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BY Jimmy Akin
The press is buzzing right now with claims that Pope Francis has taken a sharply different line than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, on the subject of homosexuality.
Some are suggesting that the new pope has announced that "gay is okay."
What did Pope Francis really say, and how unusual is it?
Here are 7 things to know and share . . .
1) Where did Pope Francis make these remarks?
He made them during an 80-minute interview with reporters aboard the plane returning from World Youth Day in Brazil.
2) What was he asked that led to the remarks?
We may not know exactly what the question was until a transcript is released, but apparently, he was asked about the reputed "gay lobby" at the Vatican.
More info on that here.
3) What exactly did he say?
According to the best current accounts, he said:
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 [i.e., same-sex attraction] is not the problem ... they're our brothers.
UPDATE: Here is a fuller presentation of the exchange. Big hat tip to Salt and Light!
The Question to Pope Francis from Ilse, a journalist on the Papal flight
Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question. Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life. I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question. How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?
The Pope’s Answer
Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation. And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him. We found none of that. That is the answer. But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published. These things are not crimes. The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime. But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh? This is a danger. This is what is important: a theology of sin. So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ. And with this sin they made him Pope. We must think about fact often.
But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing. That is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay. They say there are some gay people here. I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. They are bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”
The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter. There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!
Original Italian at the link.
4) What does this mean?
The first part of the statement seems to downplay the who "gay lobby" issue. He's not denying that there is one there, but he's suggesting that the talk is somewhat overblown.
He then explains his approach to dealing with gay people: He distinguishes between their "being gay" and "being part of a lobby."
What he means by "being gay" is something he further unpacks.
In ordinary parlance, "being gay" can mean anything from having same-sex attraction to leading an active "gay lifestyle" to endorsing and advocating a pro-homosexual ideology.
The last of these would be functioning as a member of a lobby, and he indicates that this is not what he is talking about.
He then describes those he is talking about as people who "accept the Lord and have goodwill."
He then seems to further clarify who he is talking about by saying that "The tendency [i.e., same-sex attraction] is not the problem ... they're our brothers."
Taking his statements together, what emerges is a portrait of individuals who have same-sex attraction but who nevertheless accept the Lord and have goodwill, as opposed to working to advance a pro-homosexual ideology.
This would definitely include people with same-sex attraction who strive to live chastely (even if they sometimes fail).
It also, possibly, could include individuals who are not living chastely but who are not actively lobbying a homosexual agenda. It would be nice if he'd said a little more to clarify the point further.
5) What does he say about people in this category?
He says that he does not think he is in a position to judge them and that they should not be marginalized.
He also says that the mere tendency (same-sex attraction) "is not the problem," and that "they're our brothers."
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.
7) How different is any of this compared to Pope Benedict?
The press has been (as usual) trying to make unfavorable comparisons to Pope Benedit, noting that during his time the Holy See issued a document saying that those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be ordained to the priesthood.
Pope Francis did not mention that document or its policy and so has done nothing different than Benedict there.
Neither are any of Francis's remarks contrary to the approach Benedict took during his pontificate.
In fact, Benedict himself (as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) was the signer of the previosly-mentioned letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, as well as the follow-up document on non-discrimination regarding homosexual persons.
So, as usual, the press is painting a false picture by contrasting the "good" Francis and the "bad" Benedict.
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In the meantime, what do you think?