The Devil and Pope Francis

I spent the whole of the recent papal conclave, as well as several days before and after, in Rome, trying to sift through the meaning of events, reports – and rumors. In my experience, we shouldn’t take too seriously most efforts to parse out the pope’s early gestures or words. There’s some lack of faith or paranoia in the nervous need to see the future. We’ll know soon enough which directions he will take. He’s clearly a man of well-considered views, and effective action.

Besides, most of what we know about Francis for certain is this: a holy and intelligent man is leading the Church, who fully supports Catholic teaching – even on neuralgic points like contraception, abortion, and gay marriage. At the same time, he has been close to the poor and supports efforts to help them – but decidedly not every half-baked social “program,” let alone the wilder reaches of Marxist liberation theologies.

In short, we have a pope who doesn’t fit partisan categories, but has found a way to think and act in full harmony with the Church in his Argentinean circumstances.

It’s easy to read a lot into a little at this early moment. For instance, much has been made of his brief words as he first steeped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s: “You all know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. [Emphasis added.] It seems that my brother cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him.”

The Romans and the Italians more generally took that as a sign of his wish to be closer to the people in his new diocese – and they have a point. He stepped into the streets of Rome after Mass on Sunday, only a few steps, but without warning his security detail. We know that’s how Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio conducted himself in Buenos Aires, and past practice is usually a better guide to the future than sheer speculation.

The latter is easy, may be intriguing, and sometimes can even be useful. But it can also run ahead of events. There’s been talk, among those who desire it, that Francis has spoken of himself as the bishop of Rome in order to lower the role of the papacy. He spent a long time with the Universal Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Istanbul Tuesday. And supposedly that – coupled with the emphasis on being bishop of Rome, not the pope – somehow suggests Francis sees himself as just one among several Christian authorities. Don’t bet the mortgage on that. This pope is Catholic.

By contrast, for me, one of the most significant things to this point is that he’s already mentioned the Devil several times. At his first papal Mass in the Sistine Chapel, during the homily to the cardinal electors, he quoted French writer Léon Bloy: “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” And then continued on his own: “When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.”

       A simple man: paying his own bill at the conclave hotel

He spoke two days later to a gathering of the cardinals urging that they “not cede to the bitterness and pessimism that the devil offers us every day.” This is not unusual language for him. When he was trying to stop the Argentine government from legalizing same-sex “marriage,” he put the problem thus:

Lets not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to Gods plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that’s just its form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God. . . . Lets look to St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child to ask fervently that they defend the Argentine family in this moment. . . .May they support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.

A pope who openly and repeatedly speaks about the language of the devil, the father of lies, the war against God, and prayer to the Holy Family as a way to combat it clearly isnt trying to win points with the progressive media. Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner accused him of medievalism for these remarks, but that didn’t intimidate him or others. And she was forced to withdraw the criticism.

It may only be a personal reaction after hearing so many different political, liturgical, and theological views about Pope Francis, but any pope who can seriously assert again that sin exists, that it’s more than a matter of mere human weaknesses and errors, that the whole of the old Christian drama as a contest between God and Satan is still the center of the Faith – and the reason that the Church exists – just may have something fresh to say to the world.

I admire his simple life, humility, advocacy for all the poor and marginalized, cautious handling of the “dirty war” in Argentina. He’s walked the walk. But these things are easily turned into “issues” and a kind of political platform inside and outside the Church. And others are already engaged in many such humanitarian efforts anyway.

Everyone sees the need to reform the curia or the Vatican Bank or other Roman mechanisms. But for a Church that confronts the superficiality and blindness of the modern world, those reforms, too, are not and cannot be the main thing.

Pope Francis gives every indication of believing that all these things and many others need doing because the larger spiritual drama that Christianity once brought to the attention of the world is still a true picture of us and our troubled lives, individually and socially.

If he can make visible the reality of that drama once again, it may prove to be his most surprising and revolutionary contribution to a world that thinks it long ago left behind all such cosmic struggles – and suffers for it.


Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Wonderful article, Dr. Royal! Practicing, orthodox Catholics throughout the world cannot help but be overjoyed and reassured to hear the Successor of Peter speak in such clear language about the the struggle between good and evil and the need for courage and hope in this time when the forces of Satan are arrayed outside and withint the walls of Christendom. Viva Papa! Now, forgive me for asking one question: When did we start referring to the “Patriarch of Istanbul”? It is a tad hard on Christian ears, I think

  • Randall

    A refreshing take on our new pope, Mr Royal.

  • Manfred

    Thank you for an excellent article, Robert! I think serious Catholics have every reason to be pleased with this man as Pope.

  • Grump

    The pope’s concern for the poor is touching but mere words of compassion clash with the reality that the Vatican’s properties and assets total in the trillions that could be used to alleviate the poverty of many.

    One is reminded of the fact that a horrified John Paul I once wrote: “…this morning, I flushed my toilet with a solid gold lever edged with diamonds and at this very moment, bishops and cardinals are using a bathroom on the second floor of the Papal palace with trappings, I am told, (that) would draw more than fifty million dollars at auction.”

    Will Francis be moved by the story of Jesus telling the rich man to sell “all his possessions and follow Me.”?

    Perhaps Francis, who was inspired by the Catholic Church’s most ascetic saint – a man whose devotion to a life of privation and poverty is seen as second only to that of Jesus Christ Himself – will take a “zero tolerance” approach to clerical excess and the Vatican’s hoarding and squandering of its vast wealth.

  • william manley

    Mr. Royal, I always click on this web site with trepidation. Your essay has made all the time I have spent here well worth it. Many thanks. I have made it a point to read all the media accounts of the new Pope in great detail. None has even mentioned Satan.

  • Brad Miner

    @Grump: Do you have a source for this alleged quote from John Paul II? My understanding is that it’s something that has appeared on anti-Catholic websites but had never actully been sourced to any actual document written by or speech given by the pope.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Mr. Royal – very well done!

    Grump – all I ask is this – that The Church DOES NOT hand over our remaining beautiful Basilicca’s, Churches and Chapels to the world that stole our other beautiful Cathedrals, where they now stand as vacant museums…signifying death, not life.

  • Grump

    @Brad. I do not vouch for the reliability of the quote, which is attributed to JPI, not JP2, and which I extracted from an article published on, citing “one account.”

    However, the main point stands that the Vatican and its Catholic subsidiaries oversee and manage (although no so efficiently apparently, according to many accounts)vast holdings and a worldwide financial empire attested to most revealingly by the ornate and priceless treasures and trappings in and around the churches and the papal palaces.

  • Joyful

    Grump: This “wealth” of the Church you speak may be understood a little differently if you think of it as “treasure”.

    One can sell the treasures, given to the Church by members, now passed on to eternity, and those pieces will go into private collections, never to be see by you and me again, and feed the poor for a little time.

    Or, the Church, which welcomes the poor into their sanctuaries and museums, can retain those treasures, which belong to us – the people of God, rich and poor – and which they really haven’t the “permission” to sell off. Thus, the poor can enjoy those treasures forever and continued to be inspired by the beauty and sublimity of those amazing treasures.

    In short, I find it insulting (as one who has lived great swaths of my life bordering on poverty) that the Church would sell off it’s material beauty, making it impossible for me to ever imagine I could see it. The Church makes it’s beauty accessible to all and nuts to you and others who would darken my world by selling our – yes – yours, mine and ours – off for a temporary fix.

  • Howard Kainz

    @Grump: The Vatican’s properties and assets total in the trillions?? Even the anti-Catholic sources on the internet don’t make this exaggerated assessment. John Allen of NCR in his article yesterday puts the charges of excess wealth into context: “To begin with, the legendary wealth of the Vatican is to some extent more myth than reality. The Vatican has an annual operating budget of under $300 million, while Harvard University, arguably the Vatican of elite secular opinion, has a budget of $3.7 billion, meaning it’s 10 times greater. The Vatican’s “patrimony,” what other institutions would call an endowment, is around $1 billion. In this case, Harvard’s ahead by a robust factor of 30, with an endowment of $30.7 billion.
    The Vatican bank controls assets estimated at more than $6 billion, which is nobody’s idea of chump change, but most of that isn’t the Vatican’s money. It belongs to religious orders, dioceses, movements and other Catholic organizations, and is managed by the Institute for the Works of Religion to facilitate moving it around the world.”

  • Dan

    I have a high level of anxiety about Pope Francis: what he will do with the liturgy (will he and his appointees promote guitar strumming Masses?), and whether he will be forceful on the issue of marriage (it is being reported that he supported civil unions in Argentina as a way of forestalling gender-less marriage). We don’t know yet what he will do on these things. But I am quite concerned about it.

  • taad

    I too am fearful. A lot of assumptions are being based on a few documents from the pope’s most recent letters. Now there is more leaking out that he is okay with gay civil unions. How can you be okay with sin? or the lesser of two sins. I never heard the Lord say such things. Sin is sin. Evil is evil. Maybe it is a sign that he refuses to teach from the “Chair”! Somethings seem to be in direct conflict with the last two popes. Their is no break with the past, or their is something false going on. May the Lord come to our assistance!

  • BradW

    Sounds like Holy Father has lately been reading the Epistles of St. John, especially the first one!

  • Brencel

    “A pope who openly and repeatedly speaks about the language of the devil, the father of lies, the war against God, and prayer to the Holy Family as a way to combat it clearly isn’t trying to win points with the progressive media.”

    The word conservative could be substituted for progressive here. It is sad you twist the Pope’s talk on the devil to attack what are your personal enemies.

  • Layman Tom

    Three things:

    One, you have to love a supreme leader who pays his own bills and carries his own bag. Personally. No staffers, no lackeys. Just a regular guy taking personal responsibility seriously. That is very refreshing and, I think, a valuable lesson.

    Two, that Manfred is optimistic gives me hope that Pope Francis will be able to rally all the factions of the church to one unified force. Perhaps this is naive, but it is exactly what needs to happen, because there is, in fact, a spiritual war going on.

    Three, The church’s holdings and wealth cannot be thought of monolithically. Sure, there are impressive Cathedrals, treasures and art work. Most of these were actually donated to the church, and/or commissioned by her, to exalt to the people the majesty of God. Joyful is right. None of those items will inspire anyone but whoever purchases them.

    Most of the wealth, however, is locked up in real estate. These are facilities that belong properly to the dioceses which were primarily paid for by the individual parishes. My parish recently added another building to the school. Does it have value? You bet. Was it acquired to increase the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church? Hardly. That building, like most of the other buildings “held by the church” was built to serve a purpose. It was built to further God’s plan in one small way, by teaching the youth. BTW, the funding came from me and my fellow parishioners. A lot of the facilities mentioned, like churches, hospitals, actually perform useful functions and serve the people, both believers and non-believers alike. Also part of God’s work. What parts of the wealth should be off-loaded? Does my kid not need the new school building? If I get sick, would it be better to go to the FORMER Catholic hospital and receive attention delivered without any governing moral principles in a facility free from any meddling religious accoutrements? And if the church liquidated everything, would that forever end poverty and human suffering?

    I never think of the supposed wealth. To me, the more important thing is that those who run her have actually taken a vow of poverty. It’s hard to point to the greedy clergyman in the Catholic Church.


  • Dave

    Dan, taad,

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about the civil unions thing. Just because BEHIND CLOSED DOORS he SUPPOSEDLY floated that compromise when it looked like full-out gay marriage was going to win the day (which in fact, it did) in an attempt to salvage something important (“something” being the definition of marriage) doesn’t even mean he supports civil unions. For the liturgy, too, I don’t think he will gut Benedict XVI’s work even though he himself may not be as concerned about the liturgy.

    Pope Francis is certainly a good, holy, prayerful, loving man who is faithful to the Church, and has a deep devotion to Our Lady and St. Joseph. He now also has the graces that come along with being the Vicar of Christ.

    Let us pray for Pope Francis and trust the Lord to guide His Church as He always has!

  • Richard M

    “And supposedly that – coupled with the emphasis on being bishop of Rome, not the pope – somehow suggests Francis sees himself as just one among several Christian authorities. Don’t bet the mortgage on that.”

    There is much to like about the Holy Father, but one hopes that he will tamp down the ecumenical and interreligious enthusiasms he displayed in Buenos Aires, where he took full part in Hannukah and Rosh Hashannah worship services at synagogue, and knelt to receive blessings from evangelical ministers. While his intent was doubtless good, such actions are at risk for grave scandal of indifferentism.

    But the office can change the man, and I am not ready to assume that he will do such things as Pope.

  • Jacob

    And as Druge points out, he battled a she-devil in Argentina and pacified her!

  • Mike

    I am a devout Catholic layman, and I know for certain that my Toyota Corolla and Dizzy Gillespie autograph have been appraised by detractors and counted as “Vatican wealth”. I am thankful that our Church preserves the wealth of humanity FOR humanity. My family and I consider those Raphaels in the Vatican library as our own! God save us from people who want to rob her and give a solid $.0021 to every poor person in the world. They’re very generous with “other peoples'” treasure!

  • R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

    When a rookie comes to bat for the first time, in the world series, then hits three consecutive bases loaded home runs, everybody closes their eyes and says to themselves,”Yeah. He is just a rookie, but wow!”

    Pope Francis I. Wow! I suspect the devil agrees.

  • Dianne McCarthy

    While Archbishop, he remained “diplomatically silent” to the junta’s human rights abuses but felt fine getting involved in the country’s politics under a liberal president.. Silence=Complicity.. [You may find a version of the story at AlterNet.]

    EDITOR’s Note: Please note that TCT never publishes links in comments. As our policy states, we haven’t time to check them out.

  • Mike

    He wasn’t silent, he just wasn’t public. Not sure if you’ve ever seen the result of a man with a huge flock under his responsibility publicly shouting at and denoucning terrorists, but I hope no one is imprudent enough to find out what happens to the flock. Pius XII was accused of the same thing, but was recognized by the Jewish community in Rome right after the war of taking great personal risk to save the Jews. Simple equations like “silence=complicity” are too simple/naaive to always be true. “..but he opened not his mouth”.

  • Alecto

    A well-balanced, equanimous analysis of the first days of this papacy. I am not hopeful given he’s a Jesuit and being who they are, well, I’ll stop there. I am concerned that the pope is focusing on “the poor”. It reeks of class warfare, socialist redistribution, and a denial of the great opportunity to evangelize among the lost souls I see everyday, day in and day out with nothing but money. If the Catholic church is becoming only a platform for material comfort in this life, it truly has lost its way. I am a member of a Catholic faith that preaches the salvific message of Jesus Christ. Anyone who believes in him shall have eternal life. That is the message for the entire world and all people, at all times, in all places.

  • Ann

    My theory is: Christ chose him and I’m glad. He reminds me of Him. That’s enough for me.

  • steven john cano from lubbock texas

    we have all heard the same cliche that nobody on this earth is perfect and to never trust anyone who says they are, and i’m sure alot of believers have strayed due to the drastic Papacy change,however i have considered Pope Francis to be my one true spiritual love that will handle the business of the new world and bring in the new era for the church and one day kiss me on my forehead to usher in my new world future. I am a local rap/hip-hop Music artist and i am my producer 100% and i am my own promoter and i have seen firsthand how strong the impact on the industry the Papacy has. i choose to see him for what he is and i know that by doing that, i too shall inherit great things and i too shall keep with me in my heart Papa francis’s passion and spirit. He shows me that even I could be right where he sits because i too am able to achieve whatever my mind can conceive.It’s the same manner as “greater is He That is in me,then that who is of this world”. Papa Francis Is my higher self so far away ,yet so close . I wrote my latest song for the Pope to hear and know that i am with him as much as he is bonded to me. i used to be islamic back in 1998 to 1999, but i diverted to christianity(western) after i had tried my faith in buddhism. i searched far and wide with my soul but found brickwalls and broken beliefs. Papa, i now know what i must do and what i will do, follow alongside you with the Light. please hear my song and show everyone that has a thirst for wisdom understand and reckon my calling. share with the New World that we exist in. Papa i ask for your humble blessings that my talent be made Viral . i wil stay devoted through all the perils and tests and trials and torments to remain with you. DJ Raw a.k.a. steven cano anyone can add me as a friend on fb and ill send you the song “This one’s for the Pope,this one’s for the Papacy” via FB attachment

  • alex lim

    The pope is doing the right thing. The reason the world is plunging into the snares of Satan is because one a few, or even none, of Catholics have any idea about the nature and the works of the devil and can’t discern the deceptions. But when you can picture clearly what the devil wants, how he enter our lives, and what we can do to stop him, then there is just as much chance to bring us closer to God as knowing God’s works. As they say, know your enemy.