Don’t believe the headlines!
Have you heard the news that Pope Francis preached it was better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic? It’s in the headlines from Reuters, CNN, The Guardian, and many others.
There’s only one problem: that is not what he said. They’re all wrong.
From Vatican Radio itself, here is what Pope Francis actually said, in context:
“But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another; it is a double life, a double life. A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money…’ A double life. 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. And this happens every day, it’s enough to see the news on TV, or to read the papers. In the papers there are so many scandals, and there is also the great publicity of the scandals. And with the scandals there is destruction.”
You see that he is not saying that it’s better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic. Rather, he is saying that this is something other people say when confronted with hypocritical Catholics.
In Catholic theology, “scandal” is any sin that hurts another person spiritually. The pontiff is saying that when Catholics are hypocrites, it causes scandal, and makes people think they shouldn’t be Catholic (which is bad for them spiritually).
This is of course true and is a completely uncontroversial thing to point out.