Defending Pope Francis: 9 false charges

This article replies to 9 questions as to whether Pope Francis taught error. Now 8 of the questions are from a Twitter discussion with Ben (@BenTruCrusader), and a 9th was found in another source. But these same complaints about the Pope have been discussed widely on the internet for some time now.

(i) gradualism;
(ii) that the 5000 shared;
(ii) that Jesus was punished as a child;
(iv) Matthew clung to his money;
(v) that Mary must have felt, at the foot of Christ’s cross, that she had been told a pack of lies by the angel;
(vi) suggest that condoms could be used to prevent the spread of Zika?
(vii) Did he suggest that the nuns in the Congo had been correct in taking a contraceptive pill with the properties of an abortifacient so that they might thereby be spared a pregnancy in the event of a rape?
(viii) deny the reality of hell.
(ix) that Jesus pretended to be angry with his disciples

I. Gradualism

Gradualism is the error that the fullness of the eternal moral law does not apply to each and every person, in every situation.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions. They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. “And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.” ” [Familiaris Consortio 34]

Inner quote above is from John Paul II, Homily at the Close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops (Oct. 25, 1980).

John Paul II proposes the law of gradualness, in which persons make progress, continually, in adhering to the law and in fulfilling the will of God. But he rejects the error of “gradualness of the law”, as if each person were not accountable at all times to the whole law.

Did Pope Francis teach “the law of gradualness” or did he teach “the gradualness of the law”?

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia:
295. Along these lines, Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called “law of gradualness” in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth”. This is not a “gradualness of law” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law. For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being “advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life”.

What might cause a person to not be in a position to fully carry out the objective demands of the law? Invincible ignorance is one thing. Many Catholic leaders teach error; there is a plethora of contradictory claims about what the Gospel requires of each person. It is easy for lay Catholics to become confused as to what those objective demands might be. Difficult situations and great sufferings might also make it more difficult for the individual to fully understand and appreciate the requirements of the law.

Pope Francis clearly rejects “the gradualness of the law” and instead proposes what John Paul II said, “the law of gradualness”, whereby a person continually strives to become more and more like Christ, and to conform one’s life more and more to the demands of the eternal moral law.

Pope Francis: “one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” [Amoris Laetitia 301]

II. That the miracle of the loaves was a sharing of existing bread, not a miracle.

“Looking at those five loaves, Jesus thinks: this is Providence! From this small amount, God can make it suffice for everyone…. This is the miracle: rather than a multiplication it is a sharing, inspired by faith and prayer.” [Angelus]

“where does the multiplication of the loaves come from?…. The little they have: five loaves and two fish. However it is those very loaves and fish in the Lord’s hands that feed the entire crowd. And it is the disciples themselves, bewildered as they face the insufficiency of their means, the poverty of what they are able to make available, who get the people to sit down and who — trusting in Jesus’ words — distribute the loaves and fish that satisfy the crowd.” [Homily]

“A few days ago, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, we read the account of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish. And the end of this passage is important: “and all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces (Lk 9:17).” [General Audience]

The above quotes show that the Pope believes the multiplication of the loaves was a miracle, that the multitude was fed from the 5 loaves and 2 fish, not from hidden loaves and fishes that people produced once the sharing started (as some liberal commentators in the past have claimed).

h/t to Jimmy Akin

III. that Jesus was punished as a child

I can’t find any source making the claim that Pope Francis said this. However, he did say that, returning from Jerusalem, after the finding in the Temple, Jesus begged forgiveness from his parents. That claim is expressed here: by Aviso.

“Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it.” [Homily]

Jesus did nothing wrong by remaining in Jerusalem; He was doing His Father’s will. We don’t know what it was like for Joseph and Mary to have God as their child, on a daily basis. We know from the Gospel that Joseph and Mary were worried about Jesus, when he was lost for three days and then found in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Did Jesus beg forgiveness of them? Not in the sense that he did something wrong. But, in another sense, he may have asked them to no longer be upset.

I don’t agree with the Pope on this particular point. But I also do not see this point as a grave error on his part. He presents this idea as his own theological opinion, not a teaching: “The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it.” So we are free to disagree.

It is not fair to anyone, to take their words and continually look for ways to condemn that person. We must interpret the Pope’s words with Christian charity. If this is an error, it is not earth-shattering. It does not imply that Jesus is not God, or that He is less than perfect. It is only a point about the relationship between the Christ-child, who is God, and his merely-human parents. And that is a difficult relationship to understand.

IV. that Matthew clung to his money

During an interview, Pope Francis compares his calling to be Pope to Matthew’s calling. He expresses the reluctance that Matthew, a tax collector, may have felt at first: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ ” This is in reference to a painting on the call of Matthew. The accusation against Pope Francis is made by someone using the pseudonym Aviso.

I don’t see why this is considered an error by Pope Francis. He is merely saying that Matthew may have felt an initial reluctance to leave behind his worldly ways — as a tax collector, he would have been relatively wealthy from the exploitation of others. He may have initially clung to his money. But then, of course, Matthew leaves everything behind to become an Apostle.

V. that Mary must have felt, at the foot of Christ’s cross, that she had been told a pack of lies by the angel.

Pope Francis spoke about what Mary may have felt at the foot of the Cross:

“”The Gospel tells us nothing: if she said a word or not … She was quiet, but in her heart – how much she said to the Lord! ‘You told me then – that’s what we have read – that He will be great. You told me that You would give him the throne of his father David, that he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And now I see Him there!’ The Blessed Mother was human! And perhaps she would have wanted to say, ‘lies! I have been cheated!’. John Paul II said this when he spoke of the Mother of God at one point. But she was overshadowed with the silence of the mystery that she did not understand, and with this silence, she has accepted that this mystery can grow and flourish in the hope “.”

That expression, “lies, I have been cheated”, is merely how Mary may have felt, and not literally that she concluded she was cheated, or that she lost faith. It must have been difficult for her to see her Son on the Cross, as everyone understands. And there is no accusation against Mary for saying that she may have had difficulty accepting the suffering of her Son. Then, the Pope also says that “she accepted that this mystery can grow and flourish”. So she did not conclude, in the end, that she was cheated. He was merely speaking of her feelings. The Pope’s consideration of the humanness of Mary should not be seen as an error.

VI. that condoms could be used to prevent the spread of Zika?

What did Pope Francis say on this subject? In my previous post on this subject here, I explain that Pope Francis did err in his assertions about the use of contraception in the case of the Zika virus, which many believe causes severe birth defects…. But the error of Pope Francis in this matter is not heresy; it is an error in the application of doctrine to specific cases.

Here is the news story at CNN.

“On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil…. “In certain cases … such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear….”

It turns out that Pope Francis was mistaken on this point. Pope Paul VI never approved of abortifacient contraception for nuns in the Congo. See my post: Did Pope Paul VI approve of contraception for nuns in the Congo? No!

However, Francis is right that avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. Couples, for a grave reason, may use NFP to avoid pregnancy. In cases of rape, the use of contraception is indirect and therefore morally permissible.

On the other hand, it is not moral to use condoms in the case of the Zika virus, as I explain here: Contraception and the Zika virus.

VII. Did Francis suggest that the nuns in the Congo had been correct in taking a contraceptive pill with the properties of an abortifacient so that they might thereby be spared a pregnancy in the event of a rape?

He referenced Pope Paul VI without any specifics. So, he did not make such an assertion.

In any case, the use of mere contraception, in cases of rape, is indirect and therefore moral. It is like indirect abortion, or indirect sterilization. The use of abortifacient contraception is not moral, unless it could be determined that the pill would act, in a particular case (of one-time use) only as a contraceptive.

VIII. Did Francis deny the reality of hell?

No, he did not. Pope Francis has repeatedly taught that Hell is real. See my post here.

What he did say has been misinterpreted:

“No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.” [Amoris Laetitia 297]

The Pontiff was only speaking of persons in this life. He was refuting the idea that the divorced and remarried could be permanently expelled from the Church, that they would not be able to receive any helps from the Church while in that state. In this life, the Church condemns no one forever. They can always repent. They can receive some help from the Church, even when they are trapped in a situation of sin and suffering.

IX. that Francis said Jesus pretends to be angry with his disciples

The accusation is made here by Aviso. And here is the report on Francis’ remarks.

“In the Gospel, Jesus does not become angry, but pretends to when the disciples do not understand him,” the Pope explained, adding that at Emmaus Jesus says, “’How foolish and slow of heart.’ “

Francis is explaining the behavior of Jesus at Emmaus:

{24:25} And he said to them: “How foolish and reluctant in heart you are, to believe everything that has been spoken by the Prophets!

Was Jesus truly angry, or did He conduct himself so at to seem as if angry, in order to instruct the disciples? I think He was actually angry, as just anger is not a sin. Jesus was angry when He drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple.

{24:28} And they drew near to the town where they were going. And he conducted himself so as to go on further.

Jesus made it seem as if He were going to travel on further, knowing that the disciples would invite him to stay. This is not a type of lie. It is analogous to mental reservation, as when Jesus said that He was not going to a particular festival, because the time was not right. And when the time was right, then He did go:

{7:8} You may go up to this feast day. But I am not going up to this feast day, because my time has not yet been fulfilled.”

I don’t think Jesus was pretending to be angry, but even if He was, it was not a sin.


There are many persons who are seeking excuses to reject Pope Francis, because he is liberal and they are conservative. They had fallen into the error, years before Pope Francis was elected, of assuming that the conservative answer to every theological question must be the correct answer. And now, God has put them to the test, and they are failing. They are rejecting a true Pope, chosen by God, because they prefer conservatism over Catholicism.

See also: An A to Z defense of Pope Francis

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

3 thoughts on “Defending Pope Francis: 9 false charges

  1. III. that Jesus was punished as a child

    Not by His parents.
    However, He was doubtless a student (He could read Scripture, and write the sins of the people in the sand). And teachers were not loath to punish in those days. And as you can recall from your own school days, they were not always infallible in giving their punishments…


  2. This is my interlocutors reply concerning your comment on the issue of the intrinsic evil of the death penalty and the principle of double effect.

    “There are three elements of a moral act that determine its quality
    (good or evil).

    Object: the thing chosen, which exists outside the willing subject
    Intention: the aim, intention, purpose or end for which the object is
    chosen; this is inside the willing subject
    Circumstances: secondary conditions that may enhance or mitigate the
    goodness or evil of an act

    Object and intention may be distinguished as follows:

    “The intention is the end chosen by the person who acts (finis
    agentis). The moral object is the end toward which the chosen act is
    inherently ordered (finis actus).” [Janet E. Smith, The Morality of
    Condom Use by HIV-Infected Spouses, The Thomist 70 (2006): 27-69]

    “Whereas the intention of the act concerns the desired goal or sought
    outcome, the object of the act concerns what one is trying to do by
    performing that act. While the two may overlap or even be identical
    in some cases, they are in principle distinguishable…” [James G.
    Murphy, The Principle of Double Effect: Act-Types and Intentions,
    2013. Retrieved from Loyola eCommons, Philosophy: Faculty Publications
    and Other Works,

    Often, the object and intention can coincide. If a certain act A is
    inherently ordered to a certain end E, and I am aware of this fact, I
    may simply choose to perform the act precisely because I wish to
    attain the end E. In this case, E is both the object and the intention.

    Sometimes an act have two effects (E1 and E2). It could be the case
    that the act is inherently ordered toward the first (E1), but due to
    circumstantial conditions, it will no less necessarily result also in
    the second effect (E2).

    For an act to be good, the object of the act must be good, the
    intention must be good, and there must be no circumstance that makes
    it evil. At first blush, it would seem that the circumstances bringing
    about the evil second effect make this act evil. However, the act
    could still be good if all these conditions are met:

    1) The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
    2) The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it.
    If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do
    so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
    3) The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately
    (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of
    time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be
    produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the
    agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
    4) The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for
    the allowing of the bad effect (New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 1021).

    (1) means that the object of A, in this case E1, must be good. [I’ll
    omit the disputed possibility of indifference.] (2) means that our
    intention must not positively will E2, but only permits it. The only
    thing we positively will is E1, to which A is inherently ordered. By
    (3), we exclude any scenario where A results in E2 only as a
    consequence of E1; it’s OK if E1 and E2 occur simultaneously in the
    order of causality. If E1 occurred only as a consequence of E2, then A
    would be no less inherently ordered to E2 than to E1, in which case we
    fail to meet condition (1). The last condition (4) is the
    proportionality criterion, which is hard to define precisely.
    Obviously, it would be specious to permit a great evil (E2) in order
    to attain a small good (E1). Yet it’s a matter of prudential judgment
    exactly how much evil one may tolerate in proportion to the good to be
    attained. This seems dangerously close to “ends justifying the means”,
    except E2 is not a means of attaining E1, but a side effect.

    Applying this to self-defense, E1 is saving our own life, and E2 is
    slaying the aggressor. A is the act we call (somewhat vaguely)
    “self-defense.” All that is essential to self-defense is that we repel
    the aggressor and render him harmless. This suffices to attain the
    act’s inherent end of saving our life. Under certain circumstances,
    however, it may be the case that the only way to repel the aggressor
    and render him harmless involves killing him at the same time. This is
    lawful only if:

    (1) Saving a life (E1) is good.
    (2) We do not positively will slaying the aggressor (E2) but only
    permit it. The only thing we positively will is saving a life (E1).
    (3) Saving a life (E1) cannot be a causal consequence of slaying the
    (4) The good of saving a life (E1) must be sufficient to permit the
    evil (E2) of slaying the aggressor.

    Condition (4) would prevent us from killing people over petty theft,
    for instance, though it’s difficult to say exactly how great the good
    must be in order to justify permitting an evil.

    Conditions (2) and (3) seem to get us in trouble. First, it seems
    psychologically unrealistic to say that we do not positively will
    slaying the aggressor. After all, to perform the physical act requires
    considerable coordination and intention. Second, although the saving
    of a life and killing of the aggressor occur simultaneously, it would
    seem nonetheless that killing was instrumental toward our desired
    outcome. After all, we would say colloquially that we saved a life
    by killing the aggressor, or that we killed the aggressor in order
    save a life.

    These are serious objections to applying the rule of double effect to
    self-defense, but among Catholics it is generally accepted, so I’ll
    assume this without controversy. Whence it follows that: (a) what we
    positively will or intend is to repel the aggressor, not to kill him;
    and (b) repelling the aggressor, not killing him, is instrumental to
    saving a life; killing is just a regrettable side effect due to

    [Historical note: St. Thomas does not use
    “object-intention-circumstance” analysis (a later development), but
    instead evaluates the morality of an act based on whether it follows
    or opposes our God-given natural inclinations to pursue what is really
    good for us. Homicide is truly bad for us because it opposes our
    natural good of living in community and concord. Yet the person acting
    in self-defense is following another good natural inclination, namely
    to keep oneself in being. His act is good if his intention follows
    only the good inclination and not the bad. This is why St. Thomas
    speaks only of “intention” and I have done likewise when commenting on

    With capital punishment, the question is in part determined by whether
    or not a criminal in fact retains his human dignity. This is important
    because homicide, i.e. killing any creature with human dignity, is
    intrinsically evil. This should be uncontroversial among Catholics, as
    shown by some citations from St. Thomas:

    “If we consider a man in himself, it is unlawful to kill any man,
    since in every man though he be sinful, we ought to love the nature
    which God has made, and which is destroyed by slaying him.” (II-ii,
    64, 6)

    “Hence, although it be evil in itself to kill a man so long as he
    preserve his dignity, yet it may be good to kill a man who has sinned,
    even as it is to kill a beast.” (II-ii, 64, 2)

    …and from the old Roman Catechism on the Fifth Commandment: “There
    is no individual, however humble or lowly his condition, whose life is
    not shielded by this law.”

    Thus, it is inherently evil to kill anyone who has even the lowliest
    human dignity.

    When we say an act is inherently evil, we mean that it is ordered to
    an evil object, so no good intention or circumstance can make that act
    good. Although we distinguish object from intention as principles,
    much as we do matter and form, in reality you cannot have one without
    the other. That is to say, something cannot be a moral object at all
    unless it is intended; an unintentional act is not a moral act at all.
    So when we say an act is inherently evil, we presuppose that the act
    is intentional. It is not morally evil for a beast to kill a man, nor
    for a man to kill a man under coercion or accidentally (unless he is
    culpable for the circumstances that led to the accident).

    Second, when we speak of the morality of act, we are always talking
    about human morality. Classic arguments on the inherent evil of
    homicide, theft, etc., rely on premises about human nature and what is
    good for man. It does not immediately follow that what is “inherently
    evil” for a man would also be evil for an angel or for God, who do not
    share our nature. There are certainly things that God may do that are
    forbidden to man. Christ forbids us from condemning, while at the same
    teaching that God may condemn. So the inherent evil of homicide would
    not be contradicted by God killing men, any more the inherent evil of
    theft is contradicted by God forcibly taking away all that a man has.
    Nor does the fact that God may utterly deprive the damned of their
    human dignity imply that we are authorized to do so. Your argument
    proves too much, as it would imply that anyone in mortal sin has
    already lost their human dignity. Even St. Thomas does not go this far:

    “The punishments of this life are medicinal rather than retributive.
    For retribution is reserved to the Divine judgment which is pronounced
    against sinners ‘according to the truth’ (Romans 2:2). Wherefore,
    according to the judgment of the present life the death punishment is
    inflicted, not for every mortal sin, but only for such as inflict an
    irreparable harm, or again for such as contain some horrible
    deformity. Hence according to the present judgment the pain of death
    is not inflicted for theft which does not inflict an irreparable

    I don’t presume to give a formal proof that all living human beings
    retain some human dignity. That is either learned from experience or
    not. I freely concede that, if someone utterly lost their dignity, and
    had the status of a beast, it would be lawful to do as one pleased
    with them for social utility, and capital punishment would be
    justified for all serious crimes. Yet the Magisterium has never taught
    that criminals lose all their human dignity. The Catechism of Trent
    invokes only communal self-defense as a reason for capital punishment:
    “The end of the Commandment­ is the preservation and security of human
    life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is
    the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since
    they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence.” [Rom.
    Cat., 5th Comm.]

    If we combine this teaching with the modern Magisterium’s recognition
    that even the worst criminal retains some human dignity, we get the
    following analysis under the rule of double effect:

    The inherent end of just punishments (P) by the civil authority is the
    security of human life (E1). In certain circumstances, the act of
    punishment (P), i.e., the act of repressing outrage and violence,
    entails killing the criminal (E2). This is lawful only under these
    four conditions:

    (1) The security of human life (E1) is a good object.
    (2) We do not positively will slaying the criminal (E2) but only
    permit it. The only thing we positively will is the security of human
    life (E1).
    (3) The security of human life cannot be a causal consequence of
    slaying the criminal.
    (4) The good of the security of human life must be sufficient to
    permit the evil of killing the criminal.

    Once again, conditions (2) and (3) create difficulties. It seems
    psychologically implausible that we do not intend to kill the
    criminal, since the physical act requires coordination and planning.
    Although the securing of human life and the killing of the criminal
    occur simultaneously, it would seem that we have secured human life
    by killing the criminal or that we killed the criminal in order to
    secure human life. These difficulties are no worse than those for
    self-defense in general, however, so if Catholics accept the former
    they should accept this as well. Whence it follows that: (a) what we
    positively will or intend is to repress outrage and violence, not to
    kill the criminal and (b) repressing outrage and violence, not killing
    the criminal, is instrumental to saving a life; killing is just a
    regrettable side effect due to circumstances.

    If (a) and (b) truly hold, then we cannot possibly justify capital
    punishment under modern circumstances. We can repress outrage and
    violence, render the criminal permanently harmless, and protect human
    life and the peace of society from him, by secure lifetime
    imprisonment. Granted, failing to kill him may fall short of what
    retributive justice demands, but as St. Thomas remarks, punishments in
    this life are principally medicinal, not retributive, or else we could
    justly kill all who commit mortal sin, and not even the Mosaic Law
    prescribed that.”


    • I don’t read very long comments, including this one. I will say that the usually stated condition that the bad effect cannot be the means to the good effect is wrong. Moral evil can never be an end or a means. But physical evil can be a means to a good end, such as amputating a limb to save a life. So killing a man in self-defense (physical evil) can be moral as a means to the good end of saving life.

      Also, it is false to say that we don’t will the slaying of the assailant. The knowingly chosen act is to kill a human person, but that concrete act is ordered toward saving life. The human person is not an innocent; he is guilty of a grave assault. So the willing of that person’s death is moral.


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