Pope Francis created a stir on Monday when, in an impromptu press conference aboard a return flight from World Youth Day in Brazil, he said he would not judge gay priests.
"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" he told reporters on the way back to the Vatican from Brazil, where he celebrated World Youth Day and urged young people to create a better world by constructing a “civilization of love.”
Francis — offering a shift in tone if not church policy toward homosexuality — was responding to a reporter who asked about an Italian magazine claim that Vatican monsignor Battista Ricca had homosexual relations while in Latin America years ago. He said a preliminary Vatican investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by Ricca.
The Catechism says gay people should not be ostracized, he continued, but integrated into society — adding that the Catholic Church believes homosexual acts are sinful, but homosexual orientation is not, and gay priests should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
His comments, however, are not exactly in harmony with the typical stance of the Catholic Church.
While the Roman Catholic Church “does not consider a gay or lesbian orientation to be inherently sinful because it is not a choice,” it does consider homosexual orientation to be “unnatural, disordered and one of the many manifestations of original sin,” according to a Human Rights Campaign report.
“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,’” the Catechism states. “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
This section of the Catechism can be recalled when considering recent stances the Catholic Church has taken on marriage equality.
The reason, as the Catechism shows, is that sex and marriage are viewed in Catholicism as intended solely for procreation — it is the reason that heterosexual couples are expected to preserve virginity until marriage, and should not use birth control thereafter.
Because reproduction is impossible through homosexual interactions, gay and lesbian Catholics are required to remain celibate for life, lest they be subject to harsh judgment.
Accordingly, the church has throughout its history actively and forcefully opposed gay marriage rights, using both official statements and financial support, according to HRC.
Both the Vatican and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued statements to this effect. And the church has also instructed Catholic lawmakers and voters to stand with Catholicism in matters regarding same-sex marriage rights.
Former Pope John Paul stood firmly against same-sex marriage, illustrating his view in the 2005 book titled Memory and Identity, which “referred to ‘pressures’ that have supposedly been put on the European Parliament to support marriage equality,” and “calling them ‘part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.’” Pope Benedict XVI was also known for his staunchly anti-gay marriage position.
It should not come as a shock, then, that when French president Francois Hollande promised last year to legalize gay marriage and give same-sex couples the right to adopt children, the church responded with a “Prayer for France.”
French bishops in August 2012 organized the day of prayer against marriage equality that also “asks that children cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a mother and a father.”
One day after the day of prayer, for which thousands lined up outside of the Notre Dame cathedral, the Vatican declared its support for the French Bishops, stating that they were right to “take action.”
More recent news of a possible “gay network,” which is accused of exerting outside influence on Vatican policy, has ignited scandalous rumors across the globe’s Catholic community—making some wonder if the revelation was motivation for former Pope Benedict’s resignation.
And Pope Francis responded to those questions in his airborne press conference as well.
“There has been a lot written about gay lobbies within the Vatican,” he said. “But I have not yet met someone with an ID that says ‘gay’.”
He added that the problem with questions of such a network or lobby is not the orientation, but the lobbying itself.
“We must be brothers,” he said. “The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."
While the Catholic Church officially maintains that homosexual relations are sinful, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that much of the US’s Catholic community is more accepting. The survey found that 71 percent of US Catholics believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society; while 54 percent admit that there is at least some conflict between their personal religious beliefs and homosexuality.
A similar statistic from a June 13 Pew survey of the LGBT community shows that 79 percent of adults perceive the Catholic Church as “unfriendly” toward them, 66 percent among LGBT Catholics in particular.
The results of this Pew survey came as an unwelcome surprise to Catholic LGBT groups like Dignity USA, who said that the study should serve as a “wake up call” to all Catholics.
The survey, Dignity USA stated, shows that many Catholics — even those who may not necessarily take issue with the LGBT community— are simply following the positions of Catholic bishops.
“We need to grapple with the fact that our bishops are defining Catholicism in a way that is directly opposed to what most Catholics believe and want our church to be,” the group’s online statement said. “If we want Catholicism to be identified as a hostile institution by four out of five LGBT people, and by many of those who support us, then let the bishops continue to own ‘Catholic, Inc.’ However, if we truly believe in the baptismal identity we reaffirm each Easter season and want our church to be seen as a help and haven for those in need, it is time for Catholics to claim a leadership role within our church, much as we have done in the public square. We must begin to take on the bishops when they act in ways that are contrary to our central creed that God is incarnate in all humans, including LGBT people and those who love and support us.”