Pope Francis had another banner year in 2015, from his historic climate encyclical Laudato si’ to his rock-star reception in the United States. And once again, a large part of his allure stemmed from his uncanny ability to turn a phrase. Be it off-the-cuff or in a formal address, Francis can encapsulate key Catholic teachings in accessible ways that appeal to Catholics, non-Catholics and even non-believers alike—although sometimes it’s apparent that people hear what they want to hear when Francis speaks.
Here are five of 2015’s most memorable quotes from the most quotable pope in modern papal history.
#5 “A faith that does not know how to grow roots into the lives of people stays barren. And instead of an oasis, it creates more deserts.”
Pope Francis’ remarks to the bishops at the closing of the second phase of the Synod on the Family came after days of contentious maneuvering over the issue of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacrament of communion. Francis chided the resistant conservative bishops (and their allies) for blocking what he and his allies clearly view as modest concessions to creating a more welcoming, compassionate church.
Noting the open politicking and backbiting that consumed the synod, he said the meeting “laid bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”
#4 “Families, we quarrel, and sometimes plates can fly. And children bring headaches—I won’t speak about mother-in-laws.”
While many found Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks about mother-in-laws and flying plates during his address to the World Meeting of Families charming, they also served as a reminder that the pontiff, like all of the Catholic hierarchy, is making decisions that affect Catholic families—from the use of birth control to the rules about divorce—without any actual day-to-day experience of family life. Unfortunately, the pope’s joke sounded like he gets most of his knowledge about flesh-and-blood families from watching old episodes of The Honeymooners.
#3 “In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”
The pope’s historic address to the U.S. Congress was filled with memorable quotes, from his reminder that most Americas hail from immigrant stock to his muscular critique of the death penalty and the military–industrial complex. But this quote stood out above all others as a not-so-subtle rebuff of the entire wall-building, immigrant-rejecting, benefit-cutting Republican worldview.
#2 “Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits—but no.”
Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff remark that good Catholics don’t have to breed like bunnies on his way home from the Philippines was widely hailed as another “stunner” from the pontiff. But the Catholic Church as taught since the 1950s that it’s acceptable, and in many cases desirable, for Catholics to limit their family size. The church’s prohibition is against artificial means of contraception, not family planning itself. The pope’s remarks not only highlighted the basic inanity of this position, but were especially unfortunate coming on his return from the Philippines, a country that has experienced untold suffering due to the efforts of the Catholic Church to suppress access to modern contraceptive methods.
#1 “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
Francis was appropriately unsparing in his denouement of climate-change deniers in Laudato si’, writing, “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.” And while his encyclical was a continuation of the Catholic Church’s long-standing environmental advocacy, when coupled with his unsparing criticism of unfettered capitalism and income inequality, it dealt the final blow to the cozy alliance between U.S. petro-capitalist interests (a.k.a. the Republican Party) and the Catholic hierarchy, and that alone would make it a pretty good year for Pope Francis.