Pope Francis — one of the most progressive leaders the Catholic Church has ever seen — has said sex and food are “simply divine” pleasures that arrive “directly from God,” in an interview with writer Carlo Petrini for his book TerraFutura. He condemned the church’s past views on simple pleasures such as food and sex, calling it “overzealous morality” that has “caused enormous harm, which can still be felt strongly today.”
Francis, who has significantly digressed from the church’s views on what constitutes a sin, added, “the pleasure of eating is there to keep you healthy by eating, just like sexual pleasure is there to make love more beautiful and guarantee the perpetuation of the species.” His focus on sex for pleasure is especially noteworthy, as it differs from the Vatican’s staunch insistence on sex as merely a vehicle for procreation that has long-resulted in an institutional condemnation of birth control and abortion
Pope Francis’s approach to sex has slowly evolved over the years — in 2016, he acknowledged the joy of sex and how married couples might need to work at cultivating that joy throughout the course of their marriage; in 2018, he told young French people that sex was the sign of lifelong, passionate love between a man and a woman. Also in 2018, Francis said homosexual tendencies “are not a sin” while reportedly reassuring a gay man that God made him, and God loved him. This, combined with his latest comment equating sex and pleasure, shows how openness toward sex as a pleasurable, recreational activity can open doors for people to normalize not only a healthy sex life but also their own sexuality.
I don’t think it’s unusual for a pope to say what he specifically said, though,” said writer and Catholic critic Peter Williams. “In calling the enjoyment of food and sex ‘divine’, the Holy Father is rightly pointing out that pleasure comes from God.” Williams told Newsweek that the Bishop of Rome was describing “the church’s acceptance of ‘human, simple, moral pleasure,’ like good cuisine and fulsome sexual love in marriage.”
Francis, who's 83 years-old and was born in Argentina, likened his connection of pleasure to divinity to a 1987 Danish Film, "Babette's Feast," which is about a poor village in the Danish countryside brought together in faith and community by an extravagant French meal cooked by a member of the congregation.
These opinions, combined with his view on sex and pleasure, signal a shift from the compulsion of procreation that allows room for people’s human desires and more kindness toward their decisions, more than the papacy has extended to people in the past. This, however, in no way overpowers the need for them to do more, in terms of accepting gay unions, removing abortion from the list of sins, and wholeheartedly accepting what society considers deviant ways of having sex and seeking pleasure.
Indeed, Pope Francis has said there are much bigger issues to pray over, namely climate change, deforestation and unsustainable consumption.