PopeWatch: Below the Belt

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Sandro Magister gives us insight into the Pope’s thinking regarding predator priests:

The most surprising news, in the journey that Pope Francis is preparing to go on to Panama for world youth day, is that he has selected for his entourage, among his official companions, the Frenchman Dominique Wolton (in the photo), who is not an ecclesiastic or even a Catholic, but a theoretician of communication, director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the legendary CNRS, and founder of the international magazine “Hermès.”

Above all, however, Wolton is the author of the book-length interview in which Jorge Mario Bergoglio spoke on the spur of the moment, without restraint, to the point of saying for the first time in public that he had entrusted himself for six months, when he was 42, to the care of an agnostic psychoanalyst in Buenos Aires.

The book, translated into multiple languages, was released in 2017, collecting in eight chapters eight conversations that the pope had with the author in 2016. Since then there has arisen in Bergoglio that sentiment of closeness with Wolton which led him to want to bring him along on his next journey. A sentiment akin to the one that ripened between Bergoglio and Eugenio Scalfari, another champion of the godless, whom the pope has often called in for talks with the confidence that Scalfari would then transcribe and publish in his own way that conversation of theirs, for the sake of building up a good image of Francis in the camp of the unbelievers.

This too is part of the communicative model that Bergoglio loves. Because in an interview with a suitable interlocutor he can give to a vast audience more than what appears in the official texts. He can lift the veil on his real thought.

For example, in the book-length interview with Wolton it is explained why Pope Francis sees sexual abuse committed by churchmen not so much a problem of morality and sex, but of power, and of clerical power in particular, which he condenses in the word “clericalism.”

When Wolton asks him why in the world so little attention is paid to the “most radical” message of the Gospel, which is the “condemnation of money madness,” Bergoglio responds:

“It is because some prefer to talk about morality, in their homilies or from the chairs of theology. There is a great danger for preachers, and it is that of condemning only the morality that is – pardon me – ‘below the belt.’ But other sins that are more serious, hatred, envy, pride, vanity, killing another, taking a life… these are rarely mentioned. Get into the mafia, make clandestine deals… ‘Are you a good Catholic? Well then, pay me the bribe.’”

Further on the pope says:

“Sins of the flesh are the lightest sins. Because the flesh is weak. The most dangerous sins are those of the spirit. I am talking about angelism: pride, vanity are sins of angelism. Priests have the temptation – not all, but many – of focusing on the sins of sexuality, what I call morality below the belt. But the more serious sins are elsewhere.”

Wolton objects: “But what you are saying is not understood.”

The pope responds:

“No, but there are good priests… I know a cardinal who is a good example. He confided to me, speaking of these things, that as soon as someone goes to him to talk about those sins below the belt, he immediately says: ‘I understand, let’s move on.’ He stops him, as if to say: ‘I understand, but let’s see if you have something more important. Do you pray? Are you seeking the Lord? Do you read the Gospel? He makes him understand that there are mistakes that are much more important than that. Yes, it is a sin, but… He says to him: ‘I understand’: And he moves on. On the opposite end there are some who when they receive the confession of a sin of this kind, ask: ‘How did you do it, and when did you do it, and how many times?’ And they make a ‘film’ in their head.  But these are in need of a psychiatrist.”

Pope Francis’s journey to Panama is taking place less than a month before the summit at the Vatican of the presidents of the episcopal conferences of the whole world, to agree on shared guidelines in addressing sexual abuse, scheduled for February 21 to 24.

It will be interesting to see, at that summit, how Francis will reconcile his minimization of the seriousness of sins that he calls “below the belt” with the emphasis, on the other hand, of the abuse of power by the clerical caste, which he has repeatedly stigmatized as the main cause of the disaster.

Not only that. Perhaps it will become clear to what extent his minimization of sins of sex – and of the homosexual practices widespread among the clergy – may explain his silences and his tolerance toward concrete cases of abuse, even by high-level churchmen he has esteemed and favored:


Go here to read the rest.  Traditionally it is true that the Church has regarded as less serious sins of the flesh than sins of the spirit, like pride, anger and malice.  We see this traditional teaching, for example, in Dante’s placement of sins of the flesh in some of the “better” regions of Hell.  Of course the Pope is using this as a shield to justify his tolerance of these sins among clerics.  However, sins of the flesh, especially among the clergy, are rarely found in isolation.  Among the clergy they always involve lying, betrayal of vows and corruption, and, not infrequently, abuse of minors and adults.  A cleric in authority, like the Pope, who shields such clerics, doesn’t even have the fig leaf defense of passion temporarily overwhelming faith.  The most damning case against this Pope is always built on his own off script words.


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  1. So he chose an agnostic shrink to guide himself? I suppose that’s spiritually fine, if he were a true follower of St. Sigmund.

  2. “..Sins of the flesh are the lightest sins. Because the flesh is weak…”
    The Pope has a point. However today sins of the flesh are most often glossed over. It seems to me the majority of us have at sometime in our life fallen down, perhaps multiple times. But there’s a big difference in falling down, then:
    1. Getting up, going to confession, getting back on the right path.
    or 2. Continuing on the bad path, going the wrong way!

    Today, most “Catholics” are on some form of contraception, or abortifacients..

  3. Sancta Maria (and her Son) forgive me, but I’ve tended to ignore/not make much of the various apparitions, including Fatima.
    One thing that does give cause for pause is the statement that more people fall into Hell due to sexual sins.
    Sexual sins are not at all “light.” Yes, most of us (I suspect, anyway-and I include myself) have done them, and sexual sins can in fact range from fairly “light” (12 year olds getting a peak at Cosmo Mag) to horrific cases of sexual abuse/incest, and everything in between.
    Whether a person calls it sex, intercourse, marrital embrace, making love, or any number of crass and elegent description, “Sex” is the means God has chosen to Create new life. To pull off the miracle–as only He has the power to do–of drawing Something from Nothing. A new immortal soul is fashioned, and that soul is intended to give glory to God for all eternity–not fall into the horrors of perdition.
    I don’t think God is without a sense of humor. Surely the marital embrace ought to be enjoyable, even have moments of joy and laughter. But it still very serious business. It is very much God’s business.
    And abusing God’s business is certainly not “light.”

  4. Non-repentant sins of carnal pleasure leads to, not only total acceptance of the “weakness” (it’s called sin Pope!) but the glorification of not only the act but the conquest.

  5. The Pope’s message comes across as soft and disappointing for a leader. Sins of the flesh are not “light” sins because waving off even minor sexual sins will inevitably lead towards a slippery slope of abnormal and depraved behaviour. A priest who commits a sin against a minor hasn’t just all of a sudden woken one morning and decided to behave like a sexual monster. It’s stemmed from previously indulged immoral sexual thoughts and deeds. And one type of sin breeds another type of sin. By forming our Consciences well and keeping them in check with regular confession, we are able to function in the orderly manner in which God designed and intended us to function. Our morality is a wholistic approach. This “pecking order” of sins is a whole lot of BS.

  6. This Pope is in error. I don’t care what anybody says. You know it, I know it. Trust me, a lot of the priests definitely know it.

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