VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality during a press conference on the papal plane back from World Youth Day in Rio were largely misreported by the mainstream press, according to a Vatican official and a Church expert.
During a surprise and wide-ranging in-flight press conference Sunday, July 28, that lasted 80 minutes, Pope Francis reportedly said: "If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge? We shouldn’t marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society."
"The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well," the Holy Father went on. "It says one must not marginalize these persons; they must be integrated into society," he said, and he reportedly made the distinction between homosexual acts, which are sinful, and tendencies, which are not.
"The problem isn’t this [homosexual] orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else — the problem is lobbying, either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby," he said. The Pope recently said a "gay lobby" exists in the Vatican, which protects some priests and threatens to blackmail others.
The Catechism states that the number of men and women who have "deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible." The inclination is "objectively disordered," it continues, and "constitutes for most of them a trial" (2358).
It adds, "They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition" (2358).
The Catechism teaches that homosexual persons "are called to chastity" and that "by the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (2359).
Not Changing Doctrine
But large media outlets, such as the BBC, often accused of promoting same-sex rights, were quick to report the story in accordance with their own biases. The BBC splashed this headline across its news site: "Pope Francis: Who am I to judge gay people?" Others followed suit, misleadingly implying that the Holy Father "doesn’t judge gay people."
"[The Pope] is not saying homosexual acts are not a sin, and he obviously isn’t changing Church doctrine, but he is making a change of emphasis," one Vatican official close to the Pope told the Register on condition of anonymity.
"The problem is the headlines," he added, "and confusion over the meaning of the word ‘gay.’"
The Holy Father’s words on homosexuality "don’t represent a Copernican revolution or a subversion," affirmed Vito Mancuso, professor of theological history at the University of Padua, in comments to the Italian AKI news agency. "But they do have an innovative dimension in the style in which they were delivered and in the general desire for clarity and renewal that the Pope is proposing — a fundamental trait of this early period of his pontificate."
He added, "If we look closely, these words don’t contain anything that Benedict XVI would not have written," but he said that Pope Francis has, as John XXIII had, a flair for communicating a "benevolent humanity, humble and witty at the same time, which makes his words immediately seem innovative, revolutionary, different, even when they are not."
The Vatican official said it was "great that [the Pope] has been placing an emphasis on mercy" — something the Holy Father also reiterated during the press conference — and is showing the Church’s "total compassion" for all.
But some believe there might have been "confusion" over this topic and that of Msgr. Battista Ricca, who was also referenced during the impromptu in-flight interview.
Pope Francis recently appointed Msgr. Ricca as prelate of the Vatican Bank, but, according to recent reports, he was allegedly embroiled in homosexual scandals more than 10 years ago.
During the press conference, the Holy Father stated, "I did what canon law said must be done. I ordered an ‘investigation brevia,’ and this investigation found nothing."
He also warned against seeking to "out the sins of somebody’s youth and publish them."
"We’re not talking about crimes, which are something else," he said. "But one can sin and then convert, and the Lord both forgives and forgets." This is important, he said, "because those who want the Lord to forget their sins should forget those of others."
But his comments about forgiving and forgetting past sins have made some question whether they are consistent with a 2005 Vatican document that said men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be ordained as priests.
According to the "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations With Regard to Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders," the Church, "while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’"
"Part of the problem is: What does ‘deep-seated’ mean?" commented the Vatican official, adding that the word "gay" — the word the Pope used — often suggests someone who is a practicing homosexual and part of the "gay culture."
But he stressed the Pope "isn’t reaching out to [active homosexual persons] in the same way. He will confess them, but tell them to sin no more. He’s not saying [homosexual acts] are not a sin."
Turning to other topics during the airborne press conference, Pope Francis mentioned the need to delve more deeply into the role of women in the Church, saying they could be placed in more administrative positions.
"The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework. … We don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the Church," he said, but he reiterated that women priests were not an option and reminded reporters that the possibility was definitively ruled out by Blessed John Paul II.
He also revealed that the date for the canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II will probably not be this coming Dec. 8. The winter weather would make travel from Poland difficult at that time of year, he said. Instead, it could take place sooner, and he explained that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, had suggested the late November feast of Christ the King. The other possibility, the Pope said, would be next spring’s feast of Divine Mercy.
Another reporter asked him why he did not mention abortion or same-sex "marriage" during his visit to Rio, to which he replied that the Church’s teaching on these issues is already well known.
This was a remarkable press conference, given the frankness of the Pope, his willingness to answer any question that was put to him and the time he spent fielding questions. Even his advisers were surprised that he allowed himself to be exposed to such scrutiny, especially as he said on the plane to Rio that he doesn’t like interviews. Before he became pope, he had only granted a handful of interviews to the press.
During the Pope’s July 28 press conference, the Holy Father also tackled the thorny issue of reforming the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), loosely known as the "Vatican Bank."
He said he did not know the fate of the institution, which is more of a facility for administering charitable funds than a bank and which has suffered a series of scandals in recent years.
But Pope Francis told the reporters that "transparency and honesty" were essential to the IOR’s operations. He also said that, while moral failures by clergy cause scandal and pain, it is also important to recognize that sometimes the media and others will go searching for scandal.
Earlier this year, the Holy Father appointed an outside commission to discuss how to "restore it, reformulate it," the Pope said. He shared with reporters some ideas: one, that the IOR should become a real bank; another, that it should be a "charitable fund," a kind of "ethical bank"; or, simply, that it should be closed.
"I don’t know," the Pope said. "I have confidence in the work of the people at IOR, who are working a lot, and in the commission" studying the bank and its role in the universal mission of the Church.
"Whatever it ends up being — whether a bank or a charitable fund — transparency and honesty are essential," he said.
But Pope Francis described as "a scandal" the case of Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, a now-suspended official from the Vatican investment office, who was arrested in Italy June 28 on charges that he allegedly tried to help smuggle millions of euros into Italy from Switzerland.
"There are saints who work in the Curia — cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters, laity; I’ve met them," he said, adding that the media only writes about "the sinners and the scandals," but that’s normal, because "a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows."
Regarding wider reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis recalled the suggestions made by the College of Cardinals before the conclave in March.
"They wanted a lot of things," Francis said, "but a key part of it was that the Vatican central offices be more efficient and more clearly at the service of the universal Church."