Pope Francis is famous for saying precisely what he is thinking without any political or diplomatic filter. As some would say, Pope Francis likes to be frank. He is akin to Saint Nathaniel's description by Jesus in John 1:47 "behold, . . . [someone] who has no guile." In other words, here is someone who speaks plainly.
Unlike Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II, Pope Francis I prefers to speak more colloquially, that is, in common conversational style rather than in formal, theological, and philosophical vocabulary. Sometimes called "tweet theology" (after the social media Twitter), Pope Francis likes to use short sentences and brief phrases instead of delivering fancy lectures.
It helps to have a Francis lexicon of sorts — something to help understand the context of what the Pope says to more accurately get the proper meaning. When taken out of context, his words can disturb some conservatives while giving some liberals false hopes that he is changing doctrine or discipline.
Following are some examples of his comments:
"This is what I ask of you. Be shepherds with the 'smell of the sheep'."
This comment was not meant to be derogatory but a vivid reminder to parish priests, pastors, and bishops that they are first and foremost shepherds and as such should be accessible to their flock. So much so, that they have the odor of the sheep — that is, they are identifiable as one of them. Another fellow pilgrim on the road to heaven.
"I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else."
In a hospital emergency room, someone needs to triage and ascertain who is in trauma and therefore in most urgent need of treatment. Likewise, Pope Francis is saying that the church, be it the parish or the diocese, needs to prioritize people's spiritual needs and address the urgent ones first.
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. The teaching of the church is clear, and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."
Pope Francis is not saying the church and her leaders should avoid reiterating the consistent teachings of the church on the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, but he is reminding everyone that there are other issues of social justice and moral theology which cannot be ignored or overlooked. Like his predecessors, JP2 and B16, Francis sees a hierarchy of moral values, and they also recognize that there are several if not many dimensions to the moral and spiritual life besides the controversial issues.
"The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord's mercy motivates us to do better."
The Sacrament of Penance or Confession is never meant to be an Inquisition nor is it a trial, but Pope Francis reminds Catholics that God's forgiveness of sins is an act of Divine Mercy and meant to encourage us to improve.
"It makes me sad when I find sisters who aren't joyful. They might smile, but with just a smile they could be flight attendants!"
Religious sisters and nuns are not being dissed here. Francis is using a little satire to remind those in consecrated vows (poverty, chastity, and obedience) that discipleship is not a chore or drudgery, rather it is a joy and pleasure to serve the Lord and our fellow human beings.
"Gossip can also kill, because it kills the reputation of the person! It is so terrible to gossip! At first it may seem like a nice thing, even amusing, like enjoying a candy. But in the end, it fills the heart with bitterness, and even poisons us."
Verbal character assassination is the byproduct of gossip. Rumor-mongering and backstabbing injure others' reputations but also eat away at the integrity of the one spreading the gossip.
"If a person is gay, who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?"
This is the most controversial quote and most taken out of context. Yes, Pope Francis was asked about someone at the Vatican who was gay but not actively practicing. There was an official who was accused of financial misdeeds and in the subsequent investigation it was disclosed that he had been involved in homosexual activity when he was a young man.
The Pope's point was that any sin, once confessed, absolved, and forgiven, cannot be held liable against that person. "Who am I to judge" someone who has repented and made amends for his/her mistakes? He was not saying that sexual misconduct is permissible nor is it acceptable. Any and all sexual activity is reserved for marriage, which is between one man and one woman.
"If my [someone] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose . . . It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."
Pope Francis was not condoning the violence committed by Islamist extremists, particularly the heinous massacre committed against Charlie Hebdo journalists in France. Violence is never the proper nor acceptable response. He was, however, reminding the world that free speech is not absolute. Freedom of speech does not trump freedom of religion. Respecting other faiths and religions does not compromise freedom of the press.
Just as the law puts limits on free speech so that perjury, slander, and libel are crimes punishable by the court, and just as one cannot shout "fire" in a crowded auditorium when there is none, so, too, one's freedom of speech has reasonable limits. Nonviolent and peaceful response is always the route to follow. His "punch in the nose" was intended as a metaphor and not meant to be taken literally.