Who Am I to Judge?

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THEY are words that, just a little under a year later, continue to echo throughout the Church and the world: “Who am I to judge?” They were Pope Francis’ response to a question posed to him regarding the “gay lobby” in the Church. Those words have become a battle cry: first, for those who wish to justify homosexual practice; second, for those wish to justify their moral relativism; and third, for those who wish to justify their assumption that Pope Francis is one notch short of the Antichrist.

This little quip of Pope Francis’ is actually a paraphrase of St. Paul’s words in the Letter of St. James, who wrote: “Who then are you to judge your neighbor?” [1]cf. Jam 4:12 The Pope’s words are now being splattered on t-shirts, fast becoming a motto gone viral…



In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.” [2]Lk 6:37 What do these words mean? 

If you see a man stealing an old lady’s purse, would it be wrong for you to shout: “Stop! Stealing is wrong!” But what if he replies, “Stop judging me. You don’t know my financial situation.” If you see a fellow employee taking money from the cash register, would it be wrong to say, “Hey, you can’t do that”? But what if she replies, “Stop judging me. I do my fair share of work here for a meager wage.” If you find your friend cheating on income taxes and raise the issue, what if he replies, “Stop judging me. I pay too many taxes.” Or what if an adulterous spouse says, “Stop judging me. I am lonely”…?

We can see in the above examples that one is making judgments on the moral nature of another’s actions, and that it would be unjust not to speak up. In fact, you and I make moral judgments all the time, whether it’s seeing someone roll through a stop sign or hearing of North Koreans starving to death in concentration camps. We sit, and we judge.

Most morally conscionable people recognize that, if we didn’t make judgments and simply left everyone to do what they wanted who wore a “Don’t judge me” sign on their backs, we’d have chaos. If we didn’t judge, then there could be no constitutional, civil, or criminal law. So making judgments are in fact necessary and conducive to keeping peace, civility, and equality between people.

So what did Jesus mean by do not judge? If we dig a little deeper into Pope Francis’ words, I believe we will discover the meaning of Christ’s commandment.



The Pope was responding to a question asked by a reporter on the hiring of Monsignor Battista Ricca, a clergyman who was implicated in having sexual relations with other men, and again on the rumored “gay lobby” in the Vatican. On the matter of Msgr. Ricca, the Pope answered that, after a canonical investigation, they did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him.

But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one looks for the “sins of youth”… if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets, and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh? —Salt & Light TV, July 29th, 2013; saltandlighttv.org

Who someone was yesterday is not necessarily who they are today. We should not say today “so and so is a drunk” when perhaps, yesterday, he committed to taking his last drink. That is also what it means not to judge and condemn, for this is exactly what the Pharisees did. They judged Jesus for choosing Matthew the tax collector based on who he was yesterday, not on who he was becoming.

On the matter of the gay lobby, the Pope went on to say:

I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. They are bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says… these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.” —Salt & Light TV, July 29th, 2013; saltandlighttv.org

Was he contradicting the Church’s clear teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and that the inclination to homosexuality itself, though not sinful, is an “objective disorder”? [3]Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, n. 3 That, of course, is what many presumed he was doing. But the context is clear: the Pope was distinguishing between those who promote homosexuality (the gay lobby) and those who, despite their inclination, seek the Lord in good will. The Pope’s approach is indeed what the Catechism teaches: [4]…tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2357

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2358

But don’t take my word for it. The Pope explained this himself in another interview.

During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. —American Magazine, Sept. 30th, 2013, americamagazine.org

That sentence on not judging in the Gospel of Luke is preceded by the words: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” The Holy Father is teaching that, to not judge, means to not judge the condition of another’s heart or soul. It does not mean that we should not judge the actions of another as to whether they are objectively right or wrong.



While we can objectively determine whether an action is contrary to the natural or moral law “guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church,” [5]cf. CCC, n. 1785 only God can ultimately determine the culpability of a person in their actions because He alone “looks into the heart.” [6]cf. 1 Sam 16:7 And a person’s culpability is determined by the degree to which they follow their conscience. Thus, even before the Church’s moral voice…

Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ… Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1778

Thus, a man’s conscience is the arbiter of his reason, the “messenger of Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives.” [7]John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk”, V, Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II Thus, on Judgment Day, “God will judge” [8]cf. Heb 13:4 us according to how we responded to His voice speaking in our conscience and His law written on our hearts. Thus, no man has the right to judge the inner guilt of another.

But every man has the duty to inform his conscience…



And that is where the “second” Vicar enters, the Pope who, in communion with the bishops of the Church, have been given as a “light to the world,” a light to our consciences. Jesus explicitly commissioned the Church to, not only baptize and make disciples, but to go into “all the nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” [9]cf. 28:20 Thus…

To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2246

Because the Church’s mission is divinely commissioned, every person will be judged according to their response to the Word since, “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path…” [10]Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1785 Thus:

Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1783

However, we must still bow before the dignity and freedom of others since only God knows with certainty the degree to which another’s conscience has been formed, their understanding, knowledge, and capability, and thus culpability, in making moral decisions.

Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1792



But this brings us back to our very first example where, clearly, it was right to pronounce judgment on the purse thief. So when can and should we personally speak against immorality?

The answer is that our words must be governed by love, and love teaches by degrees. Just as God moved by degrees throughout salvation history to reveal both man’s sinful nature and His Divine Mercy, so too, the revelation of truth must be transmitted to others as governed by love and mercy. The factors that determine our personal obligation to perform the spiritual work of mercy in correcting another depends upon relationship.

On the one hand, the Church boldly and unequivocally proclaims “faith and morals” to the world through the extraordinary and ordinary exercise of the Magisterium, whether through official documents or public teaching. This is akin to Moses descending Mt. Sinai and simply reading the Ten Commandments to all the people, or Jesus publicly announcing, “Repent and believe the Good News.” [11]Mk 1:15

But when it comes to actually addressing individuals personally on their moral conduct, Jesus, and later the Apostles, reserved more direct words and judgments for those whom they were beginning to build, or had already built relationships with.

For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? God will judge those outside. (1 Cor 5:12)

Jesus was always very gentle with those who were caught in sin, especially those who were ignorant of the Gospel. He sought them out and, rather than condemning their behavior, invited them to something better: “Go and sin no more…. follow me.” [12]cf. Jn 8:11; Matt 9:9 But when Jesus dealt with those whom He knew espoused a relationship with God, He began to correct them, as He did numerous times with the Apostles.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone… (Matt 18:15)

The Apostles, in turn, corrected their flocks through letters to the churches or in person.

Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted. (Gal 6:1)

And when there was hypocrisy, abuse, immorality and false teaching in the churches, especially among the leadership, both Jesus and the Apostles resorted to strong language, even excommunication. [13]cf. 1 Cor 5:1-5, Matt 18:17 They made swift judgments when it was clear that the sinner was acting against his informed conscience to the detriment of his soul, scandal to the body of Christ, and temptation to the weak. [14]cf. Mk 9:42

Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly. (John 7:24)

But when it comes to daily faults borne out of  human weakness, rather than judge or condemn another, we should “bear one another’s burdens” [15]cf. Gal 6:2 and pray for them…

If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. (1 John 5:16)

We are to take the log out of our own eye first before taking the speck out of our brothers, “For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.” [16]cf. Rom 2:1

What we cannot change in ourselves or in others we ought to endure patiently until God wishes it to be otherwise… Take pains to be patient in bearing the faults and weaknesses of others, for you too have many flaws that others must put up with… —Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, William C. Creasy, pp. 44-45

And so, who am I to judge? It is my duty to show others the path to eternal life by my words and actions, speaking the truth in love. But it is God’s duty to judge who is worthy of that life, and who is not.

Love, in fact, impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all men the truth which saves. But we must distinguish between the error (which must always be rejected) and the person in error, who never loses his dignity as a person even though he flounders amid false or inadequate religious ideas. God alone is the judge and the searcher of hearts; he forbids us to pass judgment on the inner guilt of others. —Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 28



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1 cf. Jam 4:12
2 Lk 6:37
3 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, n. 3
4 …tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2357
5 cf. CCC, n. 1785
6 cf. 1 Sam 16:7
7 John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk”, V, Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II
8 cf. Heb 13:4
9 cf. 28:20
10 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1785
11 Mk 1:15
12 cf. Jn 8:11; Matt 9:9
13 cf. 1 Cor 5:1-5, Matt 18:17
14 cf. Mk 9:42
15 cf. Gal 6:2
16 cf. Rom 2:1
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