Why all the fuss about Pope Francis' statements on gay Catholics?

By Bryan Cones| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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As I've watched the coverage of Pope Francis' remarks about gay priests--everything from NCR's John Allen on the PBS News Hour to news article after news article parsing his two-sentence statement--I'm wondering: What's the fuss? I don't see that much new here.

The pope's original comments had to do with the alleged "gay lobby" in the Vatican, some cabal of gay Vatican officials who exert influence in the Curia. Francis' previous unclear remarks on that subject may have elicited these more positive remarks on the way back from Brazil. 

At the same time, the change was really only one of tone: Since the church began making direct pronouncements about homosexuality as such in the mid-1970s, teaching has generally distinguished orientation from behavior, with strong condemnation for the latter. Media reports and Catholics in general tend to conflate the two, and so news reports often note that Catholicism "condemns homosexuality." Many Catholics, LGBT and otherwise, point out that to condemn any expression of an inborn orientation is to, in effect, condemn the orientation, a point worth exploring. Pope Francis' remarks broke no new ground on these issues, though to the extent that he was talking about gay men in the priesthood, he was walking back a ruling during Pope Benedict's time that a same-sex orientation disqualified a man from ordination.

Pope Francis' remarks, at most, signalled a change in atmosphere--and a welcome one--though nothing yet that might lead to a more open dialogue about the question of human sexuality, or homosexuality in particular, in the Roman Catholic Church. The U.S. bishops, for example, continue to oppose including the foreign-born same-gender partners of American citizens as part of "family reunification" in immigration reform for fear that it "undermines marriage" in some amorphous way. A local Chicago example is a decision by Cardinal Francis George to cut off funding for an immigration group because it is connected to other groups that support such measures on behalf of same-sex couples who are often separated by the immigration status of one of the partners.

Such a change in a public policy position would be an actual signal that changes are afoot. For now LGBT Catholics will have to be content with a more pastoral tone, which is something to welcome, of course, as far as it goes.

Image: Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service via RNS