Whether the statements included in the recent interview with the Pope are binding upon practicing Catholics?


Hi folks,
To preface: I love Pope Francis and hold him in esteem.
I was wondering whether the teachings or statements of the Pope in his recent interview (the one that got all of the media attention (popularized roughly September 20th)) have a binding authority on or require the assent of practicing Catholics?
The reason I ask is that I was under the impression that, at times when proclaiming the Gospel or taking part in apologetics, it is beneficial to first demonstrate morality and moral imperatives if they are not believed (although not exhaustively), and then to use that moral foundation as a means of demonstrating how compelling Scripture and the teachings of Christ are, as the old Catholic Encyclopedia seems to say:

Apologetics proceeds to set forth the grounds for believing in [Christ's] claims:
the surpassing beauty of His moral character, stamping Him as the unique, perfect man;
the lofty excellence of His moral and religious teaching, which has no parallel elsewhere, and which answers the highest aspirations of the human soul;

In his interview, the Pope says:

"But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives."

This quote comes from a paragraph about "preaching and the content of our preaching" but apparently about other things too (I presume about missionary activity and other forms of evangelization). I think "comes before" may be interpreted as either "is higher in order of importance" which seems true, but may also be seen as "should be prior in the temporal order of what is taught/preached".
If this latter interpretation is so, and we are bound to give deference to the Pope's statements here, then it might imply that the proclamation of the Gospel should occur prior to moral upbringing or the demonstration of the mere existence of morality, which would require me to change my previous impression as well as my understanding/agreement with the Catholic Encyclopedia. Unless I simply use the former interpretation of the Pope's statement (that he is saying that the proclamation of the saving love of God is more important than the proclamation of moral imperatives).


He is not declaring anything ex cathedra - he is re-setting Church priorities, some of which have been out of order for 50-60 years.


[quote="po18guy, post:2, topic:340187"]
He is not declaring anything ex cathedra - he is re-setting Church priorities, some of which have been out of order for 50-60 years.


Thanks for the response!
I assumed he's not speaking ex cathedra, I was just asking whether we are bound to assent to what he says even not ex cathedra, but instead in an interview, so long as it is about faith and morals? (The method of preaching or evangelizing seems to be an issue of faith or morals).


I think that he sees the Church bogged down in political debates and realizes that, while doctrine cannot change, tactics and direction can. There is precious little evangelization occurring in the midst of abortion or same sex union debates. The polemics obscure, if not frustrate the Church’s main thrust, which is to proclaim that Gospel of Christ. It would appear that what he wants to do is refocus on evangelization as the main priority of the Church. All of the rest can follow, as the entire world already knows the Catholic position. What he says is just good old basic advice and counsel for a Church that is increasingly embattled in the culture and governmental wars. Where is the Gospel message in all of that?


Thanks again for responding po18guy!
Right, I understand that what you have said might be the rationale behind what the Pope is saying, or one among other interpretations, and I think that our Pope did a wonderful job during this interview, but I am asking whether this specific statement (regarding the proclamation of the saving Love of God coming before proclaiming moral or religious imperatives) is binding on me, or another practicing Catholic, so that we are not permitted to first focus on the moral issues in discussing with them, and only afterwards focus on the saving Love of God, when we are carrying out evangelization. If someone does not understand what morality is, or does not believe in the existence of morality, then it would seem difficult to encourage them to accept the message of Christ when they don’t believe they ‘should’ accept any truth, since what they should or shouldn’t do is a matter of morality. Also, I could see it hard to accept the moral goodness of Christ when they do not believe such a thing as moral goodness exists, nor do they know what makes up moral goodness.
If the Pope is legitimately teaching, using only ordinary authority and not ex cathedra, on a matter of faith and morals, am I not bound to give assent?

Example: I am speaking with a materialist pantheist who does not believe such a thing as morality exists. Do I begin evangelizing to him by 1. trying to demonstrate through philosophical argument that morality exists, or 2. trying to tell him that God has a saving Love available to him; if he does not believe that morality exists, or that he has ever done anything wrong, then he will say he is in no need of saving; but if the Pope means that I need to begin first by “proclaiming the saving love of God” before I begin talking about “moral imperatives”, it would seem that I am bound to not talk to the materialist pantheist about the issue of whether or not morality exists until I have already told him about the saving love of God. In the academic setting I am in, if I were to begin a serious evangelizing-focused discussion with the topic of the saving love of God when talking to a pantheist or atheist, they would probably think very little of it.


I think that the Holy Father is leading a re-direction of the main thrust of the Church. He is not defining or re-defining anything to do with faith or morals, but rather with tactics and strategy. Back to the basics: the Gospel of Christ. Understand that you and I are not bound to drop everything and begin door-to-door evangelization. He has not made anything an article of faith. What he is doing is encouraging the Church to change tactics, and to win more souls through evangelization that she ever will through political battles - while also keeping the battles going…

There has been nothing binding upon the faithful, for anything that strong would come with the necessary cautions. As well, such actions occur in union with the College of Cardinals. We cannot get hung up in legalism and believe that we must carryout, robot-like, each and every word he utters. Yet, he is the Holy Father and we are always very well advised to listen to him. Consider: If you or I are absorbed in the political battles that are raging, what are we doing to directly promote the Gospel?

You might possibly be over-thinking this. Just ask Father and I am sure that he can clear it up to your satisfaction.


As a priest once told me: “When a pope uses his power to declare something to be an infallible teaching of the Church, you’ll know it!”. An interview in the newspaper is no different than a sermon at church. Pope Francis has his own agenda for catechesis–and when I read and ponder some of his ideas, I think he has some valid points. However, if he said something that you personally can’t agree with, treat it as you would any sermon at your church and follow your conscience. Were it me though, I’d think and pray a little on what Pope Francis pointed out. Aside from the fact that he is a very well educated man, he notices some things that many of us as Catholics have noticed for a long time–we just weren’t as articulate as he is. It IS hard to reach true sinners among us–as Jesus did so readily–if we begin by offending them.


I think that everyone is right :slight_smile:

Pope Francis is right, not because in each individual case of presenting anything Catholic we need to explicitly lead with love, but because, as in your example, everything God gives us is out of love. If you need to show morality exists and is a good thing before you can show that this is a good thing which is a gift from God, go for it :slight_smile:

I think what Pope Francis senses is that the main public impression is that the Catholic Church is against abc, abortion, and SS activity and “marriage,” and that’s it.

Bit the Church is *for *things a lot more than it is against these things, and those things need to be brought out just as much if not a little more. And the fact that God teaches against the above things needs to be in the context of God’s love for us rather than just being an old fuddy-duddy Who doesn’t want anyone to have any fun (or whatever).


Nothing at Vatican II was ex cathedra and we are bound to believe it. Just ask the St. Pius X Society.


[quote="Birdmanman, post:1, topic:340187"]
I was wondering whether the teachings or statements of the Pope in his recent interview (the one that got all of the media attention (popularized roughly September 20th)) have a binding authority on or require the assent of practicing Catholics?


The fact this was a collaboration of Jesuit journals asking Pope Francis questions of opinion leads us more to reflect on how the pope perceives some issues. I would accept it for what it is. It's good to gain some insight - if one is interested? But nothing binding was even remotely presented.


I give no support to nor would I consider it worthwhile to ask a doctrinal question to the SSPX. I consider Vatican II an ecumenical council and infallible, and support the fact that it occurred. There are things we are bound to believe that are not infallible; which is why I am wondering if the Pope’s teaching or statements in an interview constitute something that is not infallible yet still binding for us to believe.


Canon 752 of the Code of Canon Law states:

Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

I guess my question should be: is anything in this interview, though not a definitive act, to be considered a teaching* which the Pope is declaring concerning faith and morals? If so, I am bound to give assent to such teaching.

*from what I understanding, doctrine just means teaching. It seems to me that the Pope is teaching through this interview.


Since no one is even required to read the interview - all are free to ignore it - a negative answer can be given in good faith and conscience.


I think you are reading too much into the individual words of Pope Francis, or perhaps reading them wrongly. Don’t do like the media does and extract portions of sentences from longer statements and out of their context. The fact that the part you quoted began with the word “but” says a lot; that this is part of a bigger discussion. Here is more of what the pope said, with your quote included (my emphasis):

The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine* sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation*. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. **Then **you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.

When read IN CONTEXT what Frances says makes perfect sense. Did Jesus and the Apostles start out teaching moral concepts, or did they start proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the meaning of Jesus’ life and resurrection? This must always occur first to lay the groundwork for the rest. To do otherwise would take us back to the time of Jesus when the norm was obedience to the rules and laws of the Temple above all else, which Jesus roundly condemned as wrong.

A little earlier in the interview, Frances says more about this topic (my emphasis):

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.

When you read these statements in their entirety and in their context, as well as connect what Francis says earlier with what he says later, the concern expressed by the OP evaporates. DON’T extract phrases from their context, but read them for the overall meaning Francis is trying to convey.


It is pretty clear to me that in an interview like this, the Pope is just giving his personal opinions, not intending to formally teach the Church (not even in a nondefinitive way). These opinions may be an insight into how he plans to formally govern and teach, but until he actually does so, they are nothing more than his personal opinions.

Therefore, there is nothing binding in the interview and not even religious submission is required.

A man who holds the office of the Pope is not God. We are not required to conform ourselves to a Pope’s every action, breath, and utterance, just like not everything a king says or does becomes the law. The Church is not meant to be merely a reflection of the man who holds the office at a particular time.


Thanks for your response! Also, I love your name, taken from the movie “Being There” I suspect?
From my reading, the Pope seems to either be talking about a temporal order that should occur when giving a sermon; ‘first this, then this’, or else an order of importance, either of which appears to be extended to evangelization in general (such that I should first speak to someone about God’s saving love, and only then show them that such things as moral imperatives exist). You have provided an alternative interpretation, based on the context, and I thank you for that. But how do I determine which interpretation is correct?


Thanks for responding, Genesis
How do I determine that he is giving his personal opinions, and not teaching? It seems pretty clear to me that he intended this interview to reach the Christian faithful, and he is making prescriptive statements for them (don’t get obsessed over one or two moral issues; first preach the saving love of God, and only then talk about moral imperatives). That sounds like teaching to me!


It’s an interview. So, that’s what it is. When the Pope (or a Bishop) for that matter makes a statement that is binding and authoritative, it will be in an official form. It may be an encyclical, a change to canon law or a motu propio. But it will be in an official form and will not be made “off the cuff” as is the case with an interview.

That doesn’t mean that there may not be authoritative elements re-stated in the interview but there will be some type of official document backing it up. The interview contained teaching but it isn’t itself a teaching document.

Every thing “official” comes with an addressee too. Encyclicals are often addressed to “the Bishops of the world” or to “the entirety of the Catholic faithful”. There is a clear intent **explicitly expressed **for a wide dispersal of the information. An interview to be printed in a magazine or set of magazines does not have that.


There’s teaching and then there’s teaching with the authority of the Church’s Magisterium. Pope Benedict certainly taught many things in his books which were his personal teaching, and not acts of the papal Magisterium. If the Pope wanted to make his teaching here an act of the Church’s Magisterium and not just his own, there are ways for him to do so, such as encyclical letters and the formal allocutions and addresses that end up in the Acts of Apostolic See. The fact that he chose not to use these means to teach when he could have, shows that he did not intend to make this interview Magisterial.

The Pope could of course choose to order the text of this interview published in the Acts of the Apostolic See to give it a Magisterial character, but until he does so, we can assume that when he is not using the commonly accepted means of exercising the Magisterium of the Church, he is not in fact exercising it. If we’re left to guess what he intends, he by definition hasn’t sufficiently manifested the intent to publically teach the Church (since our doctrine is public, it’s binding character must be made manifestly clear).

The Pope simply has not manifested his intention to make this interview a binding act of the Church.


Thank you Genesis. This post has resolved the issue for me. Although the Pope can teach using Magisterial character in an informal manner [see the Canon law cited earlier], I would argue even in an interview he intended to be publicized to all Catholics, the fact that it is unclear the he intends to teach in a Magisterial way means that we do not need to assume he has taught in a Magisterial way; I don’t see any authority that backs up your claim (a canonist or theological writer, for example), but it seems more reasonable than the alternative. [To other readers: by ‘in a Magisterial way’ I am not just talking about speaking ex cathedra, but even using his ordinary, not-infallible teaching authority, which in matters of faith and morals we should still submit ourselves to.]
Thanks again!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.