Fact check: did the Pope really abolish the sin of lust?

What is it about airborne press conferences and the Pope? Too much cabin pressure? Too little? Too much oxygen? Too little oxygen?

Whatever, the result always seems to be the same: two sentences taken out of context end up as clickbait in media around the world. Pope Francis lacks the charism of public relations (never, ever, be spontaneous) and the press lack common sense.

The latest imbroglio took place on Monday when the Pope was returning to Rome after a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece.

As usual, he fielded questions from reporters on a wide range of topics – union between Catholics and Orthodox, relations with the Russian Orthodox, cancelling Christmas in the European Union, democracy and populism, immigration, boatloads of desperate refugees, integration of Muslims into Europe …

But only one reached the front page.

A journalist from the leading French newspaper Le Monde, asked about the resignation of the Archbishop of Paris, who has admitted that he had an "ambiguous" relationship with a woman years ago, before becoming a bishop.

The Pope replied, echoing the Bible, centuries of tradition, and the best theologians:

This is sin, but it is not one of the most serious sins, because the sins of the flesh are not the most serious. The gravest sins are those that are more angelic: pride, hatred. These are graver.

The internet exploded over these 38 words– the Pope has abolished the sin of lust! “Don’t sweat about sins of flesh” was the headline in London’s staid newspaper The Times. One of its journalists fantasised about Dante revisiting the second circle of Hell with his guide Virgil.

“Dante noticed a quite busy cocktail bar. ‘It’s Lust,’ explained Virgil. ‘Total overhaul. Turns out it’s not that bad any more. The Pope said. And he tends not to be wrong about things.’”

Very funny. And wrong.

Sorry, guys, lust is still a sin. The Pope is always ready to make excuses for “sins of the flesh”, even for wayward priests and bishops. But he still accepted Archbishop Aupetit’s resignation immediately.

And for good reason. Our hyper-sexualized society regards sleeping around (aka fornication) as a matter of indifference. It’s not, but in any case on the shelves of Ye Olde Shoppe for Lustie Laddes are also truckloads of child sexual abuse, child pornography, rape, revenge porn, adultery, prostitution and other gross stuff.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines lust as a “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure”. Note the stress on the adjectives “disordered” and “inordinate”. Like the disordered desire for alcohol, lust quickly spirals out of control. It’s hard to nibble at lust. That’s one of many reasons why the Church takes a dim view of it.

Exhibit A for my spiralling thesis, by the way, is the resignation in August of another bishop (which Pope Francis also accepted immediately).

Xavier Novell was the bishop of Solsona, near Barcelona. Last month he went to a registry office to marry – don’t gag – a 38-year-old psychologist and divorced mother of two who has written erotic novels featuring demonic lust. He is not without gainful employment, however. He is working – this is unpleasantly like a Gary Larson cartoon -- with a company which exports prize pig semen. As they say in Barcelona: Bona sort. Que Deu t’ampare. Best of luck, bish; hope it all works out for you.

The media loves the slightest suggestion that the Catholic Church is slackening in its mission to teach that the proper use of sexuality is within marriage. Always has.

There is a hilarious passage in a charming 1949 novel, To Every Man a Penny, by the Scottish writer Bruce Marshall. Pope Francis loves the book and has referred to it from time to time. A minor character, a French cardinal, has a disturbing dream about a future Pope from the United States:

The new Holy Father had chosen to reign under the somewhat unusual title of Buster the First and his first proclamation had been startling. From the chair of Peter, to the city and to the world, the new Pope had declared that all his predecessors had been wrong on an important doctrine of theology: free love was not a mortal sin but an immortal virtue. As a result of this declaration Christendom had been instantly united. Heretics and schismatics had abjured their errors. The Turkish nation had been converted in a body and Scotland had not been far behind. Russia had forsaken communism. Argentina, always devout, had sent three cruisers and a battleship to fire a salute of honour at the mouth of the Tiber. There had been a special display of fireworks at Port Said. 

The media is still dreaming the same dream. It should wake up to the fact that what the Catholic Church dispenses is not free love but the tough love of free forgiveness for free love.

Got it? The Pope has not abolished the Sixth Commandment. I hope that’s clear.

I love the guy, but still, just between you and me, I wouldn’t take the job of being press secretary for Pope Francis for all the tea in China.


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