Think the Pope said something great about gays? Think again.

July 29, 2013 in Misc,Theology · 5 comments

Pope Francis

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that in an interview Pope Francis said: “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? … You can’t marginalize these people.”

This story has spread across the internet as if the Pope has said something ground-breaking about the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, as if they’ve made a 180-degree about-face and are now open and accepting of gays. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about homosexuality:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Did you read that? The Pope asks the seemingly-innocent question “Who am I to judge?” knowing full well precisely where the Catholic Church stands on homosexuality. He’s trying to delicately negotiate the “problem” of gay priests and a “gay lobby” within the Vatican, not open new doors towards acceptance of homosexuals.

Let’s be clear: if you’re gay, the Roman Catholic Church thinks that you’re “disordered,” that you’re acting “contrary to natural law,” that you are “called to chastity” and that “under no circumstances” can homosexual activity be approved.

The Pope’s statement is at best naively misleading, and at worst, alarmingly deceptive. This kind of rhetoric doesn’t move us forward, instead it obfuscates the real issues, weighing us down with half-truths and misdirections.

Who are you to judge, Pope Francis? You’re the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, the person with “supreme and universal primacy, both of honour and of jurisdiction, over the Church of Christ.” That’s who you are, and you know that. Like to ask questions? Here’s one for you: how about some real change regarding the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality?

5 comments… read them below or add one

Ford1968 July 30, 2013 at 4:57 am

Ok. A lot to bite off here. You’re in my wheelhouse with this one.

Yes, I profoundly disagree with Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Emotionally coerced celibacy is incredibly harmful – their LGBT support group Courage is primarily concerned with mitigating the harmful side effects like substance abuse.

Yes, the language of the chatechism is hurtful. What they use ostensibly as objective, clinical terms (e.g., “grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”) are actually judgments of my very person that cut to the core.

BUT, there is reason to acknowledge a pretty significant shift in tone.

The Pope has NEVER used the word gay before. Prior Popes have talked about “same sex attraction” and “homosexual desires” reducing this essential piece of gay people to a lustful urge (as did the Papal theologian in recent remarks). Francis is signaling that he sees people who are gay as people – not as depraved perverts.

Also, on the issue to which he was speaking – gay priests – there was a significant change in position. If you remember, Benedict barred gay men from seminary in response to the child rape crisis. He conflated homosexuality with pedophilia (which is not in the chatechism). Francis makes a clear distinction between people who are gay and criminals.

Change in official church teaching happens at a glacial pace. I have no expectation that Francis will reverse or revise the church’s harmful position or hurtful words. I agree that’s a problem. It’s impossible for “treat with dignity” to live alongside “grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”.

But I am hopeful that Francis can break the church’s zealous obsession with gay marriage and take some heat off the state battles soon to come. I’m also hopeful that he can focus more on the “treat with dignity” teaching rather than the “grave depravity” piece, thereby greasing the skids for Catholic LGBT groups like Rainbow Sash.

Ultimately, I’m hoping that the Catholic Church will soon become a little safer for the gay kid in the front pew.



Dan July 30, 2013 at 7:53 am

Hope is good — but you understand why I’m more than a little bit cynical when it comes to homosexuality and the Catholic church? Perhaps his statement does signal a subtle shift in tone. Perhaps not. It bothers me that he phrased it as a question. Maybe that was just an innocent way of framing the issue. Maybe not. Just as with his comments about salvation for atheists, it seems that many people are overly eager to jump to conclusions far beyond what he really said. Maybe hope is to found not so much in the specifics of his words, but in the seemingly overwhelming desire among many Christians — including Catholics — to see some true change in the Catholic Church.


Ford1968 July 30, 2013 at 8:38 am

Yes. I totally agree…the popular perception is that he is changing harmful church teaching – which he’s not (as my BFF Timothy Dolan was sure to loudly clarify this morning). And I also agree that asking “who am I to judge?” is ingenuous (because he is the Pope after all); it is also a judgement in and of itself (otherwise the rhetorical question would be unnecessary).

I’m happy to accept the incremental change when it happens. I’m not happy that people who are gay are still just receiving scraps from the Catholic communion table. – This is Timothy Dolan on CBS. It is particularly galling that he acts as if the Catholic church is now, and has always been, blameless in the maltreatment of people who are gay.


StevenX July 30, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Sounds like he’s just trying to justify why he’s not turning over pedophile priests to the authorities like he is required to by law. For someone who won’t judge, he’s sure got a God complex.


Pam July 14, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Please watch the documentary the third way for a full grasp of the catholic church’s opinion.


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