Pope Francis has made the news again. It has been reported by major media outlets that during a private meeting with a victim of the Chilean sex abuse scandal, Juan Carlos Cruz, that Pope Francis said to him: “it doesn’t matter that you’re gay. God made you that way and that is the way He wants you to be, and I don’t mind. The Pope wants you this way too, and you have to be happy with who you are.” Since then, the media has been quick to parade this around in a way that makes it seem like Pope Francis is open to changing the Catholic Church’s teaching about homosexuality.
It is a great thing that Pope Francis wants to give pastoral care for people in difficult times regardless of their religion or sexual orientation. He treated Mr. Cruz with the dignity he is afforded as a human being. That is highly commendable. However, we should not confuse private conversations of the Pope in individual cases as having some kind of wide-ranging effect on Church teaching. The way this is being reported is just another example of how the media and those who are opposed to the Catholic Church want to turn what the pope said, or what they think he said, to fit their way of thinking. I quite frankly am sick of seeing this happen.
This wouldn’t be the first time the media mischaracterized Pope Francis. In 2013 when he said “If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?,” the media immediately jumped on the line “who am I to judge?” as if he was accepting of homosexuality and that the whole Catholic Church was about to follow suit. This is not the case since a pope cannot contradict or change church teaching related to faith and morals. In fact, he clarified these remarks in his book The Name of God is Mercy saying:
“On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?…I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.” He continues on, “I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!
As for what the Catechism says regrading homosexuality, there are three paragraphs that sum up Catholic teaching on this.
2357: “Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave gravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ 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 paragraph defines what homosexuality is and states that the Church’s teaching on it is something that cannot be changed for any reason. It only communicates the view about homosexual actions and not homosexual people. The Church’s view on individual people who are attracted to people of the same sex is more positive.
2358: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. 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.”
As far as this paragraph is concerned, Pope Francis did a masterful job of upholding this. Being kind and loving toward people does not mean that you have to approve of or support all that they do and say. However, we need to be careful since what was reportedly said by Pope Francis has not been verified by other sources aside from Mr. Cruz. It is entirely possible that he misinterpreted something that Pope Francis said. Also, the Vatican will not comment on this out of respect for the private nature of this conversation (could we maybe do the same?) Remember the controversy earlier this year were it was reported that Pope Francis allegedly said that Hell doesn’t exist? These reports came via a private meeting between an atheist reporter and the Pope where this reporter gave his interpretation of what the Pope said. Thus there was a firestorm of media attention making it seem like the Pope believed Hell doesn’t exist. Church teaching on Hell is that it is a real place. Pope Francis has even warned about Hell as stated here. It is another example of Church teaching that cannot be changed. I would also be cautious to think that God “makes” people a certain way. We are all made in the image and likeness of God who is infinitely good, but we are sinful by our fallen nature. God allows for sin and temptation to be a part of our lives. This brings up the last paragraph of the Catechism on this subject:
2359: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. 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 be gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”
I think that this is a great point because it tells us that every person is unconditionally loved by God. It shows the universality of the Catholic Church. We all have difficulties, weaknesses, sins, and temptations to overcome. It is by offering them up to God and seeking him in all ways that we get better at overcoming them and grow closer to God. If we spend more time learning about God and being with God, we will become more like God. How do you get to know your friends? You spend time with them. How do you know you want to marry someone you are dating? You spend time with them.
It would be great when it comes to the Catholic Church if the media did not jump to conclusions about what a priest, bishop, or pope said to suit its way of thinking and reported relevant news honestly. This irresponsible reporting only divides people. It puts Catholics in an awkward position and misinforms Catholics and non-Catholics about what the Church teaches. Sadly, I don’t see this as the last time this will happen, whether or not it is Pope Francis or a future pope.
If you would like to get a better understanding of Catholic teaching on this subject, it might be helpful to look at my earlier posts about the best resources to learn about the Catholic faith.