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Why the 'Pope of Mercy' won't abolish the concept of sin

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 21, 2013

Earlier this month I wrote an On the News column supporting John Allen’s argument that “if the message of Pope Francis can be summed up in a single word, it is ‘mercy.’”

Of course the message isn’t that simple, I observed (and Allen would surely agree); one word won’t cover every aspect of the Pope’s teaching. Now William Doino has fleshed out the argument a bit further for First Things, in a very useful column with the revealing title, “The Pope’s Theology of Sin.”

Doino, too, sees “mercy” at the very center of the Holy Father’s message. He suggests that the Pope calls for a 3-step process: first, a recognition of sin; second, a realization that confession is a healing encounter with Christ; third, an “absolute faith in God to renew us.” The depth of God’s mercy can only be appreciated by someone who realizes that he needs mercy, Doino reasons. And the Church makes that mercy available through the sacraments.

Thus Doino concludes—in a short, cogent piece that deserves to be read in full-- that when Pope Francis speaks of “mercy” he is not speaking of “cheap grace,” nor is he proposing to amend the Church’s moral laws. He writes:

True Christian mercy presupposes a strong moral order with clearly defined teachings on good and evil: It is not an open-ended, amorphous, free-floating concept; nor is it a prelude to changing moral doctrines rooted in eternal truth.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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