Pope Francis, in what is being called a marked departure from his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure, has told journalists that he does not judge gay people or gay priests. How much of a departure is this really?
In what are being called conciliatory remarks on the subject of gay priests, the pontiff told reporters during a lengthy interview on a return flight back from his week-long visit to Brazil that:
“The problem is not having this orientation, it is lobbying. That’s the most serious problem I think.
“If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
Pope Francis has previously referred to a secret gay lobby among priests at the Vatican that has worked to affect policy.
One must assume this lobby has been rather ineffectual at least in terms of fostering gay acceptance because, until this juncture, the official stance from Rome has been that while an inclination toward people of the same sex is not of itself sinful, acting upon it is.
The Pope’s words appear to soften that approach further, by implying a recognition of being gay as a sexual orientation — a marked but not new affirmation — and furthermore, that there is no reason to judge them or marginalize them from society solely based on their orientation.
Elena Curti, Deputy Editor of Catholic newspaper The Tablet, told Sky News that these comments are highly significant:
The manner in which he has done it is what’s absolutely key. I mean the church has always taught that homosexuality per se, the inclination, is not sinful. It is homosexual acts that are the problem. But in saying that ‘I have got no problem with homosexual inclination’ in the manner that he did does send out a very clear signal that he has no problem with gay priests.
Those familiar with the Catholic Church’s response to homosexuality under Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis’ predecessor, will recall his regular and preposterously overblown statements that implied homosexuality is a threat to the world that is as significant as climate change and that gay people aren’t “fully developed humans.”
Benedict XVI also specifically recorded his view that people with a “homosexual inclination” should not be priests.
When Pope Francis was appointed, it was widely touted he would be a Pope that would take a less hard-line stance on many issues and so it appears he has offered a more accepting stance on gay priests: that is men who agree to live their lives in celibacy to serve the church and their idea of the holy.
It is important to note that Pope Francis did not, however, walk back on the church’s wider stance that acting on homosexual feelings is sinful, which in turn means that the Church still regards same-sex marriage as unacceptable.
In that same interview, the Pope said that as to the question of the ordination of women priests, “the Church has spoken” and that the “door is closed” to women taking their place as religious leaders. Francis did say, however, that he would like to see room made for women to contribute more widely to the Church.
“We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more.
“But with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says no… That door is closed.”
So, despite reports that would seem to suggest the contrary, the Pope’s words really add up to little more than we already knew: that under Pope Francis, the Church will welcome homosexual priests who swear themselves to celibacy and dedicate their lives to their religion and that the Church will not give ground on the issue of women priests.
This is, in fact, not new information and nor is it any real climb down, yet the media news machine seems intent on painting this as just another way the Catholic Church is reforming under Pope Francis.
The most we can say here is that the Vatican will, as it has done in the past, continue to rage against same-sex parent families, though from now on maybe it will do so with a more friendly tone and even a smile.
Image credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales)