17 June 2016, The Tablet

Priests who refuse baptism to babies of single mothers are 'animals'

Church’s teaching is not like a mathematical formula but an attempt to get 'at the truth'


Pope Francis has described priests who refuse to baptise children of single mothers as “animals”, while stressing that the moral teaching of Church is based on love not rigidity.

He stressed that the Church’s teaching is not like a mathematical formula that automatically condemns people but is instead an attempt to get “at the truth.” 

Reflecting on his experience as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis said that priests refusing to baptise the children of single mothers were taken by a sense of “individualism” in following comfortable and moralistic guidelines - they were refusing to “look at the ‘other.’ ” 

In Argentina Francis criticised priests who refused to baptise such children and as Pope baptised the child of an unmarried couple in the Sistine Chapel.  

The Pope made his remarks during a question and answer session at a pastoral conference for the Diocese of Rome yesterday evening. During the discussion the Pope stressed the Church’s moral laws are neither rigid nor lax but instead a continuous act of love, and that pastoral care is about looking at each case on an individual-basis.

“We want a doctrine that is as certain as mathematics — this doesn’t exists,” the Pope told a gathering of laity, priests and bishops at St John the Lateran Church in Rome. An emphasis on the letter rather than spirit of the law can lead to “pastoral cruelty” — like the doctors of the law during the time of Jesus Christ.

He explained that the pastoral task of “embracing, accompanying, integrating, discerning should be done without sticking one’s nose into the morality of people’s lives”.

Pope explained that at the root of moral legalism, there is an “individualism” that takes comfort in the fact that dilemmas and complexities have been already neatly solved. He defined this behaviour as “hedonistic.” 

Francis has come under criticism for his refusal to lay down clear moral guidelines - particularly on the question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. His document following the synod on the family said cases should be look at individually, something which conservatives said was too vague. 

Yesterday, however, the Pope said that he had based parts of the document on the work of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, one of the Church’s leading theologians who studied under Benedict XVI.  

During the discussion the Pope made light of some of the criticism against him from conservatives at one point saying “please, don’t go report me to Cardinal [Gerard] Müller” — who is the prefect of the Church’s doctrinal department.

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