Pope Francis on Homosexuality

"Who am I to judge?" That is probably the most quoted line of the year. It came in July of 2013 from Pope Francis in a lengthy interview with a number of reporters on a plane flight back to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil. The statement was in reference to homosexuals. Ever since then the phrase has been quoted by millions around the world, and the effect it has had on Catholics and other Christians has been staggering. Some have been elated, assuming this signals a new attitude toward homosexuals in the Catholic Church. Others have been disappointed with the assumption that the pope has forgotten Church teaching against the sin of homosexuality. So what's going on here?

The mainstream news press has been no help, often reporting the pope's words in 5 second snippets generally lacking context. Editorials and blogs have been even worse, reinterpreting the pope's words to fit their own agenda. Then we have the Traditional Catholic outlets, which use the stories generated by these media sources to speculate that the pope has somehow forgotten how to be Catholic. Finally, there are the Protestant Fundamentalist outlets, which use these same media sources to theorise that the pope is the Antichrist, or the "False Prophet," or at least party to some diabolical plan to deceive the world and overthrow the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So putting all the hype aside, let's try to look at this whole thing objectively.  To better understand, we probably ought to take a closer look at what the pope actually said, and then compare this to the official and historic teachings of the Catholic Church.  To begin, let's look at the "who am I to judge" comment. The context of the quote comes from a question asked by a journalist. The journalist asked a question about Vatican official Monsignor Ricca, who was accused of engaging in a homosexual affair:
I would like to know, Holiness, what do you intend to do about this question. How to address this question and how Your Holiness intends to address the whole question of the gay lobby. 
Pope Francis:
In regard to Monsignor Ricca, I've done what Canon Law orders to do, which is the investigatio previa. And from this investigatio there is nothing of which they accuse him, we haven’t found anything of that. This is the answer. But I would like to add something else on this: I see that so many times in the Church, outside of this case and also in this case, they go to look for the "sins of youth," for instance, and this is published. Not the crimes, alas. Crimes are something else: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, the sins. But if a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of Saint Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought. But, returning to your more concrete question: in this case, I've done the investigatio previa and we found nothing. This is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with “gay.” They say that they exist. I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. That’s bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: "these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society." The problem isn't having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency: lobby of the avaricious, lobby of politicians, lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This, for me, is the more serious problem. And I thank you.

read full text of interview here
Now when you read the full quote in context it really changes things.  The pope is making a clear distinction between a homosexual (gay person) and a homosexualist (gay lobbyist).  A homosexual is simply a person (male or female) who struggles with temptations to commit homosexual acts. To these persons the pope extends his full sympathy and support, knowing full well we do not choose our temptations in life. Nothing in this quote can be construed to mean the pope is sanctioning homosexuality itself or "gay relationships" either.  He is simply saying that he refuses to judge people who struggle with this temptation.  Is this something new?  Hardly.  For the Catechism of the Catholic Church has always taught this...
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 fulfil 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.
SOURCE - Catechism of the Catholic Church 
So the pope is simply following the Catechism. As the Catechism instructs us, we are not to judge them for their temptations in life. We are not to judge them for their past sins and failures. We are to avoid any unjust discrimination of them, which means they should have access to jobs, housing, healthcare and all public facilities. We should never treat them cruelly or make fun of them in a hateful way. Bullying of homosexual persons is forbidden, and they are to be treated with dignity. This isn't Pope Francis' teaching on homosexuality, this is the Catholic Catechism teaching on homosexuality. Pope Francis is simply practising it.

You see, the Catechism also teaches that homosexuality is "gravely depraved" and "intrinsically disordered." This is a commentary on the condition, not necessarily the person. I would liken homosexuality to alcoholism in some respects. Persons who are prone to excessive drinking are not necessarily bad people. In fact, some can be quite wonderful people. Nobody would think of discriminating against them or bringing harm to them. Most people would seek to bring help to alcoholics, in the form of rehabilitation. Nobody who loves an alcoholic hands him a beer or a glass of wine. For to love an alcoholic is to care about that person's well being enough to not offer him a drink. In many ways, the Catechism teaches that homosexuality is like this. We are to love persons who struggle with homosexual temptations. We are to treat them like we would anyone else, except we are to love them enough to not offer them opportunities to sin, nor condone sin when it happens. When they do sin, we still love them, we just don't condone the activity. That is all. There is nothing in Pope Francis' words that contradicts any of this. In fact, if you read his comments slowly and carefully, you will see he is actually saying exactly what the Catechism says.

Now all that being said, there is a difference between homosexuals and homosexualists. The homosexual is simply a person who struggles with homosexual temptations. The homosexualists is a person who believes the temptation is "normal" and wants others to believe it's "normal" too. Quite often, homosexualists want to force this agenda on others; from individuals, to businesses, to churches, to governments. They demand that homosexuality be accepted as "normal" and that it be blessed and approved by society. They use media propaganda and pressure tactics to strong arm people into agreeing that homosexuality is "normal" and persecute anyone who refuses to comply. The journalist referred to this as a "gay lobby" and there are rumours that there are homosexualists within the Vatican that are trying to change the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality. They want the Church to drop its teaching that homosexuality is "depraved" and "intrinsically disordered." They want the Church to start teaching that homosexuality is "okay" and that priests can be openly "gay." They want the Church to start blessing same-sex marriages and tell children that it's okay to be "gay." In other words, they want the Catholic Church to start acting like The Episcopal Church in the United States.

To be clear, based on his comments above, Pope Francis follows the Catechism by refusing to judge homosexuals.  At the same time he referred to the "gay lobby" (homosexualists) as "bad" and in fact he specifically said: "The problem is the lobbying of this [homosexual] tendency: lobby of the avaricious, lobby of politicians, lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This, for me, is the more serious problem."  Am I putting words into the pope's mouth here? No. You have the full context above, go read it for yourself again and see. The pope refuses to judge homosexual persons, and offers sympathy to anyone who struggles with homosexual temptations. At the same time however, the pope opposes homosexualists and anyone who lobbies for the acceptance of sin. Surprise! The pope is Catholic after all.

Now there are many who like to throw around the "who am I to judge" comment as if the pope is somehow condoning homosexual relationships. Indeed, the mainstream news press has not been helpful, because of their tendency to summarise the pope's comments in short headlines and 5-second sound bites. Then we have the Internet and editorial magazines which have clouded the pope's message even further. Human beings being what they are, tend to hear what they want to hear, rather than what was actually said.

With that let's move on to the next quote by Pope Francis regarding same-sex "marriage." In an interview with the Auxiliary Bishop of Malta, Charles J. Scicluna, an Italian newspaper reported his recent interaction with Pope Francis over legislation in Malta proposing "marriage" and adoption rights to same-sex couples. The bishop reported that Pope Francis was "saddened" by these developments and referred to same-sex "marriage" as an "anthropological regression." Neither the pope nor the Vatican has denied this claim. In fact, the pope used this same phrase while he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires in Argentina, calling same-sex "marriage" an "anti-value and an anthropological regression." Furthermore, in a conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka published in the book "On Heaven and Earth," Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) said that same-sex "marriage" is a weakening of the institution of marriage. Every single quote from Bergoglio (Francis) indicates that he is opposed to same-sex "marriage." Still, that doesn't seem to stop people from hearing what they want to hear and coming to a different conclusion in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, there is this recent quote concerning the pope and legal civil unions...
Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point? 
Pope Francis:
Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. It is about pacts of cohabitating of various natures, of which I wouldn't know how to list the different ways. One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety. 
read full text of interview here 
From this the Internet has gone ablaze with speculation that Pope Francis is softening the Church's stand against homosexuality and is about to condone same-sex civil unions.  Okay, now just looking at what the pope said, nothing else, let's examine this. The pope specifically said "cohabitating of various natures" which could include literally anything. For example; it might include a man and a woman who live as a married couple but do not want to have a religious wedding. It might also include an adult brother and sister (or two brothers or two sisters) who live together raising the children of one whose spouse has either died or abandoned the home. It might include a son or daughter who is giving care to his elderly mother or father. There are so many possibilities. In all of these situations it is foreseeable that a legal civil union might be required to insure healthcare benefits and property inheritance for the parties involved. This is likely what the pope is talking about here.

Now in saying this, it is reasonable to assume that the pope is aware that some homosexual couples will seek these legal arrangements to simulate a mock "marriage." Indeed, there would be no way to stop them from doing this. He knows this, and even though he vigorously opposed same-sex "marriages" in Argentina while he was Cardinal of Buenos Aires, some news reports have indicated that he proposed civil unions as an alternative. What he appears to be saying here is that while the Church can NEVER condone homosexual relationships of any type, that does not mean the Church needs to oppose the institution of legal civil unions in and of themselves. In other words, it may be possible (depending upon further examination) that the Church can hold a neutral stand on legal civil unions, so that they may be used for various reasons that have nothing to do with homosexuality. Yet at the same time, the Church can morally oppose the abuse of such civil unions for the purpose of promoting homosexual relationships as a type of mock "marriage." Such an opposition would be impossible to enforce by law of course, but the Church could still hold this position without spoiling the prospect of a civil union for those who want to use it for other legitimate means.

Have I twisted the pope's words here? Have I quoted him out of context? Have I somehow put words into his mouth and made him to say something he hasn't? I don't think so. It would seem that many others have done this, and continue to do this, day after day. However, I defy anyone to prove me wrong using the pope's own words cited in context, as I have done above.

Pope Francis has certainly proved to be a different kind of pope, much different than anything we are used to in modern times.  I don't know if there has ever been a pope like him, but if I were to speculate, I would say this the first pope, Peter, probably had a similar style, as well as subsequent popes for the first hundred years or so of Church history.  That's just a guess of course, but I think I have some logical ground to stand on here.  During that time of history the office of the papacy was less institutionalised, and that probably afforded its occupants the opportunity to "be themselves" a little more.  Francis has determined that he will "be himself" regardless of the institutionalisation of the office, and has taken measures to make sure that he himself never becomes a fixture of institution.  We can debate on the appropriateness of this all we want, but for now it just is what it is. Francis' "off the cuff" style has caused a lot of speculation in the media and Internet, but when we really examine what he actually said, we find it falls significantly short of what many people speculate. There are those who say Francis certainly requires a lot of "clarification" in his remarks, but really, his remarks are usually quite plain. What often requires clarification is the direction people often go with his remarks. As I said above, people are people, and quite often that means they hear what they want to hear, rather than what was actually said.


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Pair O' Dimes said…
That's interesting--I didn't know that about civil unions. I suppose the real problem, though, is that such might be necessary in order to receive those kinds of benefits--then again, I don't know enough about the situation and its problems to offer any kind of real solution myself.

Thank you very much for this blog entry! God bless you!

One thing: "That's just a guess of course, but I think I have some logical ground to stand on here. During that time of history the office of the papacy was lest institutionalised, and that probably afforded its occupants the opportunity to be themselves a little more."

I presume you meant "least" institutionalized. That's an interesting way to interpret Pope Francis as well, especially as it recognizes that--while the Church is institutionalized now--She no longer has most of the temporal power She once enjoyed.
Howard said…
"What he appears to be saying here is that while the Church can NEVER condone homosexual relationships of any type, that does not mean the Church needs to oppose the institution of legal civil unions in and of themselves."

What is a "civil union" -- homosexual or heterosexual -- exccept legally recognized concubinage? "The meaning of the term in Roman law, and consequently in early ecclesiastical records and writings, was much the same; a concubine was a quasi-wife, recognized by law if there was no legal wife." The Church *HAS* taken a position in opposition to concubinage, and any discussion of "civil unions" must take that position into account.
RoccoVicente said…
God loves us all and there is nothing we can do about it!
Trea Regan said…
I'm gay and in a partnership . It not a church wedding I want but a civil marriage ... The church should be able decide if they blessing gays but why dismiss the church's founding history. .. many gays are Christian too. But I'm saddened by people judging gays as worse sinners when in bible they the lesser sinners and some blessed gays in bible but people either fear or dismiss what they not familiar with