Monday, July 29, 2013

Francis calls for inclusion of gays in society, saying he has no right to judge

Elizabeth Tenety
Washington Post
July 29, 2013

In another act of the kind of humble outreach that has marked the early months of his papacy, Pope Francis called on Monday for the integration of gays into society, remarking that even as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he has no right to “judge” gay people.

“If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized,” Francis said during his first news conference, a wide-ranging and candid back-and-forth that took place aboard his flight back to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil.

The comments, which were greeted with particular enthusiasm by gay and liberal Catholics, were in response to journalists’ questions about allegations of corruption within a “gay lobby” of priests at the Vatican.

“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby,” Francis said, according to a transcript of the remarks published by the National Catholic Reporter. He added that “the tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem . . . they’re our brothers.”

While many commentators pointed out that nothing that Francis said changed church teaching on homosexuality, many also saw a consequential shift in tone that focused on God’s mercy for sinners, rather than the sin.

The news conference marked the first time that Francis had addressed controversial social issues such as homosexuality during his papacy. Although he had called on Catholics to show “great respect for [gay] people,” Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’s predecessor, also oversaw the publication of a church document that called homosexual inclinations “disordered” and called for men with “deep-seated” gay tendencies to be barred from the priesthood.

Although Francis also commented on the role of women in the church, the Vatican Bank and numerous other topics both high-profile and more pedestrian during the news conference, his remarks on homosexuality generally and gay priests in particular set off a stream of reaction by Catholics.

“Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy,” said the Rev. James Martin, an influential Catholic commentator. “That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus Christ. And we can never have enough of it. The pope’s remarks also are in line with the catechism, which teaches that gays should be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’ ”

Chad C. Pecknold, an assistant professor of theology at Catholic University who has written on the papacy, said that “people are right to perceive a change in tone and that that tone is a pastoral tone on the question of homosexual inclinations.”

“Many people recognize that Pope Benedict was a professor pope, that he was teaching theology, and that Pope Francis is emphasizing the pastoral office more strongly than Benedict did.”

Pecknold noted that during the news conference, Francis said he did not mention abortion or gay marriage before his trip to Brazil because he wanted to sound “positive.”

Rather than “beginning the conversation with what the church teaches about what one shouldn’t do,” Pecknold said, Francis “wants to begin the conversation about what it means to enter into the mercy of God.”

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