ROME — In politics, they call it going “off message.” In acting, they call it going “off script.” In the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, it has become business as usual.
Put the 77-year-old pontiff in front of a microphone, and he will make news.
Case in point, a brief press conference on Monday aboard the papal plane from the Philippines to Rome, when Francis sounded off, in his very unpope-like way, on birth control, corruption and kicking grifters where the sun don’t shine.
Here are those and several other eye-opening comments from Francis over his nearly two years as pope.
Catholic parents shouldn’t be ‘rabbits’
Answering a question about birth control on Monday, Francis said that parents shouldn’t procreate endlessly, trusting in God that it will all work out.
“But God gives you methods to be responsible,” Francis said. “Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”
That doesn’t mean the Pope now supports artificial birth control. The church has long allowed natural methods of preventing pregnancies.
On this way to the Philippines last week, Francis was asked about the terrorist attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. While denouncing terrorism, the Pope said there are limits to free speech.
“If Dr. Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then a punch awaits him,” Francis said, referring to Alberto Gasbarri, a man who organizes papal trips and was then standing next to him on the plane.
“It’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”
The Pope said Monday that, in theory, violence contradicts Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” teachings, but in practice, people must be “prudent” not to needlessly provoke others–unless the want to risk a harsh response.
A kick where the sun doesn’t shine
When he was a bishop in Argentina, Francis said Monday, a couple of suspicious men offered $400,000 to his poor neighborhood–but only if he first made a significant deposit with them.
If you think that sounds like the real-world version of email phishing scams, the pontiff would probably agree.
“In that moment I thought about what I would do: Either I insult them and give them a kick where the sun doesn’t shine or I play the fool.”
Francis said he played the fool, telling the men that his office didn’t have a bank account; they would have to check with the church’s financial experts in the chancery.
The pope said he later wondered if he let them off too easy, allowing them to take advantage of others.
‘Who am I to judge’ gay priests?
In 2013, the Pope was asked about the so-called “gay lobby” in the Vatican.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said, a rhetorical question that rocketed around the world.
Though he was answering a question about the so-called “gay lobby” at the Vatican, the pope indicated a change in tone, if not in teaching, in the church’s stance towards gays and lesbians more generally.
There’s a ‘gay lobby’ inside the Vatican
Meeting with Catholic leaders from his native Latin America and the Caribbean last year, the pope said that there are a lot of holy people in the Curia, Catholicism’s Rome-based bureaucracy.
But there is also a “stream of corruption,” Francis said, including a “gay lobby.”
“We need to see what we can do,” he added, somewhat cryptically.
Only the pope knows exactly what he means. The Vatican has clammed up, refusing to explain.
Catholic experts believe Francis was referring to a secret dossier presented to his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI that investigated a series of embarrassing leaks from Vatican insiders to Italian journalists.
The dossier referred to a Vatican network of sexually active gay clergy who might have been subject to blackmail, according to Italian reports.
The Internet is God’s gift–but beware of the trolls
“The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” Francis said last year. “This is something truly good, a gift from God.”
At the same time, though, all those tweets and texts and comment streams can cause us to “lose our bearings,” said the pontiff.
“The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.”
All atheists go to heaven?
During a homily in Rome last May, Francis said that God redeems everyone — not just Christians, but atheists, as well.
“We must meet one another doing good,” the pope said. To those who say: “‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ “the pope said, “But do good: We will meet one another there.”
So, was the pope saying that people can go to heaven, even if they don’t believe in God?
Probably not, say church experts.
Catholicism has long held that salvation is open to everyone–but with a really big caveat: If you know about the church and don’t become a member, the door to heaven is likely closed, a Catholic spokesman said.
Many American atheists say they appreciated the olive branch from the pope, however unclear his remarks may have been.
‘I didn’t want to be pope’
Meeting with Catholic students from Italy and Albania last June, Francis ditched his “boring” speech and instead took questions from the children.
A little redhead in a blue scarf elicited laughter by bluntly asking, “Francis, why did you want to become pope?”
“I didn’t,” Francis answered. In fact, “a person who wants to become pope doesn’t love himself. And God doesn’t bless him,” the pontiff said.
Christians should mind their own beeswax
In some of his sharpest comments as pope, Francis has criticized Christian busybodies.
“We all chat in church,” the pope said. “As Christians we chat.”
“It is as if we want to put each other down,” Francis continued. “Instead of growing, one makes the other feel small while I feel great. That will not do.”
Gossip, the pope said, is like honey. It tastes sweet at first, but large doses deliver stomach aches.
Throwing food away is stealing from the poor
The first Latin American pope has made fighting poverty a top priority of his papacy. Scarcely a speech or homily ends without a mention of the poor and marginalized.
Last June, Francis lambasted a “culture of waste” in which consumerism trumps compassion, people become just another disposable object, and little care is given to those who need help.
“This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.” Francis said. “We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the poor, the hungry.”