Pope Francis: “The Church Is the Community of Saved Sinners”

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Pope Francis: “The Church Is the Community of Saved Sinners”
Pope Francis: “The Church Is the Community of Saved Sinners”

In his Wednesday “catechesis,” Pope Francis does not show concern about teaching the traditional Church doctrine confirmed by the Magisterium of Popes, councils, bishops, teachings of the Doctors of the Church and the sense of the faithful.

In a free-wheeling fashion, amid jests, he makes most grave affirmations in a confusing language that people can interpret in a heretical way.

The Church, a “Community of Sinners”?

Talking about the communion of saints on Wednesday, February 2, 2022, he joked, “It is not the saints receiving Communion, it is not that.”1 He added, correctly, “The communion of saints is the Church.”

The problem begins when Pope Francis defines the Church and says that a person remains a member of it no matter how great the sins he commits, including apostasy.

He says:

“The Church is the community of saved sinners. This is a beautiful definition.”

And adds,

No one can exclude themselves from the Church. We are all saved sinners.”

Pope Francis’s definition recalls Luther’s contradictory phrase, “simul justus et peccator” (“simultaneously saint and sinner”), which summarizes the heresiarch’s doctrine. For Luther, all men are already saved though they remain sinners because Christ, Our Lord, does not blot out our sins but covers them with the mantle of His sacrifice.

Are Apostates Members of the Church?

According to Pope Francis’s semi-Lutheran definition, there is no difference between practicing virtue and being a sinner, for “no one can exclude themselves from the Church.” He goes on to give extreme examples:

“‘Father, let’s think about those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: Are these also at home?’ Yes, these too. All of them. The blasphemers, all of them. We are brothers. This is the communion of saints. The communion of saints holds together the community of believers on earth and in heaven, and on earth the saints, the sinners, all.”2

This statement could not be more confusing and contradictory. Pope Francis defined the communion of saints as the Church and now says that apostates and blasphemers are a part of it. Yet, he ends by saying that the communion of saints is the “community of believers.” How can apostates from the faith be considered “believers”?

Saint Robert Bellarmine’s Definition

Doctor of the Church, Saint Robert Bellarmine employs a classical definition of the Church commonly cited by theologians.

The Church is “A body of men united together by the profession of the same Christian Faith, and by participation in the same sacraments, under the governance of lawful pastors, more especially of the Roman Pontiff, the sole vicar of Christ on earth.”

And therefore, says the saintly Doctor, “are excluded all infidels . . . and those who belonged to the Church but abandoned Her, heretics and apostates.”3

Sinners Are Dead Members of the Church

Theologians commonly compare sinners who remain in the Church with the dead branches of the vine (the vine being Our Lord Jesus Christ) through which the sap of grace no longer passes.4

Charles Cardinal Journet very aptly describes how sinners remain in the Church:

“The Church contains sinners. But she does not contain sin. It is only in virtue of what remains pure and holy in them that sinners belong to her, that is to say in virtue of the sacramental characters of Baptism and Confirmation and of the theological habits of faith and hope if they still have them. . . . But in virtue of the mortal sin which has found its way into them and fills their hearts, they belong chiefly to the world and to the devil. ‘He who commits sin is of the devil’ (1 John 3:8).”5

Heretics and Apostates Expel Themselves from the Church

In subscribing to heresy, the heretic excludes himself from the Church. As Saint Paul states, he is “condemned by his own judgment” (Tit. 3:10–11).

Saint Jerome comments on this text from Saint Paul, saying: “Therefore it is said that the heretic has condemned himself; for the fornicator, the adulterer, the murderer and the other sinners are expelled from the Church by the priests; but the heretics pronounce sentence against themselves, excluding themselves from the Church spontaneously; this exclusion is their condemnation by their own conscience.”6

Saint Augustine comments along the same line: “Separate yourselves from the members of the Church, separate yourself from her Body. But why am I going to tell them to separate from the Church when they have already done so? In effect, they are heretics; they are already outside the Church.7

That is also the teaching of Saint Robert Bellarmine.8

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Finally, Pope Pius XII affirms that the sin of schism or heresy or apostasy “of its own nature . . . sever[s] a man from the Body of the Church.”9

How can a heretic or apostate be a member of the Church if he has departed from God Himself by denying His authority and rejecting the truth He revealed and the Church teaches?

Saint Paul teaches—and the Church Magisterium repeats10—that “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Therefore, upon adhering to heresy and abandoning supernatural faith, the heretic breaks with God, loses the supernatural life, and takes the path of eternal damnation.

Dogma and Morals

Morals and dogma are closely related. “They are but two parts of a theologically unique science.”11 An error in dogma will have moral consequences, and an error in morals will influence dogma.

Is this Lutheran-friendly concept of sin and salvation not the reason why Pope Francis paves the way for giving Holy Communion to people objectively in sin such as adulterers12 and is so accomodating with those who practice sodomy?13


  1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from “Pope Francis General Audience,” Paul VI Audience Hall, Wednesday, February 2, 2022, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2022/documents/20220202-udienza-generale.html, (accessed February 2, 2022). Emphasis added.
  2. Pope Francis, Vatican web site beginning at 18:29 minutes, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/it/2022/2/2/udienzagenerale.html; or on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsWbIsQBUIo. (Our translation.)
  3. Saint Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino, Disputationum Roberti Bellarmini, Politani, S.J.: De Conciliis Et Ecclesia. De Conciliorum Auctoritate… (Milan: Edente Natale Battezzati, 1858), T. 2, p. 75.
  4. Cf. John 15:1-10.
  5. Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (London – New York: Sheed & Ward, 1955), Vol. I, p. xxvii.
  6. Quoted in Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, Can a Pope Be… a Heretic? The Theological Hypothesis of a Heretical Pope, trans. John Spann (Portugal: Caminhos Romanos, 2018), 85–6.
  7. Sermo 81, ML 38/981 quoted in Salaverri, De Ecclesia Christi, III, ch. 2, Art. 3, no. 1060, https://www.mercaba.org/TEOLOGIA/STE/iglesia/libro_3_cap_2.htm#Articulo%20III, accessed February 2, 2022.
  8. See Xavier da Silveira, Can a Pope Be… a Heretic?, p. 77.
  9. Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 23, June 29, 1943, http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi.html, accessed February 2, 2022.
  10. Council of Trent, “Decree on Justification,” ch. 7; Vatican Council I, Dei Filius, ch. 3, “On Faith,” no. 5.
  11. Antonio Lanza-Pietro Palazzini, Principios de Teologia Moral, (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, 1958), t. I, p. 19.
  12. See Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Because of Its Grave Errors ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Should Be Rejected,” TFP.org, May 4, 2016, https://tfp.org/because-of-its-grave-errors-amoris-laetitia-should-be-rejected/.
  13. See Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Pope Francis Endorses Same-Sex Civil Unions, but Something Intrinsically Evil Cannot Be the Object of Legal Rights,” TFP.org, Dec. 4, 2020, https://tfp.org/pope-francis-endorses-same-sex-civil-unions-but-something-intrinsically-evil-cannot-be-the-object-of-legal-rights/; Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Pope Francis Supports Sodomy and Holy Communion for Pro-Abortion Politicians,” September 28, 2021, https://tfp.org/pope-francis-supports-sodomy-and-holy-communion-for-pro-abortion-politicians/.

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