(CNN)If you're a Christian who exploits people, leads a double life or manages a "dirty" business, perhaps it's better not to call yourself a believer, Pope Francis suggested in a homily on Thursday in Rome.
Pope suggests it's better to be an atheist than a bad Christian
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"So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others," Francis said during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, according to Vatican Radio. "How many times have we heard -- all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere -- 'But to be a Catholic like that, it's better to be an atheist.' It is that: scandal."
"But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another."
In the Catholic Church, causing scandal also a grave offense.
Examples of such sins abound, the Pope said, from money launderers to business owners who take beach vacations while stiffing their employees.
Francis' sermon, as is customary, was an extended riff on Thursday's Mass readings, which include a passage from the Gospel on Mark. In it, Jesus says it is better to be drowned than to cause others to sin.
Drawing on that passage, the Catholic Catechism says scandals include business leaders who encourage fraud, teachers who agitate students and manipulators who turn people away from moral values.
In other words, anyone who leads others to do wrong, directly or indirectly, is responsible for the evil he has encouraged, the church says. So when Francis compares hypocritical Christians to atheists, he's not being flip; he's trying to protect his flock.
In the United States, some Catholics have cited the church's teachings on scandal to argue that priests should not distribute Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights. Francis, a sharp critic of capitalist excesses, turned his scorn instead on greedy businesspeople.
While many of this Pope's pronouncements are often assumed to be novel interpretations of Christian doctrines, Francis was also touching on an ancient debate: If you believe but don't behave, can you get into heaven?
No, the Pope suggested, in characteristically blunt language.