Rome, Italy — Controversy is stirring over statements made by Pope Francis on Wednesday during a homily delivered at the Vatican, where he commented on the ability of all men to do good, including atheists.
According to Vatican Radio, in speaking to his audience about his desire for unity, Francis discussed a passage from Mark 9:38-40 where Jesus’ disciples were concerned about a man who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus, but was not one of the twelve.
“Jesus said, ‘Forbid him not, for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name that can lightly speak evil of Me,'” the Scripture reads. “For he that is not against us is on our part.”
“They complain,” Francis stated of today’s followers of Christ, “if he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.”
But he asserted that Jesus corrected his disciples.
“Do not hinder him, He says, let him do good,” Francis said.
He stated that the disciples “were a little intolerant” of others, and believed that “those who do not have the truth cannot do good.”
“This was wrong … Jesus broadens the horizon,” Pope Francis contended. “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation. ”
“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us,” he continued. “‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can — must! Because he has this commandment within him.”
Francis opined that the mindset that those of different belief systems cannot do good leads to disharmony in the world.
“Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God,” he said. “And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”
The Pope specifically cited atheists as he began to discuss that redemption is available is for all mankind.
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ. All of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” he declared. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”
“And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace,” Francis continued. “If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter. We need that so much.”
He repeated that unity must be found with atheists on the basis of good works.
“We must meet one another doing good,” the Pope asserted. “‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good. We will meet one another there.”
Francis delivered his address on the Catholic Feast of Santa Rita, the patron saint of “impossible things.”
Reaction to the Pope’s homily has been mixed.
“Thanks,” wrote one commenter. “Now I can stop worrying and wondering if God loves me.”
“Good for him. I don’t believe in the supernatural at all. I do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do–not because I’m ‘God fearing,” stated another. “It’s nice that the new pope thinks that his God would be accepting of me and people like me. It doesn’t change me, but it’s nice.”
However, others were troubled by Francis’ statements.
“[H]as he not read the Bible? He missed the whole meaning!” wrote one commenter. “Those people that the disciples were asking about were promoting Jesus but weren’t part of their group. They weren’t just ‘doing good.’ The Pope has seriously watered the message down.”
“Hell is full and will be full of a ton of ‘good people,'” another stated. “Good does not equal saved.”
Some assert that the Pope’s comments did not pertain to eternal salvation, but were rather a contention that Catholics should welcome and unite with those of different faiths — or no faith — who do good.