During his recent plane flight back from Armenia, Pope Francis gave a press conference in which he discussed a number of issues, including the question of whether Catholics should apologize to homosexuals.

Here are 6 things to know and share . . .

 

1) Where can I read the full text of the press conference?

You can read it here.

 

2) What did the pope discuss during the press conference?

He answered questions dealing with:

  • His impressions of Armenia and his hopes for it.
  • What he plans to do in a forthcoming trip to Azerbaijan
  • Why he chose to describe the massive Turkish slaughter of Armenians in the early 20th century as a “genocide,” knowing that this word would displease Turkish authorities.
  • His reaction to recent comments by Msgr. Georg Ganswein that seemed to suggest Pope Emeritus Benedict still somehow exercises papal ministry.
  • His thoughts on the current efforts in the Orthodox community to hold a Pan-Orthodox Council
  • His thoughts on Britain’s decision to leave the European Union
  • Martin Luther and ecumenism
  • The issues of whether the Church could have ordained deaconesses
  • Cardinal Marx’s recent statement that Catholics should apologize to homosexuals
  • What he will do when he visits Poland for World Youth Day

 

3) What did he say regarding Pope Emeritus Benedict?

He stated that he hadn’t seen Msgr. Ganswein’s comments, but that Benedict resigned in 2013 and, consequently, “there is one single Pope” now. Benedict “is the Pope Emeritus, not the second Pope.”

He mentioned a rumor he heard:

I heard this, maybe they’re just rumors but they fit with his character - that some have gone there (to him) to complain because of this new Pope… and he chased them away, eh, with the best Bavarian style, educated, but he chased them away.

If this happened, it does fit with Benedict’s known character. He is very conscious that he is setting an example for future popes who resign, and staying out of their successors’ way and praying for them is the example he has determined to set.

Pope Francis also spoke warmly of Benedict:

I’ve said that it’s a grace to have a wise grandfather at home. I’ve also told him to his face and he laughs, but for me he is the Pope Emeritus. He is the wise grandfather. He is the man that protects my shoulders and back with his prayer. . . .

He’s a man of his word, an upstanding, upstanding, upstanding man. . . .

I will be [at the celebration of Benedict’s 65th ordination anniversary] and I will say something to this great man of prayer, of courage that is the Pope Emeritus . . . who is faithful to his word and a great man of God, is very intelligent, and for me he is the wise grandfather at home.

 

4) What did Pope Francis say regarding Martin Luther and ecumenism?

Actually, even more significant is something he did not say.

In posing the question to him, the German reporter asked whether the Church might “annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of [have] some sort of rehabilitation” for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Pope Francis completely sidestepped this suggestion in his response and didn’t say anything about it.

His comments on Luther were diplomatic, drawing a distinction between Luther’s intentions and his methods (i.e., actions):

I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct.

Pope Francis also praised the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification that was signed by the Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, and later by the World Methodist Council, but he noted the continuing reality of divisions, including in the Protestant world. Thus mentioned that there were even two Lutheran churches in Buenos Aires that did not fully get along.

In spite of such divisions, he suggested that Christians pray together and work together on behalf of the poor, the persecuted, etc., while theologians study the questions that divide different groups of Christians.

However, he cautioned:

But this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together.

This suggests a more realistic understanding of ecumenical possibilities than some ecumenists have entertained in recent years.

The divisions separating Christians, particularly in the Protestant community, are too numerous and deep to allow full union any time soon—if ever. Consequently, joint prayer and social action, not corporate reunion, is the most that can be achieved at present.

 

5) What did Pope Francis say regarding ordained deaconesses?

He downplayed the idea. He began with a joke from an Argentinian president to the effect that if you want something not to be resolved, let a commission study it. This seemed to downplay expectations for the new commission studying the question of ordained deaconesses, which he recently agreed to.

He also indicated he was aware that, while there were women called “deaconesses” in the early Church, this did not mean they had the sacrament of holy orders and they had only limited functions, such as assisting bishops in situations that would be inappropriate for a male to participate in (e.g., examining a woman’s body, unclothed, for signs of spousal abuse).

He also expressed displeasure at those (apparently referring to the media) who spun his prior comments on the subject as being “open” to ordaining deaconesses:

They said: “The Church opens the door to deaconesses.” Really? I was a bit annoyed because this is not telling the truth of things.

All he had agreed to was letting a commission study the question, and he downplayed the idea it would come to different conclusions than similar studies had already reached:

I spoke with the prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith [i.e., Gerhard Muller], and he told me, “look, there is a study which the international theological commission had made in 1980.”

And I asked the president to please make a list. Give me a list of who I can take to create this commission. He sent me the list to create this commission, but I believe that the theme has been studied a lot, and I don't think it will be difficult to shed light on this argument.

Here the Holy Father apparently refers to a study by the International Theological Commission, which was actually released in 2002, that concluded the deaconesses in the early Church were not ordained.

Instead of ordaining deaconesses, Pope Francis pointed to the value of an ongoing role for women’s voices in theology, as with a commission of women theologians he previously appointed.

 

6) What did Pope Francis say regarding Catholics apologizing to homosexuals?

Let’s first deal with the subject itself:

  • Have Christians ever committed offenses against homosexual people? Yes. Christians, like everyone else, are sinners.
  • Should we apologize when we’ve done something wrong? In an appropriate time and way, yes. This is not a controversial point.
  • Therefore, should Christians apologize for faults committed against homosexual people? In an appropriate time and way, yes, just like you’d apologize for wrongs done to anyone.

That doesn’t mean groveling. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. It doesn’t mean apologizing for things that weren’t wrongs. It doesn’t mean letting a person off the hook for things they’ve done wrong. And it doesn’t mean weakening the Church’s teaching.

Now put yourself in the position of the pope: You’re talking to the world media, knowing whatever you say is going to get distilled through the distorting lens the media uses for everything. Are you really going to say, “No, I don’t think Christians should apologize to homosexuals?”

Your critics can come back with the obvious fact that Christians are sinners and have committed faults regarding homosexuals in the past (including lynchings).

Taking a “no apology” stance would produce a media firestorm that would push homosexuals even farther from the Church and do damage to the prospects of reaching them with the gospel.

On the other hand, taking a groveling, “Yes, we’ve done everything wrong. We’re walking evil incarnate” approach is not going to help them—or anyone else—either.

So, as pope, you’re likely to seek a middle ground—finding a way to acknowledge the proper role of apologizing for past faults without denying Church teaching or blowing this one issue out of proportion.

And that’s what the pope did.

He began by orienting his remarks with respect to what he has said previously and what the Catechism says:

I will repeat what I said on my first trip. I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. . . .

And we must accompany them well...this is what the catechism says, a clear catechism.

Pope Francis’s repeated references to the Catechism indicate his remarks are to be understood in light of what it says regarding homosexuality (see CCC 2357-2359). He may not repeat everything the Catechism states in his off-the-cuff answer, but he is taking the Catechism as his orienting point for the issue.

He also noted that the homosexual community can be the subject of criticism:

One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior...Certain manifestations are a bit too offensive for others, no?

In view of his orienting his remarks from the Catechism, when he says homosexuals are not to be condemned for theological reasons, he apparently means that Catholic theology doesn’t condemn a person simply because he has homosexual tendencies.

His willingness to acknowledge grounds for criticizing the actions of some homosexuals for offensive behavior in the social-political sphere is noteworthy.

Also noteworthy is his repetition, with slight modification, of one of his most famous remarks on the subject:

The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge?

As before, the “who (am I/are we) to judge” remark assumes that the person in question has good will and is seeking God—not displaying ill will and ignoring God while seeking to justify homosexual actions.

While not repudiating Cardinal Marx’s suggestion that Catholics should apologize to homosexuals for past faults, Pope Francis sought to frame the thought in a larger context:

I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness – like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) – must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times – when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners!

He didn’t say anything further regarding homosexuals but instead reflected on how the Church contains both wheat and weeds, as in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 13:24-30).

Thus, when asked about Cardinal Marx’s statement, Pope Francis:

  • sought to reiterate what he had previously said,
  • sought to reiterate what the Catechism says,
  • gave the proposal a nominal endorsement, and then
  • took the focus off the question of homosexuals.

Headlines that declared “Pope says Christians should apologize to gay people” were thus highly misleading.

 

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