Catholic World News

Pope writes friendly response to Italian newspaper editorial

September 11, 2013

In another unexpected personal gesture, Pope Francis has written a lengthy response to an Italian journalist’s questions about how Catholics regard non-believers.

In an August 7 editorial, Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica, asked three questions: whether God’s mercy extends to non-believers, whether it is sinful to doubt the existence of absolute truth, and whether belief in God is merely a product of human thought. Pope Francis answered these questions in a 4-page letter, which was published in the September 11 issue of La Repubblica. The Pope’s letter was featured on the front page of the Italian daily, and—along with a short response from Scalfari—covered several inside pages.

Pope Francis opened his letter, addressed personally to Scalfari, by describing his own faith, emphasizing that he owes that faith to the Church. Because of his faith in Jesus Christ, the Pope told the Italian journalist, he is “at ease in listening to your questions and in seeking, together with you, the paths along which we may perhaps begin to walk some of the way together.”

The Holy Father then replied directly to each of Scalfari’s questions. Regarding forgiveness for non-believers, the Pope said that “the mercy of God knows no limits if we turn to him with a sincere and penitent heart.” Someone who does not believe in God must still follow his own conscience, the Pope continued. “Sin, also in those who are without faith, exists when it goes against our conscience.” Regarding the existence of absolute truth, the Pope pointed out that in the Christian understanding, the truth is “God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.” He added: “So, the truth is a relationship!”

Finally, the Pope took up the question of whether religious faith is a product of human thought. “The greatness of man rests in his capacity to think of God,” he said. However, God exists whether or not man believes in his existence. “God does not depend on our thought,” the Pontiff said. Pope Francis also balked at Scalfari’s statement that eventually the world will end and the human race will disappear. The world will end, the Pope conceded, but “man will not cease to exist, and--in a way that we do not know-- nor will the universe that was created with him.”

Pope Francis ended his letter by stressing that “the Church, believe me, despite all the slowness, the infidelity, the mistakes and the sins that may have been committed by those who belong to her, has no other meaning or aim other than living and bearing witness to Jesus.”

In an editorial response to the message from the Pope, Scalfari admitted that he had not anticipated the Pontiff would respond “so extensively and so affectionately with such fraternal spirit.” Characterizing himself (in the title of his editorial) as “The Lost Sheep,” he suggested that this might explain why he received “more attention and assistance.”

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  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Sep. 11, 2013 8:30 PM ET USA

    Once again, nothing the pope said in the letter is contrary to the faith, but the timing and wording of it will cause problems, lots of them, and add to the already heavy burden carried by believers living in an indifferent world. These too frequent sallies of Francis are, to put it charitably, not helpful. To use an analogy, if the world were suddenly plagued by pyromania, it would be unwise for the pope to write that fire is not sinful in and of itself, that in fact it is a gift from God.