Soon after same-sex marriage became law in Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield offered a highly symbolic liturgical response -- an exorcism rite.
"Our prayer service today and my words are not meant to demonize anyone, but are intended to call attention to the diabolical influences of the devil that have penetrated our culture," he said, in his sermon. "These demonic influences are not readily apparent to the undiscerning eye. … The deception of the Devil in same-sex marriage may be understood by recalling the words of Pope Francis when he faced a similar situation as Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010."
So Paprocki quoted then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, facing the redefinition of civil marriage in Argentina: "Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention (which is) destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project … but rather a 'move' of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God."
"Father of lies" is a biblical reference to Satan.
When it comes to gay-rights issues, this is probably not the first Pope Francis quotation that springs into the minds of most people following the news in preparation for his Sept. 23-27 visit to the media corridor between Washington, D.C., and New York City. The papal visit is linked to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
An Internet search-engine query for "Francis" and the precise phrase "Who am I to judge?" yielded nearly 200,000 hits, including 4,540 in current news articles.
A Washington Post guide to the pope's "most liberal statements" noted, about this 2013 remark: "On a flight back from his visit to Brazil, Francis struck a different note on homosexuality than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who had once described it as an 'intrinsic moral evil.' In contrast, Francis had this to say about homosexuals: 'If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?' "
The problem with the "Who am I to judge?" statement is that most people quoting it pull the phrase out the context in which it was used during a casual meeting (full transcript here) between Pope Francis and reporters, according to Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample.
The pope was "speaking about God's mercy and the call for all of us to allow a person, including ourselves, to convert and put his or her sins in the past," he noted, writing online. "These words of Pope Francis were delivered in response to a very specific question about a particular individual who was accused of inappropriate homosexual behavior in the past."
Thus, Archbishop Sample stressed these words from the pope's remarks.
"I see that many times in the Church people search for 'sins from youth,' for example, and then publish them. They are not crimes, right? No, sins. But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives," said Pope Francis.
"When we confess our sins and we truly say, 'I have sinned in this,' the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. … If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?"
Thus, the pope affirmed church teachings that temptation is not in itself a sin. In fact, people facing temptations are children of God and should be "treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity," noted Sample.
"If someone sins in this regard, coverts, confesses his or her sins, they are forgiven and the Lord forgets their sins," he added. "So should we forgive and forget. Hence, 'Who am I to judge?'
"Understood in its proper context, Pope Francis simply repeats in a very striking way what the church has taught with regard to persons who experience deep-seated same sex attraction. He was really not breaking new ground, and was certainly not advocating support for same sex 'marriage,' as some have tried to assert."