"Who Am I To Judge?" Pope Francis and the Future of Gay Catholicism

The new Pope made major headlines in the past week when he stated that “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”  He also seemed to bless the possibility of gay priests as long as they remain chaste, and dismissed the idea of a gay lobby within the Vatican.  These are major changes from the Church’s attitude towards homosexuality (and the first use ever by a Pope of the word “gay,” which he said in English). 

Chaste Priest, Drinking Lots of Alcohol

Under Pope John Paul II the Church produced a pastoral letter on the treatment of homosexual persons in the Church.  It was written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, eventually to be the next Pope, and because it was released on October 31, 1986 (though dated October 1), it has ever since been called the  “Halloween Letter”:

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed to those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.

This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.

In another passage Ratizinger, while giving lip-service to disgust at gay-bashing, went on to explain that it was understandable that it happens given how shocking homosexuality is.  His actual words: “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. . . . But . . . when homosexual activity is consequently condoned . . . neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”  In other words, give up homosexuality or expect to be beaten senseless.

When Ratzinger became Benedict XVI, he wrote in 2005 that homosexuality has “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” and is an “objective disorder.” The church document continued that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not become priests.

What has Pope Francis’s comment on the airplane done to all this history?  The answer is that it’s all called into question.  This was so shocking that the Vatican itself was quick to point out that the original doctrinal stances on homosexuality (see above) still stand, and that all the Pope was doing was saying that this mortal sin might be forgiven by God.  If that’s all, it doesn’t help a bit.  It means that every gay person who is also a Catholic is condemned to hell forever by each sexual act he/she engages in unless he/she goes to confession and repents (sincerely) this sin and promises to commit it no more.

This is no small matter.  It weighs eternal damnation against the natural sex urges millions of people feel each day.  My mother, a devout Catholic, died with the certain knowledge that her beloved Douglas was not going to join her in heaven, but that he would instead suffer horrible torments forever in hell simply because he’s an unrepentant homosexual.  She didn’t doubt this.  Not for a moment.  She was a firm believer in whatever the Church told her was true.  Imagine the agony the Catholic Church caused this lovely woman whenever she thought of her son and what she imagined to be her failings as a mother for not putting him on a firmer theological path.

And, oh yes, Catholic gays commit suicide because of this.  Over and over.  Over and over.  Through the years, thousands and thousands of them.  Or at some point they throw over the whole game, abandon Catholicism, and look for a more realistic approach to life.

But perhaps Pope Francis will change things.  He appears to be a very decent man, who deeply cares about suffering. aiding the poor, calling the Church into a realignment with the suffering of those in distress.  His remarks on the airplane demonstrates that this caring attitude extends to gay people, gay priests. 

Pope Francis asked “Who am I to judge?”  That’s an astounding question with an obvious answer.  He’s the Pope!  The Vicar of Christ!  He’s not just another Joe on the street.  Francis gets to say what the rules are for the Catholic Church, and he should not duck this responsibility with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders.  This question is but a baby step, and one hopes he has the courage to take more, but until Pope Francis replaces the Church’s awful language quoted above with a major change in Catholic doctrine for the treatment of homosexual persons in his flock, this agony, this wound, this injustice will continue to torture devout Catholics, most particularly gays and those who love them.


Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,” September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011
"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
“Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
Fifty Shades of Leather: Corbin Milk in the BDSM World,” December 26, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
“The Words ‘Queer’ and ‘Gay” in the 21st Century,” May 5, 2013
“A Homophobic Organization Throws in the Towel: Goodbye to Exodus International,” June 21, 2013
“Gay Marriage, the Supreme Court, and the Future,” June 26, 2013
“So, the Pope Doesn’t Like Gay Marriage? ” January 20, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/01/so-pope-doesnt-like-gay-marriage.html

“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-gay-hoosier-lawyer-looks-at-indianas.html
“The Pope In America:  Women, Sexual Minorities, and Kim Davis”, September 28, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-pope-in-america-women-sexual.html 
A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013: http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-guide-to-best-of-my-blog.html


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