It’s a testament to how much goodwill Francis has earned already as Pope that the media’s focusing on what he said about welcoming gay priests into the clergy, not what he said right after that about the gay lobby, like so many other lobbies, posing a “problem.” Our press normally isn’t so forgiving of a major spokesman for moral values, religious or not, tossing out lines like that.
NBC has a fuller transcript:
“I have yet to find anyone who has a business card that says he is gay,” the pontiff said at a press conference in which he addressed the reports of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican.
“They say they exist. If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he added. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.”
Francis added that he thought lobbies of any kind—including political ones—were bad.
“The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem,” he said.
Catholics in my Twitter timeline are grumbling that the media, true to ignorant form in matters of religion, is crediting Francis here for some sort of breakthrough when in fact it’s Catholic orthodoxy that celibate gays are welcome in the Church. That was my understanding too — that the sin lies in acting on temptation, not in feeling temptation. Temptation is part of the human condition; faith, a believer would say, is what keeps you from being led astray by it. The “significance” of Francis’s point, as I took it, is to reiterate that the Church believes God will judge you for what you do, not what you feel, and that homosexuality is no special exception. Which, in fairness, wasn’t always so clear, at least where the priesthood is concerned. In 2005, Benedict XVI issued guidelines on ordination that suggested the opposite conclusion to some:
The document, which was leaked in its entirety last week on a Catholic news website, says that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who support a “gay culture” may not become priests. But men who have “overcome” a homosexuality that was “transitory” and who have remained celibate for three years before joining the seminary are eligible.
Father Robert Gahl, a theologian, praised the document for establishing “more challenging expectations” for men who want to become priests. Homosexuals are clearly barred, he said, because the rules require a man with homosexual tendencies not only to have lived a celibate life but to have overcome those tendencies long before entering the seminary.
“Anyone who considers himself homosexual ought to realize that as such, the church is not calling him to the priesthood,” said Gahl, who teaches at Rome’s St. Cross Pontifical University, which is run by the conservative Opus Dei organization.
“The document is strong in that it restates in this time of crisis in the church what has always been the traditional teaching of the church, [that homosexuals] are objectively disordered,” Gahl said. “It screens out candidates who suffer from emotional immaturity, especially in a sexual area.”
Hard to tell from Francis’s brief comments whether his own position on this can be reconciled with Benedict’s, but it sounds different to me. Francis doesn’t seem to be insisting that aspiring priests “overcome” their orientation. They’re free to feel tempted even after they’ve been ordained. The sin lies in surrendering to temptation, which they mustn’t do. If that reading is right then yeah, today’s remarks are mildly significant as a break with his predecessor; certainly they’re significant as a shift in tone. And of course they’re significant in the context of the Church’s pedophilia scandal. Anti-gay critics will insist that letting gays become priests is an invitation to more child molestation; Francis, by implication, is rejecting that assumption. That’s what’s really got the media’s attention today, I think — he’s rejecting the idea that “gay” equals “sinister,” which I don’t think most Catholics believe anyway, but which sharply contradicts the press’s assumptions of How Religious People Think.