WASHINGTON, August 7, 2013 — Confronting the growing rumors of a Vatican based “gay lobby,” Pope Francis says that he looks first to the person and his or her relationship with God.
“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 be homosexual) is not the problem. They are our brothers.”
This is a big step away from the teachings of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who attempted to ban homosexuals from the clergy, saying that men with a same sex orientation should not become clergy.
This is a new direction for the church.
At the height of the church’s power, when powerful leaders and organizations could be destroyed through heresy trials accusing them of homosexuality, there was no uncertainty regarding the morality of homosexuality. Over the centuries, that stance has shifted.
An Italian magazine reports that a Catholic monsignor engaged in homosexual relations while he lived in Latin America. Though the affair was proven, a Vatican investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of the monsignor.
The Church stopped condemning homosexual orientation in the late 1990s, when the Vatican declared that homosexuals are called to chastity, effectively hedging their condemnation to include homosexual acts, but not desires.
Pope Francis is the first pope to openly express openness to homosexual clergy. This places Catholicism among the most progressive faiths. Even “worldly” new religions such as Scientology, which you would expect, with its celebrity status, to be more in line with Hollywood ideals, takes a more conservative stance.
Scientology maintains the founder’s insistence that homosexuals don’t express love, and that their feelings eventually deteriorate to deep contempt. The current leader, David Miscavige, despite extensive public relations efforts, has remained silent on the issue.
Lutherans and Presbyterians have gone farther than the Vatican. They allow sexually active ministers in a same sex relationship to be ordained as ministers, despite strong and ongoing internal dissent. Other, more conservative Protestant, especially the Baptists, condemn homosexuality without reservation. The Orthodox Church also condemns homosexuality.
In light of the still raging sexual abuse scandals, Francis’ statement may have been either very brave, very foolish, or perhaps both. There has been a debate about the ethics of clerical celibacy in light of the abuse scandals, which are suspected by some to be a factor in precipitating such crimes. This may be interpreted as a step toward accepting sexual behavior within the priesthood.
This change may also be inspired by the differing culture in the Pope’s homeland. Catholics in South America, across the board, are actually more likely to advocate the acceptance of homosexuality within their culture than non-Catholics in the region are.
Given that Pope Francis is the first non-European pope in over a thousand years, it is no surprise that the Vatican is suddenly espousing some unorthodox worldviews. This is especially true since he is from Argentina, which is the most gay-friendly country in South America.
The poorest countries, especially in parts of Central America have a long way to go, but are slowly improving their treatment of homosexuals. Many of them, especially in the Caribbean, still have laws against homosexuality, often with prison sentences around 10 years.
Africa, on the other hand, has been getting more and more hostile to homosexuals. Desmond Tutu, a retired Anglican bishop, is facing widespread condemnation across Africa for his recent statements in defense of human rights for homosexuals. In many African countries, homosexual acts are punishable by death or life imprisonment.
Catholics are fairly welcoming of homosexuality within their cultures, all over the world. Despite this, 79 percent of LGBT Americans see the Catholic Church as unfriendly toward them, which is an even more negative perception than they have of Evangelical Churches.
This is because a large majority of Catholics, as in the matter of contraception, disagree with the Vatican on this matter.
The church establishment will follow the direction that Pope Francis is taking the Vatican, even as they hedge, or we may well see the authority of the Church deteriorate. Catholics will question church teachings increasingly if doctrines preached from Rome violate the consciences of Catholics.
Brian Schmied has a degree in political science. He enjoys learning about the politics of religion, and writing about the conflicts of church and state.
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