Did Pope Francis Just Suggest It’s Better to be an Atheist Than a ‘Bad’ Christian?

Pope Francis suggests it’s better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic who leads others astray. Photo by Tony Gentile/Reuters.

In a strongly worded sermon delivered in Rome on Thursday, Feb. 23, Pope Francis implied that Christians who exploit or deceive others for their own gain are worse than nonbelievers.

From those who lead double lives to others who run dirty businesses and stiff their workers, the Pope made it clear he didn’t want the likes of these so-called Christians soiling his flock.

“So many Christians are like this and these people scandalize others,” Pope Francis said during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican Radio reported. “How many times have we heard, all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere, ‘But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.’? It is that — scandal.”

“But what is scandal?” he asked. “Scandal is saying one thing and doing another.”

In the Catholic church, creating scandal is no small offense. The Catholic Catechism says that scandals include anything from business leaders who accept bribes to manipulative persons who try to steer others away from their moral values. The Pope’s comparison of hypocritical Christians to atheists drew from Thursday’s Mass readings, which included a passage from the Book of Mark where Jesus says it’s better to be drowned than to lead others to sin, CNN reported.

“There are those who say, ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this and that association,'” the head of the Roman Catholic Church said. “These are the same people that should say, ‘My life is not Christian, I don’t pay my employees proper salaries, I exploit people, I do dirty business, I launder money, [I lead] a double life.'”

Pope Francis has become known for his impromptu sermons, which sometimes take aim at fellow Catholics. In the past, he’s condemned the sexual abuse of children by priests in the church, likening it to “Satanic Mass,” and suggested that Catholics who are part of the mafia excommunicate themselves, Reuters reported. 

Despite criticism some might deem harsh, the Pope, on occasion, also has expressed warmth toward atheists. For one, he said Christians should view nonbelievers as good-hearted people so long as they do good and commented that even atheists can get into heaven, thanks to Jesus.

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