Disclaiming a right to “judge” others is something that goes back to Jesus. It does not mean a failure to recognize the moral character of others’ actions, however. One can form a moral appraisal that what someone else is doing is wrong (Jesus obviously does not forbid that) without having or showing malice toward them.
The statement that they should not be marginalized is similarly in keeping with the Holy See’s approach to the subject, as 1992 Vatican document On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. The statement that same-sex attraction “is not the problem,” when understood correctly, is also nothing new. “The problem,” as Pope Francis seems to here be understanding it, is going beyond merely having a sinful tendency–a temptation to which one is subject. Obviously, temptations are a problem, but if we resist temptation we do not sin. “The problem,” on this understanding, is giving into the temptation and sinning or–worse–building an ideology around the sin and trying to advocate the sin.
But this was precisely what Benedict was trying to ratchet back, by arguing in 2005 that, whatever their conduct or faith, gay men should be barred from seminaries because homosexuality itself is objectively disordered and gays’ very being is inherently against the logic of God’s creation. Benedict’s pronouncements on gays were almost a definition of marginalization: “somehow distorted, off center, and … not within the direction of creation.” Isn’t that what the ancient world said of lepers and the Jewish world say of Samaritans? Benedict’s fastidious, obsessive-compulsive need to re-make all Creation in the image of his own hermetically-sealed and completely abstract theology ended up betraying the most important message of Jesus: that the last shall be first, that everyone is invited to God’s table, and that those you call “distorted” and “off-center” are actually at the very center of a loving God’s compassion.
And this interpretation is of a piece with what he said about divorced and re-married Catholics at the same presser:
“This theme always comes up … I believe this is a time of mercy, a change of epoch. It’s a kairos moment for mercy … In terms of Communion for those who have divorced and remarried, it has to be seen within the larger pastoral context of marriage. When the council of eight cardinals meets Oct. 1-3, one of the things they’ll consider is how to move forward with the pastoral care of marriage. Also, just 15 days ago or so, I met the secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and maybe it will also focus on the pastoral care of marriage. It’s complicated.”
I think it’s bizarre to ignore a Pope when he proclaims “a change of epoch,” when he calls our time a “kairos” moment for mercy. That means a turning point, a hinge of history. Why use that language if you are merely insisting on total continuity with the past? And the issue with re-married Catholics is exactly the same as for gays: the licitness of sexual congress outside one, life-long, monogamous, non-contracepted heterosexual marriage. Kevin Clarke agrees that Francis didn’t depart from traditional church teaching but sees a welcome shift regardless:
His citation of current catechism on the treatment of gay and lesbian people was not revolutionary in any sense; what startles may be the spectacle of a pope saying anything out loud on the matter and stressing the importance of church teaching on the human dignity of gay and lesbian people.
Francis was also asked why he did not spend much time speaking about abortion or gay marriage during his trip (church teaching is already clear, he said) and about the difficulties of divorced and remarried Catholics. “I believe this is a time of mercy, a change of epoch,” the pope said.
Likewise, Francis DeBernardo of the gay-friendly New Ways Ministries thinks this language is a sign that things will get better for gay Catholics: “Even if [Francis] doesn’t drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road.” One gay Catholic, Michael O’Loughlin, agrees:
In addition to mercy, Francis’ comments also provide hope, hope to those who live on the margins of the church. In a special way, those who live without—without money, without recognized dignity, without full embrace from institutions of power—are called to live prophetic lives. But sometimes being offered some hope from the powerful, in this case Pope Francis and the church, is needed in order to keep moving forward with the struggle. Francis’ comments, however offhand and however easily dismissed they will be by traditionalists, are worth celebrating.
Elizabeth Scalia also applauds Francis’s call to mercy and forgiveness – and tells us all to relax:
I understand some folks’ concerns that perhaps Francis is too heavy on the mercy and too light on the justice side of things — and certainly the cross itself teaches us that both must be held in balance. But this is still a pretty fresh papacy. The sense I’m getting is that Francis means to scrape some long-attached barnacles from the Barque of Peter, so we can see what the deeper hues of Justice and Mercy look like; he’s readying it to travel some rough, challenging waters…
I’ll tell the new hysterics the same thing I told the old hysterics: you’re gonna be surprised who makes it into heaven and who doesn’t, because it’s not going to line up with what you or I think is Catholicism-done-Correctly, so be sweet to everyone, mind your own soul, not theirs, and trust Jesus to sort it out.
Admitting that “I love the guy,” James Martin, a fellow Jesuit, praises Francis and claims he’s initiating real change in the Church:
Praising Francis does not mean denigrating John Paul or Benedict. Each pope brings unique gifts to the office. But Francis’s election as pope has definitely brought change to the church.
The essentials have not changed: each pope preaches the Gospel and proclaims the Risen Christ. But as we saw last week in Rio, Francis speaks in a different way: plainly, simply, with unadorned prose. Francis has a different style: more relaxed, less formal, more familiar. Francis’s appeal is different and, judging from the crowds, effective. The Pope does the same thing–preaches the Gospel and proclaims the Risen Christ–in a new way. Francis is a different person for a different time.
What Pope Francis did and said in Rio de Janeiro, how he did it and said it, and how the crowds reacted to what he did and said, show that things can change. And that God can change them. All this is an answer to despair. It is a reminder that nothing is impossible with God. So every time I see Francis, hear him speak or read one of his homilies I’m reminded of this great truth.
Martin emails the Dish to add:
The lesser-noticed change in the Pope’s revolutionary words during his in-flight interview was, at least according to the translation in the Italian-language “Vatican Insider,” the use of the word “gay,” which is traditionally not used by popes, bishops, or Vatican officials.
This is a sea change.
(Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)