Pope Francis the Relativist or the Merciful?


Is Pope Francis a promoter of relativism? German author and journalist Alexander Kissler thinks this is the case. Kissler believes that Pope Francis harms the Church and explains that his encounter with him showed “The pontiff talkative, almost theologically ignorant and not fulfilling the responsibility of “his” Church.” He even predicts that the next Pope will find a “spiritually neglected church.”

Alexander Kissler refers to Pope Francis, due to his Amoris Laetitia, as the UN Secretary General with a pectoral cross! Kissler’s response was caused by some of Pope Francis’ remarks in La Croix interview on May 17th:

Pope Francis:

“We need to speak of roots in the plural because there are so many. In this sense, when I hear talk of the Christian roots of Europe, I sometimes dread the tone, which can seem triumphalist or even vengeful. It then takes on colonialist overtones. John Paul II, however, spoke about it in a tranquil manner.”

 I can see why some Catholics would be upset with this rather puzzling statement. It’s filled with words such as “colonialist” and “triumphalist.” Personally, if any have studied a little bit of liberation theology, it carries the tone of those controversial ideas. However, even more, controversial is Pope Francis’ statements on Islam compared to Christianity:

“ Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.”

I almost laugh at the way this thought has been formulated because it takes me back to some debates I use to have in a classroom with a young lady who was a proud postmodernist. I can almost close my eyes and see her say “It is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel…in terms of the same idea of conquest.” Of course, I would have simply replied, “Impossible.” I encourage anyone who gets into a conversation with a relativist to simply reply, “Impossible.” I doubt that it would put an end to the conversation, but you’ll enjoy the puzzled look on their face for thirty seconds.

By looking at these comments made by Pope Francis, I understand the sentiments of those who accuse him of relativism. My concern with Pope Francis is that I see him acting in public as a Populist, much like most of our politicians today. However, I have never been overly critical of Pope Francis, but the comments about the Gospel of Matthew and “possible to interpret” need to be rejected.

However, is this truly who Pope Francis is? There are those Catholics, and even Protestants, who think we shouldn’t dare criticize Pope Francis. I am of the mind that if something warrants criticism, we should feel free to do it. And these remarks do deserve to be critiqued. Notwithstanding, I am not one who looks for only blemishes on any particular person. So I ask does Pope Francis ever reject relativism and support Catholic doctrine?

Catholic News Agency reported on April 22, 2015, that Pope Francis defended marriage in a general audience saying that in the Genesis account, “man appears for a moment without woman, free and master, but he is alone, he feels alone…God himself recognizes that this reality is not good, that there is a lack of fullness and of communion, and because of this decided to create woman.”

Pope Francis, in the same general audience, defends the sanctity of marriage by criticizing modern media that doesn’t dignify women as they are selling the body. He explains that we need to renew a proper sense of marriage and refute a distrust and hostility towards marriage. Of course, all of what Pope Francis says is in accordance with Catholic Doctrine and Theology. He should be commended for defending the institution of marriage. I ask, “how are we to know Pope Francis says such things when the media pays no attention or Facebook Trending chooses not to trend this particular message?”

I am also not so critical of Pope Francis because of I have taken the time to read some of what he has written. I have not had the chance to read Amoris Laetitia, but I have read both Laudato Si and The Name of God is Mercy. I won’t spend much time on Laudato Si, but overall, it explains that God has called us to steward his creations and that all should strive to do so for the glory of God. In my view, there is nothing relative about this sentiment; it is in accordance with God’s commands.

In regards to The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis challenges Relativism by saying, “Relativism wounds people too: all things seem equal, all things appear the same. Humanity needs mercy and compassion. Pius XII more than half century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.”[1] Furthermore, on a personal note, reading Pope Francis book on Mercy has convinced me more to seek out the confessional booth. He writes about a woman, seeking confession, who told him one day that “The Lord forgives everything.” Pope Francis replied, “How do you know? The woman explained, “If the Lord didn’t forgive everything, our world would not exist.”[2] I will certainly assert that the woman speaks a truth that is far from relative.
The Gospel of Luke is often referred to as the Gospel of Forgiveness. It has several examples such as the forgiveness of the thief on the cross and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Pope Francis reminds us of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son who speaks the truth about how he has served his Father all of these years, but his younger brother gets the celebration, Francis writes, “but he disqualifies himself.”[3] In this regard, we can bridge what St. Anselm speaks of in Chapters 8 through 11 of how God can be both merciful and impassible. If God couldn’t infinitely forgive then, none of us would be forgiven. In the end, we must teach against relativism, but we must be careful on how we focus on the truth. The truth is Christ, our bridge to the Father, and he explained to us the Kingdom of God is at hand, he told us to repent and sin no more. However, we must do what is necessary to allow people to accept this Gospel.

Does Pope Francis actually do this? Is his concern for more Pastoral methods nothing more than an open invitation to accept Christ? Tell me what you think about Pope Francis.

[1] Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy (New York: Random House, 2016), 16.

[2] Ibid, 25.

[3] Ibid, 45.


  1. I love the Pope but I’m utterly baffled by him. Sometimes he seems like a classic Protestant pitting one aspect of theology against another and then picking a favorite side, e.g. love versus the law. The genius of Catholicism, though, is that it is a both/and religion, not an either/or religion.

    As for relativism, sometimes I wonder if Pope Francis actually rejects the law of non-contradiction to the point where he can both be a relativist and oppose relativism without batting an eye. Hence the bafflement.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Love vs. law arguments are just misunderstandings of both concepts. Love is at the heart of the law. Love of God and Love of neighbor at the heart of the law. The Pharisees followed the letter of the law but they missed the connection of the law to love. So instead of understanding the purpose of giving their gift at the altar they used it as an excuse to avoid giving their gift to their parents. The Sabbath was given so that everyone could worship God and recognize the gifts they have received. The Pharisees missed the point and used the law to avoid helping those who suffer.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think after V2 there has been a full acceptance of the Gospel of Love or the “Jesus loves you” gospel and deemphasis on “the Gospel of the law.” In fact, anyone who insists on the Gospel of the law is naturally referred to as a Pharisee. Father Benedict talks about it quite thoroughly in “Without Roots.” He speaks against relativism and that those who insist on God’s divine revelation are called fundamentalist. These thoughts make me interested in Fariba’s development how Francis the logical conclusion from B16.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Pope Francis. He has challenged me to re-read the Gospels. At first his words made me uncomfortable but I have since discovered that it is Christ who makes me uncomfortable. I am the Pharisee who Jesus reminds is a sinner. You say that the Pope is a populist. Should he be an elitist? We can do theology in a vacuum but that’s not very representative of the Gospel. I suspect that his controversial comment on the Gospel of Matthew was a merely a recognition that like the Koran is used today by certain Muslims the Bible has been used in the past by Christians to oppress others. This is certainly true. I am about to begin a book on the Albigensian Crusades that was more a political battle than anything else, but it is so easy to pretend that God is deafening something like this. Of course, it is not the Gospel’s fault that people use it to abuse others. Jesus does tell us to baptize the nations. He doesn’t say to conquer others. The Pope is merely acknowledging past sins in the Church. I really like him. He really takes to their logical conclusions Ratzinger’s theological teachings. Pope Benedict (it should be remembered) never wanted to be Pope and tried stepping down 3 times from his leadership of the CDF. He’d always wanted to write a book on Original Sin today but he never was able to, unfortunately. We all have different gifts. Pope Francis has the gift of leadership, and I am so grateful that he has challenged me in the way that he has.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My comments are both critical and positive. In regards to Populism, there is a danger in its relative language. It undermines Church doctrine. For example, “Who am I to judge?” Could be changed very easily, “who am I to judge? But Christ asks us to go and sin no more.” The Holy Spirit has guided the doctrine of the faith for 2000 years, such comments poses challenges that the Divine has been in error.

      Interesting comments on Matthew and Crusades, so in accordance to Catholicism, do you reject the revisionist history by Professor Thomas Madden and Tyermann’s God’s War? I, personally, find their conclusion convincing as they present the proper historicism of the actors in history. It would reject the notion that the faith as a means to promote war. For example, it’s common to believe that Christians believed killing would allow a path to heaven. Madden presents this as a modern invention, it was actually Muslims who promoted such beliefs.

      I’m interested also in your development that Francis is the logical conclusion to Benedict.


      1. I have never read Madden but I have heard of him. I have read St. Bernard’s defense of the Crusades though. He argues that God has called everyone to take up the sword and if they don’t go to war against the Muslims they will be cursed by God like the Israelites were in the OT when they did not conquer the Canaanites. His famous line in the letter to the Templars is “fly to arms”. I’m sure there are many many political reasons for religious wars. “Religious” is a term used to justify anything that comes in our heads. After all, Satan can also quote the Scriptures. It’s like Americans fighting for democracy. There are definitely economic reasons for these wars that are not discussed but no one is going to say “We are fighting for oil”. The Catholic faith is all about confessing sins and making reparation for the damages caused by past sins. We should confess past sins committed on behalf of Christ and not try to justify them. I am sure the Muslims were not innocent either.

        I think Ratzinger and Francis have similar Christologies. I have made a few posts before on Ratzinger’s Christ-centered soteriology, ecclesiology, and environmentalism, but I will continue to make more posts about Ratzinger and maybe point out the similarities to the current pontiff. If you search “Ratzinger” on my blog you can find the past posts. In short, Ratzinger insists that there is a Truth but the Truth is a person Jesus Christ – not merely an idea. He is a person who lived in history. Truth is often considered in the context of discussions about good and evil. But as long as we consider it in that way we continue in the Old Adam. The Gospel is about the encounter with Jesus (not just an idea) transforming the sinner. Also like Pope Francis, Ratzinger has a low Christology which I really identify with (as someone who has extreme anxiety). Pope Francis emphasizes (like St. Francis) Christ as he who is in solidarity with the poor, is present in the Eucharist, and who revealed God in the crib and on the cross. Laudato Si’ could have easily been written by Ratzinger I think except Pope Francis has more experienced in the developing world than Ratzinger.

        Here are some posts about Ratzinger’s Christology:


        Btw, I have my copy of Introduction to Christianity now so I can write something for your series on the book 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll have to dive in to the finer points of your comments after I get done teaching today. However, it’s interesting that you read low Christology in the writings of B16. I’ve always felt that he’s filled with high Christology. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I think it a testament to the man.

        Yes! I still want write a series on B16 and Jesus of Nazareth.


      3. I guess it is high Christology but Ratzinger thinks both high and low go together. God becomes man (high) so that man can become like God (low). And the converted Christian serves her neighbor who reflects the image of Christ.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When it comes to mercy, I do not find that Pope Francis is more merciful than other Popes. In fact, I find that inventing ways to excuse oneself from living in mortal sin to open up the Sacrament of sacraments is short-changing those who might surrender to the teachings of Christ.

    Is there relativism being taught by this Pope and his favorite theologians? I would say so by my reading. If not, then all he has done is obfuscate the truth by the confusion that is being sown among the faithful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s “possible” to see Matthew 28 as a license to conquer not in the sense that it’s a good interpretation, but in that it has been used that way in the past. A good example (from Francis’s home!) would be the conquest of the New World, where sadly the spread of Christianity was used as a reason to slaughter, exploit, and dominate the natives. Spanish Conquistadors would sometimes read the Bible to people in a language they couldn’t even understand and then shoot or enslave them for not converting! To be fair there were people like Las Casas and others in the Salamanca school who opposed this.

    I think Francis’s point is that we should keep our own sins in mind before criticizing others too harshly, especially since in the next paragraph he talks about western disruption of the Middle East. He also says conquest is “inherent in the soul of Islam” while Christianity “can be interpreted” that way, which suggests to me he does not view their crimes as absolutely equivalent (but I am mostly ignorant of Islam, so I won’t comment further there).

    As for Francis in general, that would require another post! As someone on his way into the Church from Protestantism, I like him in a lot of ways and will be glad to have him as pope, but he is not perfect. I’m afraid that many of his critics simply become unhinged and go way too far, while there are also apologists who would refuse to admit he can do anything wrong.


    1. I guess…I should have preface that the ignorant can interpret anything into a lie, but it doesn’t make it the truth.

      Furthermore, your ideas of history are built on Anti-Catholic bigotry. Of course, I am not calling you one.

      Maybe those who are ignorant for whom the text are written, usually the irreligious, can interpret Matthew as such, but the Gospel of Matthew is written for Jews and it is suppose to convince its intended audience that Christianity is the natural progress from Judaism. By believing in Christ, Jews were not turning their backs on God’s covenant by believing in this new covenant. The idea that Anti-Semitism was created by the Church is a lie. It ignores all the writings of Roman pagans orators and historians denouncing the Jewish race prior to the birth of Christ.

      Furthermore, the idea on the Spanish Inquisition/New world is built by Anti-Catholic bigots and Anti-Spanish bigots, mostly 16th-century propaganda from the English and the Dutch. The rule of law during the time is the Divine Rights of Kings. By rejecting the Church, you were, in fact, committing treason against the crown. Sure, during The Inquisition there were atrocities, but ultimately during the period all throughout Europe, there was a witch burning craze that somehow gets lumped into the Inquisition as well. What the Inquisition did in Spain and Italy was prevent this from happening there. There were burnings, but mostly hangings, albeit a few, by the Inquisition, but sorry to say to those who wish to promote Anti-Catholicism that the Inquisition actually saved more lives then what would have been executed by the crown. Furthermore, Conquistadors are soldiers and the clergy sometimes acted not in the accordance with the wishes of the Church. There’s evidence that also exists that missionaries did a great many things to save natives from the abuses of Europeans like the Spanish who were men of their time.


      1. I don’t think you read my post very carefully. I was talking about the conquest of America, not the Inquisition or anti-Semitism. I don’t know if Matthew 28 was specifically cited in these atrocities, but the spread of Christianity was certainly used in general terms to justify conquest. (As I acknowledged earlier, there were also important voices in the church who opposed this)

        I have an undergrad degree in history and have studied the Middle Ages some, so I realize some incidents are frequently blown out of proportion to attack the church.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, admittely skimmed, I apologize, but as a historian, which gets frustrated with misrepresentations of history, I am quick to fire.

        Sorry, I was thinking of Matthew 27, which is linked to anti-Semtism and converting Jews. Mainly because in Matthew 28, which the Pope is hinting at I suppose, I think is absolutely false to interpret as a call for conquest, any European who may have used it was doing the bidding more or less of their rulers.

        I follow the school of Middle age studies of Professor Thomas Madden I would raise the assertion–having studied the crusades–and having the proper historicism of the times, in that particular event I will always assert that the Crusades were a defensive war as Isalmic forces at that point had conquered 3/4 of Christian lands

        Furthermore, in regards to the new world, you must also know there is incredible evidence, which I think you’re hinting as a minority voice, that many missionary clergy put their lives in danger by saving natives in the new world. Of course, your interpretation here is that the conquistadors are equivalent to say ISIS. I would reject this as a false equivalence due to the fact the Conquistadors were agents of the Crown more so than attempting to establish a new world theocracy.


      3. I guess you edited it. Well, I realize the history behind these things is complicated, and I mentioned people like Las Casas and others (And yes, the British and Dutch empires were exploitative too). Still, interpretations of Christianity have sometimes been used to justify bad things or used as a pretext by self-interested men. We can acknowledge this in inter-religious dialogue without pretending all religions are basically the same.

        Reading him charitably, I think this is what Francis meant. But he could have spoken more precisely, as he tends not to with his freewheeling off-the-cuff style. Francis should probably do less interviews!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Indeed, I think has been naturally the problem with Francis is that he doesn’t speak with complete thoughts. For example, I did re-read your comments and attempted to complete a further thought on parts before you read it. However, when speaking with cameras and journalist, one can’t say, dang upon reading the garbage I have just written, I’d like to edit this part of it.

        I do not have strictly negative feelings on Pope Francis, which I tried to convey both the positive and the negative here on this post. I think on matters when speaking on Gospels and Church doctrine he must be more clear.


      5. I posted my previous one before I saw your follow-up. No, I wouldn’t say ISIS and the conquistadors are fully equivalent.

        I have read an article by Madden defending the Crusades, though nothing book-length. I think he goes too far, though I would not agree with the modern secular perspective that sees them as a uniquely horrible thing either. The Crusades were very complicated and waged for a variety of different reasons, and maybe involved too many events over a long period to even usefully talk about in general terms.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. My extensive experience with studying New World Christianity occurs a bit after the Conquistadors but still with the Spanish with studying the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in college. One of the text we used was a lesson on historiography called: What caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680? In the text, you say four different takes and each essay that you read presents the evidence in a way that they are seem possible. However, I am convinced from my readings that the Christian missionaries had a great relationship with the natives of the region, and from other readings, this seems to be the case more and more. However, due to lack of food and resources and protection from other tribes, the natives turned on the Spanish. Of course, one essay reads that the revolt was a rejection of Catholicism as well.

        The Crusades are complex because there’s not per say an organized time frame of them. There’s the first, second, third and fourth. Do we stop there? Or do we include the People’s crusade, the Crusades of St. Louis or the Albigensian crusade? In regards to the first crusade and also the People’s crusade I am 100% with Madden that it was call for defense against centuries of Islamic Caliphates who had then had control of Spain, and were in central France. I also think that the Crusades of King Louis IX were also seen as a defense of the faithful as well. I would be a bit more critical of crusades in between those years. However, I think it’s important to stress that the origins have nothing to do with Colonialism, in fact, more or less they were to fight against colonial expansion going the other way.


  5. The fundamental proposition of Law is to prevent sin. The Old Testament from Exodus forward is an object lesson that the creation of institutions of legal enforcement inevitably leads to the opposite outcome: centralization of authority attracts those that seek power for its own sake.

    As bookends to the history of the Hebrew nation, we have the first son murdering the second, and Jesus on the cross. There was no punishment rendered in either case. Cain was sent away to struggle against sin with a protective sign on his brow; Jesus plead “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    I do not see Pope Francis offering moral relativism in any of his pronouncements, in that I understand “morality” to be found in any system of values that expands the domain in which love is expressed. Unless we have the faith and wisdom to apply love to bring healing to this world of sin, we indeed do not have the right to judge, for we can never know when, like Saul on the road to Damascus, Christ will intervene to change broken hearts and minds.

    Part of Christian doctrine, of course, is that only one has the right of judgment, and he did his best to renounce it at every turn – preferring instead to heal.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s