That wasn’t exactly the headline that greeted me last night as I was preparing to turn in for the evening, yet an analysis of what Pope Francis said on his flight back to Rome and the Church’s long-held teaching on homosexuality leads one to conclude that nothing Pope Francis said was new, despite dozens of reports claiming this changed how the Church views homosexuality and homosexuals.
So let’s analyse what the Pope actually said, with an assist from the Vatican Insider:
“There is so much being written about the gay lobby. I haven’t met anyone in the Vatican yet who has “gay” written on their identity cards. There is a distinction between being gay, being this way inclined and lobbying. Lobbies are not good. If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them? The Catholic Church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against; they should be made to feel welcome. Being gay is not the problem, lobbying is the problem and this goes for any type of lobby, business lobbies, political lobbies and Masonic lobbies.”
The headline that many news outlets went with was along the lines of “Pope says ‘Who am I to judge?’ gays” Now, I’m not going to argue with what the Pope said; he’s spot on. But I’m struggling to recall the recent pontiff who claimed he had the authority to judge people, regardless of their sexual orientation, hence created the contrast the headline implicitly grasps for.
In fact, here’s Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, talking about the treatment of homosexuals:
“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”
“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”
So he was saying 25 years ago roughly what Pope Francis said 25 hours ago, but this Catholic Meme aptly sums up the difference in reaction:
And our friend Jimmy Akin has written his typically astute piece outlining “Seven Things You Need to Know About What the Pope Said About Gays”, including this:
6) How new is this?
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 1986 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 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.
Finally, the statement that “they’re our brothers” is also no novelty. Christians, like everyone, have struggled with every sort of temptation all through history.
Same-sex attraction is just one temptation among numerous others, and the fact that a person suffers from this temptation no more deprives him of the status of being a brother in Christ than any other temptation does.
So, another storm in a teacup, it would seem.