Recently Pope Francis made some impromptu remarks about weapons manufacturers at a meeting with young people in Turin.

These were poorly misreported in the press and have resulted in a number of questions being asked.

First we will take a look at what he said and then look at some of the questions that have been asked.

Here are 12 things to know and share . . .


1) Where can I read the pope’s remarks in their entirety?

The Italian original is here.

At present, there is no official English translation, but Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, O.S.B. of Prince of Peace Abbey kindly provided me with an unofficial one of the part of his remarks dealing with weapons manufacturers.

You can read it here.


2) What did Pope Francis say?

In the relevant section of his remarks, Pope Francis begins by interacting with previous remarks made by a young woman named Sara.

He appears to be quoting or paraphrasing things Sara said, as indicated by quotation marks in the Italian original.

Here is the beginning of the remarks, with the apparent quotations from Sara in red:

And thank-you, Sara, a lover of theater.  Thank-you. 

“I think of the words of Jesus:  to give one’s life.” 

We just spoke of this. 

“We often feel a sense of distrust in life.” 

Yes, because there are situations that make us think: 

“But, is it worth the trouble to live life this way?  What can I expect to get from this life?” 

At this point, Pope Francis begins to reflect on the subject of wars.


3) What does he say about wars?

Initially, he says:

We think, in this world, about wars. 

At times I have said that we are living through the third world war, but by pieces.  Pieces:  in Europe there’s war, in Africa there’s war, in the Middle East there’s war, in other countries there’s war. 

But can I put my trust in a life like that?  Can I trust world leaders?  I, when I go to vote for a candidate, can I trust that he won’t take my country to war? 

If you trust only in men, you are lost! 

At this point, Pope Francis makes his remarks concerning weapons manufacturing.


4) What does he say about weapons manufacturing?

In this section, Pope Francis interacts with an imaginary interlocutor who has investments in munitions, as indicated by quotation marks in the Italian original. He says:

This makes me think of something:  people, leaders, businessmen who say they are Christians, and they manufacture weapons!  This brings up some distrust:  they say they are Christians! 

“No, no, Father, I don’t manufacture, no, no....  I only have my savings, my investments in the weapons factories.” 

Ah!  And why? 

“Because the interest rates are a little higher....” 

And even being two-faced is hard cash, today:  to say one thing and to make of it something else.  Hypocrisy.... 

Having introduced the theme of hypocrisy in connection with war, Pope Francis then looks at three historical incidents in which political powers failed to intervene in the face of aggression taking place in the world.


5) What are the three incidents?

The first example is that of the Armenian genocide. He says:

But let’s take a look at what happened in the last century:  in 1914, 1915, in 1915 exactly.  There was that great tragedy of Armenia.  So many died.  I don’t know the number:  more than a million certainly. 

But where were the great powers of the day?  They were watching from elsewhere. 

Why?  Because they were interested in the war:  their war! 

And those who die, they’re second-class persons, human beings. 

The second example is that of the German Holocaust during World War II:

Then, in the thirties and forties, the tragedy of the Shoah [Holocaust]. 

The great powers had the photographs of the railway lines that bore the trains to the concentrations camps, like Auschwitz, to kill Jews, and also Christians, also Gypsies, also homosexuals, to kill them in that place. 

But tell me, why didn’t they bomb it?  Interest! 

The third example is that of Stalinist Russia:

And a little later, almost at the same time, there were the prison camps in Russia:  Stalin....  How many Christians suffered, were killed! 

The great powers divided Europe among themselves like a pie.  So many years had to pass before arriving at a kind of “freedom.” 

Pope Francis then makes a concluding remark on hypocrisy and weapons manufacturing.


6) What is his concluding remark?

He says:

There is that hypocrisy of speaking of peace and manufacturing weapons, and then even of selling the weapons to this one who’s at war with that one, and to that one who’s at war with this one!

After this, Pope Francis goes on to discuss matters other than war and weapons manufacturing.


7) How would you summarize Pope Francis’s remarks thus far?

The general sense of the pope’s remarks seems to be as follows:

In response to a young woman’s question about what we can expect from life, Pope Francis indicates that there are problems in the world and that we cannot simply put our trust in political leaders. They will let us down.

They may take our countries into war, even when they have said they will not. In fact, there are many wars taking place in the world today.

They may also look the other way in conflicts, for reasons of their own self-interest. This is shown by multiple examples from recent history where world powers self-interestedly looked the other way and failed to take action to stop immense oppression and murder.

Politicians may speak of peace, but they are often hypocritical in these ways. The same hypocrisy can manifest among people who—for reasons of financial gain—invest in weapons manufacturing without any concern about how those weapons will be used, as when they invest in arms makers who sell weapons to both sides in a conflict.


8) Did Pope Francis say that Christians can’t own a gun, such as for personal defense or for hunting?

He said nothing like this. Not even close.

His remarks are connected with war and the arms trade.


9) Did Pope Francis say that the use or manufacture of weapons is always wrong?

No, he didn’t say this, either.

In fact, he implied otherwise when he indicated that the Allies should have bombed the train lines to the Nazi concentration camps where the Holocaust was carried out.

Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the just war doctrine, according to which warfare is legitimate in some circumstances.

As to weapons manufacturing, if weapons have legitimate uses, they have to come from somewhere.

If Pope Francis wanted the Allies to bomb Nazi-controlled train lines, he certainly expected them to get the bombs from somewhere, and in a world where people are willing to commit atrocities like the three he named, he would recognize the need the arms needed to resist such aggression.


10) Why didn’t Pope Francis say all that?

Presumably, for several reasons:

a) He was speaking impromptu.

b) The legitimate use of force could be inferred from his comments, as above.

c) He would expect his remarks to be understood in light of the established teaching of the Church. As he himself has said, “I am a son of the Church.”

d) Pope Francis has, on prior occasions, been open to use of force to stop “unjust aggression”, though he has cautioned against this becoming an excuse for unnecessary destruction or conquest.

e) He expects his remarks to be taken with what Benedict XVI referred to as “that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding:” (Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, “Foreword”).

There is no credible reading of Pope Francis’s remarks that would make them an absolute prohibition on the use or manufacture of weapons.


11) What was he criticizing, then, in reference to people investing in munitions?

The hypocritical attitude of pretending to be for peace but by one’s actions displaying an indifference to the illegitimate use of weapons and warfare.

This is what unites both politicians who turn a blind eye to aggression and people who distance themselves from the manufacture of weapons (“No, no, Father, I don’t manufacture”) even though they invest in this for personal profit (“Because the interest rates are a little higher”) without concern for the moral dimension of arms sales, such as when a manufacturer amorally sells to both sides of a conflict (“then even of selling the weapons to this one who’s at war with that one, and to that one who’s at war with this one”).

This in no way means that the design and manufacture of arms cannot be legitimate—as it would be in the case of supplying the Allies bombs to use against Nazi-controlled rail lines or to oppose other forms of unjust aggression.


12) Did Pope Francis say that people act hypocritically in this way aren’t Christians?

No. Pope Francis knows that a baptized person who professes the Christian faith is a Christian, even if he behaves immorally.

The pope did not say that such people aren’t Christians. He remarked ironically, “They say they are Christians!”

This is a way of indicating a course of conduct that is inconsistent with Christian faith or morals. It doesn’t mean that a person isn’t a Christian, but that he is acting in a way that he shouldn’t act as a Christian.

One could make the same ironic remark about any Christian who is doing things he shouldn’t.


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