On a typically busy morning at the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke at least twice on Thursday in ways that recognized the values of other religious outlooks while he promoted the faithful practice of Catholicism.
Many of these hypocrites, Francis implied, according to the Vatican’s text of his homily, are Catholics who act rigorously in their ritual observance but don’t apply the religion’s values to their lives. “A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money …’ A double life. And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others.”
He then quoted a sentiment that he said he has heard expressed repeatedly: “But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.”
Francis has surprised Catholics before with his warmth toward atheists. He remarked soon after becoming pope that even atheists can go to heaven thanks to the redemption of Jesus. He granted an interview to an atheist journalist, and told the reporter that efforts to convert people to Christianity are “solemn nonsense” and each person “must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”
He has also been friendly toward Jews, particularly through his longtime friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka. On Thursday, Skorka led a group of rabbis to the Vatican, where they gave Francis a new edition of the Torah.
Looking at the text of the five books of Moses, the most holy books for Jews as well as a key part of the Christian Old Testament, Francis called the Torah “the Lord’s gift, his revelation, his word,” according to the Vatican’s text of his remarks.
He said that the Torah “manifests the paternal and visceral love of God, a love shown in words and concrete gestures, a love that becomes covenant.”
The Vatican has been open about trying to move beyond its anti-Semitic past for many years; Pope John Paul II spoke in a synagogue, visited concentration camps and officially apologized for the church’s lack of action during the Holocaust. On Thursday, Francis described dialogue between Christians and Jews today as “ongoing and collaborative.”