How Big a Deal Were Pope Francis’ Comments on Gay Priests?

Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone has released a statement in response to the pope’s remarks.

Original post

Pope Francis this morning made what felt, at least, like a startling comment coming from the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. Responding to reports about a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican and to accusations that one of his aides had engaged in a gay tryst, Francis said, speaking in Italian, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

That was one translation. Here’s another, from the National Catholic Reporter:

“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

So …  just how big a deal is this? The New York Times is calling Francis’ statement “a breathtakingly conciliatory approach to a hot-button issue that has divided Catholics.”  And Andrew Sullivan is calling his words “revolutionary.” “The tendency to homosexuality is not the problem,”  Sullivan writes. “This is a direct rejection of the last pope and his predecessor.” Sullivan points to a letter written in 1986 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor. In this missive, Ratzinger wrote that the tendency is the problem:

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review, however, doesn’t think Francis’ words herald a major shift in the church.

It’s important to bear in mind that the pope today seemed (we’ve been reading partial transcripts in news stories) to be talking about men who are priests, not seminary candidates. Fundamentally, he was talking about mercy. It wasn’t a break with Benedict or a policy change but an elucidation of church teaching (which popes don’t make up on airplane rides).

(Andrew Sullivan has a roundup of more reaction here.)

KQED’s Charla Bear today talked to Mike Poma, parish manager of Most Holy Redeemer, a gay-friendly Catholic church in the Castro in San Francisco, for a reaction to the pope’s comments. He noted one thing, in particular …

“Usually, whenever you hear statements from the pope or the Vatican, they speak about ‘the homosexuals.’ They’ve never referred to homosexuals as gay. It may be something small to a lot of people, but I think in the gay community it’s really going to stand out, that he’s referring to the gay community on their terms.”

Poma thought the pope today was speaking “a message of change.”

“He’s reaching out to everybody,” he said. “This is a change from Benedict and John and the others.  This is a pope who’s really going to make some changes. He’s trying to unite everybody.”

Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, hailed the pope’s “significant change in tone,” but said that the church was still sending a “deeply harmful message” to gays because they “are told in churches big and small that their lives and their families are disordered and sinful because of how they were born — how God made them ….”

The Archdiocese of San Francisco also released a statement this afternoon.

San Francisco Archbishop’s Statement to Pope’s Remarks

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has taken a lot of criticism for his vocal stance against same-sex marriage and for his leading role in the Prop. 8 campaign in 2008. Poma, of Most Holy Redeemer, defended Cordileone while saying he didn’t think Catholic teaching on gay marriage was going to change much, despite the pope’s comments today.

“The archbishop is just going along with Catholic teaching. He’s doing what he feels is right. And the pope would say the same thing about gay marriage. It’s a man and a woman; that’s Catholic doctrine, that’s not going to change.”

 

 

Related

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor