Pope Francis’s beautiful take on sins: ‘We don’t have the right to not forget’

July 29, 2013

The AP story has perhaps the best dateline ever. "ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT."

You don't get much closer to the pope than that. I mean, perhaps the Popemobile. But that's it.


A bishop watches live video of Pope Francis on his tablet as he waits for Francis to arrive for a meeting with Brazilian cardinals and bishops at Sao Joaquim Palace in Rio de Janeiro. (Domenico Stinellis/Associated Press)

The headline news from the interview with Pope Francis is that he said he wouldn't judge priests for their sexual orientation. "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" the pope said.

Those comments are getting a lot of press today — and furthering liberal America's love affair with the new leader of the Catholic Church. But there's something else the pope said that's also worth considering.

During the interview, the pope was asked about an Italian newspaper's allegations that one of his monsignors was engaged in a gay tryst. Those allegations, the pope replied, concerned matters of sin — not matters of crime, as in the sexual abuse of children. And when someone sins and then confesses those sins, the pope said, God both forgives and forgets.

"We don't have the right to not forget," he said.

It's easy to applaud the pope's comments on sexual orientation — particularly if you're someone who long ago stopped judging people based on their sexual orientation, or perhaps never did it in the first place.

His comments on forgetting the sins of others is harder — in both directions. On the one hand, it accepts — as Catholic teaching continues to accept — the idea that a consensual gay tryst is a sin. Pope Francis's more tolerant regime has its limits.

But on the other, it sets a bar for mercy that few of us reach. We live in an age where your neighbor's past indiscretions are only a Google search away — and they're only a Google search away forever. Washington is particularly obsessed with digging up decades-old indiscretions and embarrassment in order to humiliate people running for office or serving in government.

The pope says we don't have the right to not  forget, but today, we have the technology to unearth many more sins, and to make sure they're never forgotten. There's not a lot of mercy in the Google oppo dump, but there can be a lot of page views, or points in the polls, in it.

So while Washington is enthusiastically applauding the thing the Pope said that we already agree with, we could perhaps spend some time thinking about the thing he said that we don't agree with — or at least that we don't often practice. This is a town where forgiveness is cheap, but forgetting is rarely available at any price.

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Ezra Klein | July 29, 2013