The Pope, The Sinner, And Me

This is not a response to the media distortions of the recent interview with Pope Francis. I’d rather focus on what Pope Francis actually is saying to me as one of his flock, and admit that maybe there is something here to personally grow from. Second of all, this article is not advocating or in any way considering a “change of church teaching.” If that’s what some readers take away from it, I’d ask them to please read it over.

This has been on my heart to write about for a while, but I must admit, I’ve been a coward. As a Catholic and as a psychologist, I want to add in my two cents to the conversation on homosexuality. This might be one of the single most divisive issues of our immediate time. I have been a coward up until now because this topic is a minefield, and I’m scared of bombs. I say up until now because our Pope has given me an offer I can’t refuse. In his recent interview, Pope Francis gave an example of courage and unyielding tenacity for truth, beauty, and goodness that sparked something in me.

Religion has become for some – myself included – an opportunity for mediocrity in following Jesus. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has been this way for thousands of years. Jesus certainly spoke out pretty vehemently against this sort of mediocrity in his time, and now the Vicar of Jesus is speaking against it now. By mediocrity, I mean to say that religion gives us categories to snugly place ourselves into. It gives us a moral system to fall back on that distinguishes “us” from “them.”  Well, for all of us comfortable Christians in the world, Pope Francis just punched us in the gut and knocked the stale air out of our moldy lungs.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.  The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Despite some “spiritual” traditions, trends, and movements, the Church is not to be primarily a megaphone on the street corner calling out peoples’ sins. Likewise, members of the Church, the body of Christ, are not to have these megaphones blaring out from our hearts. Mediocrity is a mentality of  “us vs. them,” those of us behind the megaphone, and those that are on the other side of it. Pope Francis is telling us that we can’t let church become for us a system of dividing “us” from “them.” What then, is he saying the bosom of the universal church is to be?

“Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis outlines pretty clearly the mission of the Church.  We must make a proposition of Jesus to the world.  We must propose Love.  “From this proposition the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis calls on an image that is extremely important in his interview – the road to Emmaus.  What happened at first on the road to Emmaus?  The two walking with Jesus did not recognize him.  They were the “them.”  Did Jesus chastise them, saying, “Idiots, don’t you know who I am?”  “Dirty scum, how are you so blind?”  No.  He walks with them. He speaks with them, as one of them.  They don’t feel the need to form coalitions and march in parades to find some form of validation.  He validates them. He builds friendship with them and leads them into a true encounter with himself, after which “their hearts burned.”

As a society, we have been so wrong about homosexuals.  As a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I can also say that the majority of “faithful” Catholics I have ever known have also been so wrong about homosexuals.  I have a question to ask to make my point.  As you sit with the discomfort this article may be causing, ask yourself this question:

How does your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who identify as homosexual compare to your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who engage in some other mortal sin such as contraception?

How about masturbation?

How about drunkenness?

Let that sink in a bit. How do you treat the person?

I’d especially like to elaborate on this last issue of drunkenness. It astounds me how many Catholic circles consider drunkenness, at least implicitly, as acceptable.  Have we not heard Galatians 5:21 before?  “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Wow. So it’s ok to get together and drink a few too many with our friends, but being homosexual is the supreme debauchery?

I am not advocating puritanical teetotaling. I enjoy my scotch or wine at the appropriate time.  Sometimes it is even me who has too many with my friends and I have to hand the keys over to my wife for the ride home. Yes, I am a sinner. Not in the garment rending, abstract, and safely generalized way, but I commit very specific sins. Somehow there is an appallingly strange mercy for me.  If we are to love with the love of Jesus, if we are to be Jesus as members of his body, his Church, we will love men and women who experience, and even act out on, homosexual desires the way we love ourselves or our friends when we know the types of sins we commit.

Now as a follow-up question, if you haven’t thought this already (and kudos if you have), let me ask: Did you realize my first question asked about the sinfulness of those “who identify as homosexual”?  Is homosexuality a sin? No, it is not.

First of all, if you do happen to know a person is committing mortal sins such as acting out on their homosexual desires, why in the world is it ok to treat him or her any differently than anyone else you happen to know committing mortal sin, including yourself?

Second of all, homosexuality in itself is not a sin. When you meet someone who is homosexual, you very well might be in the presence of a saint. If someone is living chastely with homosexual desires, he or she is living heroic virtue. Homosexuality is a cross that no heterosexual will ever understand. It is a life called to celibacy without the luxury of discernment. It is potentially the most extreme example of “chastity for the kingdom” that I can imagine. Do you happen to know the interior life of every homosexual?

If they look deep enough, many Catholics might be ashamed of their disposition of heart towards homosexuals. I know I am. Sure, I knew how to say that I “Loved the sinner, hated the sin.”  But Pope Francis seems to think such words aren’t enough.

If I’m the only Catholic who had these feelings, so be it. Here I am confessing my sin to the world. As Pope Francis said, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”


Dr. Greg Bottaro


Dr. Greg Bottaro is a clinical psychologist practicing in Manhattan serving the greater New York Metropolitan area and many others through web conferencing. He received his Psy.D. (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a graduate school in Arlington, VA that integrates Catholic philosophy and theology with sound, empirically validated psychology. Before finishing his degree, Dr. Bottaro discerned a religious vocation with the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs). He lived almost four years in the Bronx, serving the poor in the tradition of St. Francis. These years were formative for him emotionally, spiritually, and professionally as he tested his vocation and ultimately felt the prompting of God’s will to pursue family life. Six years after leaving NYC as a friar Dr. Bottaro returned as a psychologist. His aim is fundamentally the same – to serve. Instead of serving those suffering material poverty, He now serves those with psychological needs. He blogs regularly at

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  • DYoung

    While I agree with you and agree with your interpretation of the pope’s interview, I think we are past the point of being able to only saying, “I love you and God loves you.” When homosexuals are now shouting, “My actions are perfectly normal and you must accept that” where can we teach part of that statement is wrong?

    Granted, the Catholic church stance of “I love you and God loves you” should have started back in the 1960’s. It may take another 50 year for this message to sink in.

  • eyeclinic

    …and me!



  • MikeK

    I agree with DYoung’s comments! We should be loving towards those who are experiencing same sex attraction. However we can’t have an “I’m ok, you’re ok” attitude about homosexual actions. We shouldn’t be out looking to call people on their sins, however when they publicly flaunt their sins, we should and we must speak out against it.

  • Lee

    Publicly flaunting our sins has got to be like spitting in our Lord’s face. We do not have to codon others sin and be more sinful ourselves. It is our Christian obligation to stand for love and God is Love. We can love the sinner, but we do not have to support the sin.

  • Mary Anne

    My mother always taught me through her words and actions to treat everyone with love and respect. She did. But she never compromised her position on sin. She told me she could get very uncomfortable at times defending the faith, but always….lovingly, humbly and respectfully…stood firm. Everyone, whether they agreed or disagreed, respected and listened to her. She’s my role model. And I thank God for giving me such a personal example of holiness to follow.

  • Gabriel

    Pope Francis is right on target, just as Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Though the heretics on the liberal left, and the pharisees on the ultraconservative right will never be pleased.

  • Suzanne Graf Slupesky Beck

    I agree with DYoung, et all that we never should treat people with disrepect because of their sin, and I personally don’t think that I do that, at least for the homosexuals that I am acquainted with. However, I think we run the risk here of not calling them out of their sin, either. Jesus loved them, but he loved them too much to leave them where they were; and he also said Go and sin no more. Most homosexuals that I know want to be affirmed in their sin and want to be told that it’s all hunky-dory, they are going to heaven anyway, it’s all love and peace, etc. Unfortunately, that’s what it sounds like you and the Holy Father are saying, even to me who has read his comments and most of the pontificating on what he’s said.

  • dthyl

    To admonish the sinner used to be considered a spiritual work of mercy, now you’re an ultraconservative Pharisee. But of course we shouldn’t be shouting people’s sins through a megaphone, it should be done privately. But the problem in today’s society is that people shout their own sins through a megaphone, e.g., “I have a gay partner”, “I’m in a relationship”, etc., and they want us to bow down and respect their lifestyles. Suppose I’ll just stick with the ultraconservative label and hope that God’s mercy will extend to us also.

  • David Green

    masturbation is not a sin as a mater of fact men who do not masturbate have a much higher risk of prostate cancer this is a fact! man its just stuff like this that keeps me from becoming a catholic!!!!!

  • Billyjoe

    Sir you are far off. The problem you fail to mention is that homosexuals want us to believe what they do is normal. It’s not. As far as your quote from scripture, please remember St. Paul’s writing in the New Testament regarding homosexuality. Francis touches on it when he speaks of the gay lobby that wants to normalize the behavior. You are right on the aspect of loving those with this affliction. We need to speak Jesus’ love to them as much as possible to try and comfort them.

  • Ryan

    Great article. But the title should read, “The Pope, the Sinner, and Me.”

  • Roxanne Carrasco

    Dear Dr. Botarro, your article was an interesting read and I agree with what Pope Francis is saying. But the reality is that homosexuality is an illness. To have homosexual feelings is a deviance. It is not a sin unless those feelings are acted upon, but a person experiencing these feelings is not normal and cannot be compared with a male attraction to a female which is natural and needed for procreation. We must pray for those battling this illness as we pray for each other for we are all sinners. I think the problem arises because right now the homosexuals are trying to redefine marriage. They want to be accepted, not only themselves but also their way of life. The Church will never condone that lifestyle. They are trying to teach our children that their way of life is normal. This is very evident in our schools and in the media. They wish to change the laws and this is confusing to our young people. So while I appreciate the Holy Father’s approach I also remember that the Lord said, “Go and Sin No more” and he also Cast out Demons. The winds of persecution are blowing and it is getting more difficult to witness to the truth. Silence is no longer an option yet to voice the truth means being labeled, “intolerant”. Most of the saints were martyred because they would not accept compromise. Today is no different.

  • Theoofbody

    Dr. Bottaro,
    So, are you also going to think it’s okay that some very outspoken liberals and homosexuals order you, a psychologist, to deny those who request reparative therapy or something similar? Like others have said, many homosexuals want us to accept that their way of life is perfectly normal and okay – when in fact they are the ones who have no tolerance for non-homosexual beliefs. Of course we love everyone but remember it is also truly loving when we tell others the truth even if it makes us and them uncomfortable. Remember, psychology is a man-made field of study that must always be filtered through the truths of the church. Most of it’s founders were atheists or minimally religious; some were even eugenicists. It does not have the last word.

  • Jdp

    Amen! I think Pope Francis is saying and doing just what Jesus would if he were here right now. It’s exactly the kind of stuff he did 2000 years ago. Live a simple life, eat with sinners and tax collectors and admonish the religious hypocrites.

  • ManofHonor

    Your not a Catholic yet your able to say what is a sin and what is not? is there something wrong here??

  • David Green

    I am a christian , are you saying that a catholic has the definitive answers on what is a sin and what is not ….lol

  • Diana

    David, isn’t there a more important reason for you to be denying yourself the inner joy and peace of knowing Jesus Christ, our Father who gave us the Catholic Church?

  • Cy

    I will not step into the snare the homosexual “jihad” has laid. The difference between the homosexual person and the drunkard, the masturbator, and to some extent the ‘contraceptor’ is that neither the masturbator, nor the drunkard, nor the contraceptor is attempting to redefine their personal sin. The homosexual is not asking for forgiveness but for acceptance not of themselves as a child created by God, but acceptance and celebration of their homosexual actions. I’ve never had a drunkard nor a masturbator ask me to embrace and celebrate their actions. The sin of homosexual actions gets too much attention. It is not special, (as far as estrangement from God goes) no different than the temptation/sin with which we all struggle.
    I know very little except Jesus, and Him crucified.

  • ManofHonor

    I did not say that a Catholic can say (infallibly) what is right and what is wrong but by natural intuition, the laws of the Church, and by the Pope (who is infallible when giving a doctrine and or law of the church through the grace of the Holy Spirit) there is a certain standard I would say that we Catholics would have…? anybody else have anything else to add or maybe help with?

  • drgreg

    I’ve actually had drunkards, masturbators, and contraceptors all ask me to embrace and celebrate their sins. That is the nature of being “in sin.” In fact, as a result of Pope Francis’s interview, I also see a lot of Pharisees asking me to embrace and celebrate Phariseeism.

  • drgreg

    Beautifully said.

  • drgreg

    On your first point, I agree that this is an illness. However, my comparison between homosexuality and heterosexuality is from the perspective of the experience of the person himself or herself. A homosexual person does not experience his or her attraction as an illness. For *some* homosexual men and women, considering acting heterosexually is no different for them than you considering acting homosexually. I picked out homosexuality from the list of what Pope Francis referred to because nothing touches deeper into who we are as people than our sexuality. This is why the homosexual “movement” is so alluring. It resonates with people who feel that their very being is disregarded.

    The second point of your comment about trying to “redefine marriage” feeds into the problem I pointed out in my article. It is sinful to group people together and say “homosexuals this,” and “homosexuals that.” You are encouraging an “us” vs “them” mentality that is simply false. This is the mediocrity our Pope is calling us out of. I know many homosexuals that don’t try to redefine marriage, and I know many heterosexuals that do. We can’t keep thinking about homosexual people the same way. “Oh, you are gay, you must hate marriage, babies, and Jesus.” That is obviously hyperbole, but you get my point.

    No where in my article do I suggest we lesson the debate on marriage or sexual virtue. Neither does the Pope. This is all about how we treat the individual person.

  • drgreg

    See my response to Roxanne

  • drgreg

    The spiritual work of mercy necessitates love first. Without love your work of mercy is nothing but a “noisy gong or a clashing cymbal.” This is what Pope Francis is saying. A person doesn’t feel loved just because you say you “love the sinner but hate the sin.” The pope is saying we have to try a little harder to actually communicate the love of Jesus to the wounded of the world.

  • drgreg

    You have the blessing and grace of being loved. This is what you knew first. This is what the broken and wounded of the world don’t know.

  • Lee

    It takes a lot of gall to ask for others’ blessings to help us feel good about ourselves.Our Pope Francis is on the right track. We will be better people as we help God come to the forefront.

  • David Green

    The pope is not infallible hahahahahahahahahahahahah thats has to be the stupidest thing i have ever read can you please look back at the history of the popes are you saying they were all infallible. There is no human on earth who is infallible. none not one!!! this case is closed and proven time and time again in the Bible

  • jenny

    ..very true…..I think that the Pope is addressing those who are broken, and as a result of that, they made or still make decisions which are not aligned with the church …

  • ManofHonor

    did I say infallible “always”? NO! I said in the maters of DOCTRINES…where do you get always from that…and yes we have had some really “bad” popes but they where all guided by the Holy Spirit…I think this case might still be open?

  • David Green

    .and yes we have had some really “bad” popes but they where all guided by the Holy Spirit.. I really hope you dont believe this popes that had orgies and murdered and on and on guided- by the holy spirit- WHAT !!!!!!

  • Sigungu Paul


    “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.”
    Albert Einstein

  • ManofHonor

    I have no clue of where you are coming with that? I think I am the one who is going to say WHAT?!?! ok?

  • jenny

    Good point : “..mercy necessitates love first..” I wonder how many of us sit down and really listen to a homosexual… not to give any advise, not to criticize, but just to listen carefully….
    I bet that not many of us have the courage to do it…..

  • jenny

    I think that homosexuals became more aggressive lately toward the church as a result of increasing public criticism they received from the church. Otherwise, they would have kept it more or less for themselves. For a long period of time, going back centuries, the church showed hardly any understanding about certain sins – it was all about condemnation.
    An example would be changing the name of the sacrament of “penance” to “penance and reconciliation”…
    This is what I think the Pope meant by “….we talk too much …” about it. We talk too much about condemnation, and too little about reconciliation/ understanding/mercy….
    Just a thought…..

  • laurettas

    I think, Roxanne, that much of what you say about homosexuality can also be said about those who contracept. Contraception use is redefining marriage and, believe me, those who are in favor of it, including practicing Catholics, are very strident in their promotion and justification of it. And, many homosexuals cite contracepting couples as one of the reasons that society must accept homosexual marriage. They are both barren physical acts.

  • Roxanne Carrasco

    Thank you for your response doctor. I agree as I stated with Pope Francis on loving and praying for our brothers and sisters who have chosen alternate lifestyles. My point is that in your article you make it sound as if pointing out this difference is a sin. There does exist a group of homosexuals who have an Agenda and they are being heard, in the gov’t, the media, our schools. They are trying to make our young people think that their way of life is ok…no Different than anyone else. Young people in the schools are saying it’s ok…I am ok and you are ok….confusing many. As a catholic if I point out that it is not an ok lifestyle, the response from many young adults is to criticize the Church. In truth I believe that unless you are well grounded in your faith, confusion will reign. It is important to speak with love but also with conviction about truth which cannot be compromised. So I do agree with you….but even The Lord spoke very firmly in saying, “Sin no more”.

  • Roxanne Carrasco

    I agree wholeheartedly. I tried to explain to the doctor that to disagree in today’s society means to be labeled “intolerable”. The lines of demarcation are being drawn by a few, but their movement is loud and strong. We do not judge them but we must educate our children on the teachings of the Church. To witness to the truth oftentimes brings persecution, especially and even from friends and family.

  • Joe DeVet

    There’s a serious problem with this article, an omission which should be corrected. He is right to point out that homosexual acts and heterosexual sins such as fornication are similar in gravity, and should be recognized as such.

    But the moral analysis–mortal sin, venial sin, or no sin at all–is only one aspect of comparison between acts. Sins can differ in KIND as well, and these do. Fornication is not the same as sodomy in a very key respect. Fornication is sinful in that it takes a fundamentally good act designed by God for good ends, but is sinful because it is performed under the wrong circumstances. By contrast, sodomy is intrinsically evil, a fundamentally disordered act which no circumstances can make morally good.

    The author would have us believe that our natural repugnance over sodomy, repugnance which is simply the natural law (or we could say the theology of the body) expressing itself at a gut level, bespeaks an unfair prejudice against homosexual behavior. I say that it is an normal reaction to the KIND of sin that sodomy represents, as distinguished from sins of a different kind, such as fornication.

  • JohnStefanyszyn

    Jorge Bergoglio said that he is a sinner.

    To be a sinner is one who continues to disobey the Will of the One God and who continues to live according to the freedom to do his own will.

    Jorge Bergoglio has confessed and continues to confess that it is RIGHT TO BE FREE to worship any ‘god’, any ‘religion’.

    BUT there is Only One Creator God whose identity is clearly define by His Son Jesus Christ…and it is Only Christ that will rule according to the Will of His Father and NOT according to the ‘freedom will’ of man.

    Jorge Bergoglio is a sinner and continues to be a sinner.

  • drgreg

    I would suggest that if a person doesn’t have a natural repugnance over sodomy, or fornication, or any other sin, which is by definition disordered, that person still has room to grow as far as virtue is concerned. The distinction made here in this comment does not acquit one from loving the person who commits the sin just as much as one who commits another type of sin. The natural repugnance we have towards all sin should not overpower the love that we should have towards the person. Love in action, not just in word.

  • drgreg

    We cannot support the sin. But we have to actually love the sinner. Not just in word, but in deed. Really love the sinner. Not just in the way we “instruct” the person about sins, but in our whole manner of communicating and interacting with him or her. Just like we know how to love ourselves or our friends (while hopefully not supporting our own sins!)

  • drgreg

    Absolutely Roxanne, and I wholeheartedly support your efforts to teach the truth. Nothing short of that is acceptable according to our faith. Keep up the good work!

  • Ann Couper-Johnston

    Thank you for this article; it is decently balanced. Now to chuck in my twopennyworth …..
    I suspect (without any specialist knowledge) that homosexuality is neither entirely nature nor nurture, or that if it is nurture it is very deep-seated. Many of us behave to our own detriment, or even destruction, without understanding why we are driven to do so. The difference lies in the fact that acceptance of homosexual behaviour is demanded of us, even if we have conscientious objections to it, and those objections are not taken seriously as arising from sincerely held convictions, but seen as mindless bigotry.
    This may well be the result of unwise emphasis in the past (and Pope Francis is possibly merely doing his best to correct it, for which we should be glad). It is most unfortunate that the terms of the debate have been set by the secular world; they demand a change we cannot allow, so we come over as negative, as being agin on principle. What I hope Pope Francis would agree with, is that we should teach what purpose human sexuality serves, what marriage in all its fullness is, even what we are as human beings – (in fact, the last first). We know, every one of us, that what we are as human beings is much less than we were created to be – isn’t there a strand of tradition in the Church that sees sin as being, incomplete; a failure to be (which would be suggested by St Paul: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and St Iraeneus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”) Could our sinful acts be seen as an attempt to compensate for that incompleteness?
    I am sure that if I were to gather a small group around me and ask what came to mind when they heard the words “Catholic Church”, or “what the Church thinks”, I would get a host of negative responses (the old chestnuts we all know only too well). I would like to teach those people right from the start of the Catechism, without referring to those chestnuts at all, until we got to the part of the Catechism where they are referred to in context, so that the teaching of the Church could be seen as a whole without the undue emphasis on certain points by which it is distorted. (Might this be what Pope Francis was meaning by his remarks on the aeroplane?)
    It seems that to get it right as regards human sexuality (of whatever orientation) is, as you say, a minefield. I was brought up to be almost frightened of it and to beware of it, and of men, who were only after one thing and would get you into sin at any opportunity, and there is no doubt it is a powerful force. I refuse to think of it as bad; that is just too negative and I don’t believe it’s true. I would want someone to be able to enjoy it within the bounds set by the Church. I like to compare it to our immune system. There is no doubt we need our immune system and it is a good thing, but we know that sometimes that immune system becomes too efficient and leads to our body attacking itself (for instance in arthritis). In the same way, we could say that human sexuality is fundamentally a good thing, but sometimes it proves too strong for us to cope with easily and causes trouble.
    I think my twopennyworth has suffered quite some inflation, but trust it has not become tedious in the process.

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    I understand your compassion for what you infer about the chaste homosexual. But the reality of this issue is homosexuals aren’t interested in your understanding when it comes to their attitude and lifestyle. Most, although there are a few exceptions, glorify their sexuality as “normal”. Furthermore, they expect ALL people,especially Christians, to accept this as “normal”. If we don’t kowtow to their expectations of acceptance we are called “haters”.

    Comparing sins is only rationalization. All sins are equal in the eyes of God. But to feel no shame or remorse for continuing in a “lifestyle” that is sinful says it all.

    I do care about homosexuals as people. In fact there are 3 in my close family. Do I care about them any less ? No. Do I agree with their lifestyle.? No.