Pope Francis Talks About Satan More Than The Catholic Church Has In Decades, Which Is Unexpected

Sure, Pope Francis has been making headlines ever since he took over in March 2013. But in one way, he's less liberal than you thought: As the Washington Post points out, Pope Francis has some old-school views on Satan. So very old school, in fact, that the kind of comments made by the "liberal pope" haven't been mentioned by leaders of the Catholic Church in decades. Within his first month in office, Francis was already warning Catholics about "the enemy" and his joy of watching those who lose faith.

During his homily for his first papal mass, Frances quoted writer Léon Bloy: “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” The next day, Frances again brought up the devil in an address to the College of Cardinals... and then again not long after, in his Palm Sunday homily.

It comes from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! This is the moment when the enemy comes, when the devil, often times dressed as an angel, comes and insidiously tells us his word. Don't listen to him! Follow Jesus!

Now, the devil has always been a powerful, long-standing figure in Catholicism. For centuries, the Catholic Church has preached that the devil is real, not a mythological creature or a personified stand-in for the world's evils. For instance, in 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council stated that "the devil and the other evil spirits were created good in nature, but they became evil by their own actions." Baptized Catholics also routinely reject Satan and his works during Mass, and there are numerous Catholic prayers used for protection from his evil.

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However, popes, as well as priests and bishops, have begun shifting their views on the devil in the 20th century. The beloved Pope John Paul II, for example, took the devil very seriously, but often spoke about him in a more abstract way. In a 1987 speech, he said:

This battle against the devil which characterizes the Archangel Michael is still going on, because the devil is still alive and at work in world. In fact, the evil that is in it, the disorder we see in society, the infidelity of man, the interior fragmentation of which he is a victim, are not merely the consequences of original sin, but also the effect of the dark and infesting activity of Satan, of this saboteur of man’s moral equilibrium.

But Francis seems to be taking the devil in a more literal sense — a view that has been consistent since the beginning of his papacy. It might all sound pretty innocent — and well within the realm of Catholicism — but Francis’ preoccupation has been confusing some Catholic thinkers, particularly in the Western world. “He is opening the door to superstition,” Vito Mancuso, a Catholic theologian and writer, told The Washington Post.

While most Catholic wouldn't deny the existence of Satan in some form, Francis' positioning of the devil as literal rather than metaphorical may cause some to worry because it strengthens his stance on exorcism — an act that has been controversial among contemporary Catholics.

In October 2013, after referencing a gospel reading where Jesus healed a man possessed by a demon, Francis criticized those who attempt to explain the work of Jesus and write off "demons" as mental illness:

There are some priests who, when they read this Gospel passage, this and others, say: ‘But, Jesus healed a person with a mental illness. It is true that at that time, they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession; but it is also true that there was the devil! And we do not have the right to simplify the matter. No! The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devil.

It's not unexpected, then, that the Vatican is holding a course to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests on how to exorcize the devil out of their parishioners. But what is unexpected is that Francis, a pope who has shown that he's not afraid of modernity, would be clinging to views that even some of his bishops and cardinals believe are extreme.