Francis’ Sunlight

What follows are Andrew’s various thoughts in response to Pope Francis’ recent comments regarding homosexuality. To skip to latest post in the thread (published Aug 12), click here.

Jul 29, 2013 @ 11:40am

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How can I describe my response to the following simple words:

“There’s a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I’ve never seen it on the Vatican ID card … 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 goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

Let’s parse this as conservatively as we can. What does it mean to be part of a “gay lobby”? In the context of the curia, I think it means that a group of cardinals or Vatican officials saw their sexual orientation as what defined them as a group, and operated as a faction within the Church’s center. I find that as repellent as any other kind of lobby that places a particular human characteristic ahead of the only quality necessary for a church official: dedication to God, God’s people, and the Church. But even then, Francis is making light of the hysteria: “I’ve never seen it on the Vatican ID card.” Not since John XXIII has a Pope deployed humor quite as easily and effectively as this one.

But so far, so banal – if utterly different than the panicked, tightly-wound homophobia of the last Pontiff. Then the revolutionary part:

“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 goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

The tendency to homosexuality is not the problem. This is a direct rejection of the last Pope and his predecessor. The key letter was issued in 1986 and the key, horrifying directive issued in 2005 barring all gay men from the priesthood – however they conduct themselves and regardless of their gifts and sincerity. Here’s Ratzinger’s CDF statement on homosexuality, which walked back the previous, much more inclusive, position taken in 1975.

In the discussion which followed the publication of the [1975] Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. 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.

This is the new doctrine Ratzinger introduced into Catholicism: that gay people are uniquely inclined toward an intrinsic moral evil, that there is something inherently immoral about us, that we are in a special class of sub-humans, because our loves – when expressed fully with our bodies as well as souls – are intrinsically evil. This doctrine was so contrary to the Gospels, so callous, and so grotesquely unjust – barring any gay man from entering seminaries solely because of something he cannot change – that it was, for me, one of the low points of my spiritual life in the church. Not only was the Pope attacking the souls of an entire class of human beings, he was deeming them unfit for priestly authority. Child rapists could be tolerated; sincere, celibate gay priests were intrinsically disordered unlike any other group in society. I wrote on this page at the time:

Some of the basic principles of the Catholic faith – treating each individual as equally worthy in God’s eyes, judging people by what they do, not who they are – are being violated by this policy. The astonishing work of gay priests across the centuries and across the globe is being denied and stigmatized and ignored. This is a huge stain on the church – reminiscent of its long, terrible history of anti-Semitism.

And so in a few off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis returned the Church’s leadership to the spirit and love of the Gospels. This does not mean a change in the doctrine that all non-procreative non-marital sexual expression – from masturbation to foreplay to homosexual or contracepted sex – is immoral. But what it does is explicitly end the Vatican’s demonization and marginalization of gay people made in the image of God, people who have served the Church from its very beginnings, in ways large and small.

It says a lot about the cramped, fearful, nit-picking dead-end of the last Pontiff that simply asserting human dignity should bring such joy. But it has been clear for a while now that the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Saint Francis are opening the windows of the church again – so that sunlight and transparency and simplicity can flood the previously darkened rooms of a retreating reactionary Vatican.

We have a Pope. By God, we have a Pope.

Jul 29, 2013 @ 13:59

K-Lo: The Pope Said Nothing

I was looking forward to the reaction from the theocon Catholic right to Pope Francis’ refreshingly Christian reflections on homosexual people. Kathryn-Jean Lopez does not disappoint – but it’s a pretzel she has to twist into. Here is what Lopez heard the Pope say:

If the chronology of Allen’s report reflects the conversation, Pope Francis had just finished talking about redemption, the fact that Peter himself denied Christ and would later become pope. He warned against a culture in which sins of the past are dug up on people. Should a sin – we’re talking a sin, not a crime – destroy a man, decades later? That doesn’t seem Christian, it seems clear, was the pope’s point.

Huh? There is no chronology in a press conference other than the chronology of the questions. And the idea that the Pope was merely saying that forgiveness is an essential Catholic practice when he specifically reflected on “gay people” “of good will” is a bizarre digression. Forgiveness is an essential Catholic practice in all circumstances. And, in any case, the gay individual he was citing in the previous answer was, he insisted, completely innocent of all the accusations of sin. So there was nothing to forgive! Good try, K-Lo, but, sorry, this was clearly a rebuke to the cruelty and homophobic panic of the recent past from a man who is the first Pope from a Catholic country where marriage equality is the law of the land (and who favored civil unions for gays there).

K-Lo then goes on fearlessly to reiterate Benedict’s foul and anti-Christian pronouncement that no gay men should be allowed into the priesthood … :

Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation. Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway. For, in the end, their attitude toward man and woman is somehow distorted, off center, and, in any case, is not within the direction of creation of which we have spoken.

… and claims it is completely consistent with this statement from Francis:

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.

For Benedict, gay people were “objectively disordered” whose “attitude toward man and woman is somehow distorted, off center, and, in any case, is not within the direction of creation.” For Francis, “they’re our brothers” and “who am I to judge?”

There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. But Jesus came to open eyes to love, not close them.

Jul 29, 2013 @ 3:00pm

Francis’ Sunlight: Reax


Jimmy Akin thinks the press is reading too much into the Pope’s words on homosexuality:

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)

Jul 29, 2013 @ 8:29pm

This Extraordinary Pope

I’ve just watched the actual video of Pope Francis’ airplane press conference, and it’s even more remarkable than the quotes we gleaned earlier from reporters like John Allen. What’s so striking to me is not what he said, but how he said it: the gentleness, the humor, the transparency. I find myself with tears in my eyes as I watch him. I’ve lived a long time to hear a Pope speak like that – with gentleness and openness, reasserting established dogma with sudden, sweeping exceptions that aren’t quite exceptions – except they sure sound like them.

In the written text, I was disappointed, for example, by his absurd statement that Pope John Paul II had definitively shut down the question of women priests. Firstly, no Pope has the authority to shut down a debate like that, especially one that is purely managerial and pragmatic, and not a matter of doctrine. The statement is so absurd part of me wondered whether Francis wasn’t deploying a little irony  … and then I listened to him actually speak the words. And it was far sweeter than irony.

He asserts orthodoxy and then swerves dramatically to one side, his voice lilting and becoming more intense, as if to say, “Yes, I know this is what the Church teaches, and I am not challenging that. But look at the wider picture. Remember that in the Church, the honor accorded to Jesus’ mother is higher than that of any of the apostles, and that women, simply by virtue of being women, are above priests in importance to the Body of Christ.” That’s both a repetition of orthodoxy and yet also a whole-sale re-imagination of it.

Think of this Pope’s refusal to revisit the issue of women in the priesthood and then note that he washed the feet of a woman in Holy Week – the first time any Pope had washed the feet of a woman, let alone, as was the case, a Muslim woman in juvenile detention. Remember also the remarks of one of the most powerful religious figures on earth about atheists:

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! …  ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

And this is surely part of the point. What Francis is telling us, it seems to me, is that we should stop squabbling about these esoteric doctrines – while he assents to orthodoxy almost reflexively – and simply do good to others, which is the only thing that really matters. Stop obsessing in your mind and act in the world: help someone, love someone, forgive someone, meet someone.

One of the most telling things about Jesus is that he did not elucidate a theology. It had to be inferred by Paul. Jesus merely told stories of great charm and mystery. But he also clearly transformed the lives of those he encountered by the way in which he lived and died. It was that that convinced so many that this human being wasn’t just any other human being, that the divine had somehow transformed him, and he could transform others.  I heard in the voice of Francis today the voice of Jesus confronted with the woman about to be stoned for adultery. No, he does not condone adultery. But the entire dynamic of the story is about something else: it’s about how Jesus defused an impending, brutal execution by bobbing and weaving and drawing in the sand and then speaking intimately with the woman herself with what can only be called revolutionary empathy.

“They are our brothers.” That’s the tone of Jesus. That is, for the Papacy, revolutionary empathy.

Perhaps this is a better way of seeing the difference between Francis and what came before him.

It is impossible to think of Jesus seeing the marginalized of his time, like lepers or Samaritans, and teaching them that they are “somehow distorted, off center, and … not within the direction of creation” because of something they simply are and cannot change. Jesus – as represented by the Gospels – clearly sees that kind of rigid, callous thinking as the mark of Pharisees, the sign of a religion that has forgotten love in its obsession with law, and therefore cannot be connected with the Father of all Creation which is Love. Francis, mind you, does not rebuke Benedict XVI; he pours out affection for him. But everything he is saying and doing is an obvious, implicit rejection of what came before.

What Francis is doing is not suddenly changing orthodoxy; he is instead pointing us in another direction entirely. He is following Saint Francis’ injunction: “Preach the Gospel everywhere; if necessary with words.” He is a walking instantiation of the way Jesus asked us to live: with affection and openness, charity and forgiveness; and a reluctance to seize on issues of theology instead of simply living a life of faith, which is above all a life of action in the service of others:

We all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much.

Yes, we do, Holy Father. We so sorely do.

Jul 29, 2013 @ 9:08pm

Quotes For The Day

“Pope Francis made clear that being gay is not an impediment for ordination. For him, the issue is not orientation but whether a person is a good priest. Even if a priest fails in celibacy, one can “then convert, and the Lord both forgives and forgets. We don’t have the right to refuse to forget.” The pope made it clear that there is no room for homophobia either in the church or society. But if I had said what he said 24 hours before Francis, I would have been reported to the archbishop,” – Father Thomas Reese, National Catholic Reporter.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day when a Pope would tell me that he doesn’t judge me for being gay, but has a problem with me driving a Lexus,” – a gay priest friend of a gay priest friend.

Jul 30, 2013 @ 12:10pm

Dolan Spins Francis

Nothing the Cardinal says above is wrong exactly, but it’s classic spin from the bullshit artist who runs the New York archdiocese. The idea that Pope Benedict used the same tone toward homosexuals as Pope Francis – that there has been continuity on this – is absurd. Benedict’s move – strongly backed by Dolan – was at complete odds with Francis’ new tone. It was not to reassert the core doctrine that there is no sin in homosexuality, merely in non-procreative sex. That had definitely been the case already, and clarified in the 1975 letter that signaled the kind of openness and spirit that Francis represents. What Benedict did was deliberately to conflate the sin with the sinner eleven years later in 1986:

In the discussion which followed the publication of the [1975] Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. 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.

My italics. Not the acts – the very orientation itself is objectively disordered. Being gay was in no way, for Benedict or Dolan, even a morally neutral disposition. It was rather a form of disorder of the very heart and soul, that made gay people living refutations of God’s Creation – living crimes against nature.

This demonization of gay men was a return in Catholic teaching to medieval view of sodomites (which was chronologically linked to hatred of Jews as well, as John Boswell showed in his landmark book, Christianity, Homosexuality and Social Tolerance). Its plain meaning can be gleaned from the fact that, in an attempt to divert blame from himself for the child-rape scandal, Benedict subsequently issued an unprecedented discriminatory ruling, barring all gay men from entering the priesthood, solely because they were gay, with no distinction between their identity and their sexual acts.

Here is how he defended that anti-Christian position, as I noted yesterday:

In the end, [homosexuals’] attitude toward man and woman is somehow distorted, off center, and, in any case, is not within the direction of creation of which we have spoken.

That’s not about acts; it’s about a way of being human.

The Church does not teach that homosexuality is a choice, and so, to sustain the stigmatization of homosexuality in the face of new research and data, Benedict had to opine that gay people are intrinsically outside “the direction of creation” and our very nature is “somehow distorted.” Dolan can spin this any way he wants. But the proof of the malice was the blunt discrimination against gay priests regardless of their conduct in 2005, the absurdly brutal attacks on gay parents and gay people in the debate over civil marriage equality, and the obsessive-compulsive insistence on never hiring lay people who might conceivably be married to someone of the same gender (something never done with, say, re-married or divorced heterosexuals).

Dolan and Benedict have never, ever spoken of gay people the way Francis did. The question to be asked of Dolan is: why nit? Or is he just an apparatchik? Does Dolan still favor barring all gay seminarians solely because of their orientation? Will he stop discriminating against gay people while tolerating straight people who use contraception or are divorced or who have re-married? Does he refute the statements of the previous Pope? I wish Charlie and Gayle had been able to penetrate his bullshit. But it requires a granular theological expertise few general interest journalists have time to master.

Jul 31, 2013 @ 12:58pm

Benedict, Francis, And Gays

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI Pays A State Visit To The UK - Day 2

Ross contributes to the debate today, making roughly the same argument as I have but stressing more firmly that there is no actual doctrinal change (and even, according to Ross, no change in the blanket discrimination against gay seminarians). Juan Cole is even more dismissive:

[I]t seems to me that Pope Francis is just saying what many evangelicals say– hate the sin, love the sinner, celibate gays are welcome in the congregation, etc. And he’s putting a further precondition on acceptance, that gays not band together as a pressure group. So they have to be celibate and seen but not heard, sort of like children.

But both Cole and Douthat note a very different change in tone from Benedict’s stern strictures about “objective disorders” to Francis’ expansive “They are our brothers.” So the question becomes: does this tone mean something substantive in the life of the church? Or is it just brilliant spin, decontaminating the brand while upholding its Ratzingerian substance?

Here’s what I would argue: the tone is intimately related to the substance, and the one cannot logically be changed without the other. Which is why this recent statement reveals the incoherent tension at the heart of the church’s teaching about homosexuality – a tension that at some point has to be resolved.

Here’s why. Recall Ratzinger’s central innovation in the argument in 1986:

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.

What Ratzinger was saying is precisely that, in the case of homosexuals, hating the sin but loving the sinner is not a Catholic option. Because in the case of homosexuals, their sin is integrally related to their very nature, which they cannot change. The part of their nature that is objectively disordered and they cannot change is, moreover, that pertaining to love and sex and family, arguably the very things that make most of us happy. So gay people truly are deformed in the most profound way possible – morally crippled and constrained by their very nature.

Why would Ratzinger have taken that huge and painful leap that is so anathema to the spirit of inclusion in the Gospels? Because in Catholic teaching, acts flow from being. It is absurd in Catholic thought to talk of something in nature that is entirely neutral and yet always leads to an intrinsic moral evil if expressed.

The Inauguration Mass For Pope FrancisTo see why, try and come up with a serious analogy within Catholic theology for the argument that homosexuality as not sinful in itself but is always sinful when expressed. I’ve been trying for twenty years.

Take the sin of envy, for example, which is part of our common human nature and is always a sin when expressed in an act. But it is not a neutral condition, as the 1975 Letter said of homosexuality; it is a sign of our fallen nature. It does not occupy some neutral ground before being expressed. It is part of original sin for all of us.

Or take alcoholism. Some people are alcoholics by nature or genetics, which is why it is hard to describe being an alcoholic as sinful, since it isn’t a choice, like homosexuality. But the choice to drink, like the choice to express love sexually for gay people, is nonetheless a sin for alcoholics. I think this is the best analogy I’ve heard in this long debate. But it falls apart on one obvious ground. Unlike sodomy, drinking itself is not sinful for everyone, according to the Church. For most people, it’s fine. Jesus himself turned water into wine to keep the wedding party going.

But sodomy is barred as sinful for all people, straights as well as gays. The Church does not say, as it does for alcoholism, that it’s fine for lazarusstraight people to have non-procreative sex, but not for gays. It says it’s a sin whether committed by a heterosexual or a homosexual. So again, the teaching on homosexuality appears unique, as if it were an argument designed to buttress a pre-existing prejudice, rather than an argument from the center of the church’s teaching.

So maybe being gay is a form of disability for Benedict. But the church’s teachings about the disabled bear no relation to its teachings about homosexuals. The former are embraced, brought to the front of the church, cared for, defended, championed, as any Christian organization must and should. The latter are silenced, pathologized and told not to be all they can be, and specifically to avoid any expression of love, passion, family or relationship with a partner or spouse, i.e. to live a life of unique isolation and suffering, simply because of who they are. Tim Padgett gets the problem:

How can the Catholic church declare homosexuals “disordered” and their lifestyle an “intrinsic moral evil,” yet expect us to applaud its “love” for gays somewhere beneath all that homophobic bigotry? My mother was born in Mississippi and has often told me of Southern whites in the mid-20th century insisting they could love a black person even if they hated the black race. No, you can’t have it both ways. So it makes no more sense to me in the early 21st century to hear Pope Francis claim to love gays while I know that when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires he called Argentina’s legalization of gay marriage a “grave anthropological regression.” Or to hear celebrity evangelical pastor Rick Warren profess admiration for gay friends but then keep saying that it “might be a sin” for them to sleep with each other.

This is indeed the nub of it. A theologian reader explains why:

What was done by the author(s) of the 1986 document (let us call them Ratzinger, who at least signed it)  was to tie a logical knot that could now work greatly in gays’ favor, if only, as you suggest, some in the press were better able to understand it, and so face down spinning Archbishops such as your own. The knot was to point out that in order for it to be the case that all gay sex is sinful (which is what many Bishops would love to be able to maintain without any logical consequences) then you have to maintain that the condition itself is objectively disordered. This, of course, many Catholic spokespersons try to run away from doing, since many of them know it is false, and not all of them are fully accomplished liars.

But what this means is that if, as appears to be the case, being gay is not an objective disorder then according to the logic proper to Catholic faith, which recognizes that acts flow from being, it is also not the case that all gay sex is sinful. Ratzinger was logically correct that the absolute prohibition against loving same-sex acts cannot be maintained if it is accepted that the inclination is “neutral or positive” to use the language rejected by the 1975 document you refer to.

What the 1986 document bequeathed to us (apart from a huge amount of pain, anguish, and despair) was not only a mistaken characterization, but a logical recognition that if the characterization is mistaken, then so is the absolute prohibition. This is the double bind that most Bishops dance around, and are allowed to dance around by a press that imagines “Church teaching” in this area to be a special category, the rules of a private club, and not a matter which depends quite simply on what is true about the human beings in question.

I hope and pray that Papa Bergoglio knows where he’s taking this. Which means I hope and pray that he, unlike so many of his colleagues, is not stuck in the double-bind, and thus will be able to unbind us all into living the truth, which is what Popes are for.

I hope so too. The Catholic faith is one designed to be examined by reason. Yet reason reveals that its core teaching on homosexuality requires it to describe an entire class of people as inherent moral deviants, regardless of what they do or say or how they live their lives. That final assertion is simply incompatible with reason and with Christianity. At some point, it will collapse. And with it, the entire edifice of the tortured teachings on sex that the Catholic hierarchy is so desperate to maintain.

I doubt Pope Francis is doing this consciously or as a means to bring the Church to its senses on this question. But his expression of Christian love and charity toward gay people is a direct rebuke of the doctrines he says he still supports. And at some point, what cannot be logically sustained will fall.

(Photos: Pope Benedict XVI, Franciscans arriving for the inaugural mass for Pope Francis, and the Jacob Epstein’s statue of Lazarus in New College, Oxford. By Getty Images.)

Jul 31, 2013 @ 6:38pm

Quote For The Day II

Pope Francis Attends Celebration Of The Lord's Passion in the Vatican Basilica

“Ask for the grace of shame; the shame that comes from the constant dialogue of mercy with Him; the shame that makes us blush before Jesus Christ; the shame that puts us in tune with the heart of Christ who is made sin for me; the shame that harmonizes our heart in tears and accompanies us in the daily following of “my Lord”.

And this always brings us, as individuals and as a Company, to humility, to living this great virtue. Humility that makes us understand, each day, that it is not for us to build the Kingdom of God, but it is always the grace of God working within us; humility that pushes us to put our whole being not at the service of ourselves and our own ideas, but at the service of Christ and of the Church, like clay pots, fragile, inadequate, insufficient, but having within them an immense treasure that we carry and that we communicate,” – Pope Francis at a mass today to celebrate the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order.

(Photo: Pope Francis prays on the floor as he presides over a Papal Mass with the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion inside St Peter’s Basilica on March 29, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. By Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.)

Aug 1, 2013 @ 11:47am

Quote For The Day

“The conservative backlash against the pope (who could have imagined it!) has become quite the ugly spectacle, while the attempts to spin him into what he obviously is not (the First Things post about the 5 myths was a notable example) are pathetic,” – a commenter on the far-right Catholic blog written by Father John Zuhlsdorf.

The site is an excellent way to read the broader dismay among conservative dissenters with Pope Francis’ initiatives and statements since taking office. The AP has a decent story on it here. Santorum is insisting that nothing substantive has changed, but I must say I have never heard him speak on this issue with the respect, gentleness and humility of Francis.

My own argument that the shift in tone actually reveals a deep, substantive contradiction at the heart of the Church’s teaching on this subject is here.

Aug 8, 2013 @ 2:10pm

A Bishop’s Resignation

Happens a lot these days – usually because of the child-rape conspiracy or financial shenanigans. But this time, it happened just after Pope Francis said conciliatory and Christian things about gay people. The resignation? From one of the most virulently homophobic bishops on the planet, Bishop Simon Bakot of Yaoundé, former president of the National Bishops’ Conference of Cameroon. The resignation was announced by the Vatican:

Bishop Bakot did not resign for reason of age as Catholic bishops are required to do when they reach 75; he is only 66. Nor is he known to have been in ill health or under scrutiny for financial reasons or his own sexual misconduct. The sole reason he is famous is for his staunch opposition to gays. He lumps them with pedophiles and practitioners of bestiality and calls them an affront to God’s creation. He threatens to ‘out’ clergy he opposed by revealing their sexual orientation. He has even been a vocal public supporter of Cameroon’s national day of hatred of gays. The fact that his resignation was accepted the day after Francis’s now famous utterance casts new light on the Vatican’s stance toward gays.

Bakot has described marriage equality as “a serious crime against humanity. We need to stand up to combat it with all our energy.” Once in the vanguard of the Catholic hierarchy’s shift toward the far right, he now seems somewhat stranded.

Know hope.

Aug 12, 2013 @ 1:31pm

Francis’ Sunlight, Ctd

Pope Francis Attends Celebration Of The Lord's Passion in the Vatican Basilica

There was a real debate about how to interpret the Pope’s recent conciliatory tone toward gay people. Many, like me, saw the tone as substance, seeing no massive overhaul in doctrine, but a revolution in emphasis that necessitates an eventual change in doctrine. By choosing to emphasize the humanity and dignity of gay people seeking God in good faith – “Who am I to judge?” – this Pope was shifting gears away from the counter-revolution of John Paul II and Benedict XVI against the liberation of modernity. Others insisted there had been no change at all – and that the idea of one was a deliberate or misinformed misreading of the Pope’s comments by the secular press.

Well, we could go back and analyze every sentence of the impromptu press conference – as some have done with surprising results:

He did not say that “homosexuals should not be marginalized.” He said “these persons should not be discriminated against, but welcomed (accolte).” He is citing the words of the Catechism here.

And he did not regurgitate other language from the Catechism about gays’ “objective disorder” or “just” and “unjust” discrimination against them. He ignores the former language and expunges the latter. In fact, the more you examine the presser, the more radical its implications seem.

But now we have more confirmation that this was not a gaffe but a strategy. Well, confirmation might be a bit strong – but one of the American cardinals tapped for Francis’s new, reformist group of eight cardinals is Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He has clearly been in touch with the new pontiff and just gave a speech which confirms the theocons’ worst nightmare. It was at the annual Knights of Columbus convention in San Antonio. K-Lo was there and didn’t see anything but the attendants’ desire to evangelize in the developing world and roll back Obamacare, marriage equality, alleged religious repression, and abortion rights. In fact, her opening paragraph is about the Catholic importance of denying gay couples civil equality. Funny that, isn’t it?

But O’Malley’s speech was an eye-opener to anyone who hasn’t decided to be blind for a while. The context is worth revisiting. It comes after the American hierarchy has insisted that the issues of contraception, marriage equality and abortion are central to religious freedom and to the Catholic faith. American nuns have also been subjected to an inquisition because they were insufficiently vocal about these issues and preferred service to the poor and needy. The inquisition is not over, but its guiding philosophy appears to have been up-ended:

“Some people think that the Holy Father should talk more about abortion,” O’Malley told approximately 2,000 attendees, according to a copy of the remarks posted online. “I think he speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the Church’s teaching on abortion,” he continued. “We oppose abortion, not because we are mean or old fashioned, but because we love people. And that is what we must show the world.”

In this picture, it is hard not to see Francis’ challenge to the theocons as a version of Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees of his day. It’s a return toward humility and service, and away from the authoritarian control and doctrinal obedience mandated by Ratzinger and Wojtila. It’s a recognition that if Christianity’s global reputation is framed as hostile to gays, women and the marginalized, its doctrinal arguments will never succeed, because the only basis for any Christian argument is love. If Christians are seen as haters or discriminators or wielders of government power to enforce their doctrines, they will not only betray their core, but also fail at reaching the people of modernity.

Yes, the arrival of this new Pope increasingly appears as a watershed in the life of the Church. And not a moment too soon.

(Photo: Getty Images)