOMOSEXUALS, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
    1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

  26. jhayes says:

    Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, the leader of Indian Catholicism and one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, last month came out strongly against a decision by the nation’s high court to reinstate a ban on gay sex, which includes penalties of 10 years to life in prison.

    “The Catholic Church does not want homosexuals to be treated as criminals,” Gracias said, and cited the pope’s words when asked about his approach to gay people. “The church stand is, ‘Who am I to judge them?’ as the Holy Father has said.”


  27. Pingback: PopeWatch: Burke on the Francis Effect | The American Catholic

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