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The shift of the Catholic Church on Gay Issues

Gay rights groups are cautiously cheering a shift in tone from the Catholic Church toward homosexuals, encouraged that Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” position has filtered down to bishops debating family issues at a Vatican meeting this week.

There is no discussion that church doctrine on homosexuality will change or that the Vatican will soon endorse gay marriage or even gay unions. It will not, as the Vatican’s top canon lawyer made clear Thursday.

But for the first time, a Vatican meeting is discussing gay and lesbian issues and how to provide better spiritual care to Catholic homosexuals. Day after day, bishops have spoken of the need to change the church’s language about gays from words of moral condemnation and judgment to words of welcome and respect.

“I think what we’re seeing is a crack in the ice that we have been waiting for, for a very long time,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group. “It’s a sign of a first step.”

Church teaching holds that gay acts are “intrinsically disordered,” sinful and a “serious depravity,” and that homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered.” At the same time, it says homosexuals themselves must be treated with respect and compassion and not suffer discrimination.

“I know scores of people who have left the Catholic Church because of those words,” DeBernardo said.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI penned some of the Vatican’s key documents on gays when he headed the Vatican’s orthodoxy office; a 1986 letter of his to bishops on providing pastoral care to gays insisted that any church program must clearly state “that homosexual activity is immoral.” His 2003 document opposing recognition of same-sex unions made clear that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

The Vatican’s top canon lawyer, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, said Thursday that the Catholic Church would “never” accept gay marriage or even bless a gay union. “Look, you can talk about everything, you can say everything, but you also have to be honest and say that for us – and not just the Catholic Church but for human culture in general – marriage is between a man and woman,” he told reporters.

“It’s something else to say that everyone makes his or her choice, that we don’t judge and that they might be great people even with this condition, but it’s different to say that the union itself is blessed or a good thing.”

Despite that unbending position, there’s no doubting that a shift in tone has occurred.

Earlier this year, the head of the Nigerian bishops’ conference, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, wrote to the Nigerian president praising his “courageous and wise decision” to sign the country’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalized homosexuality.

Kaigama told reporters this week that Nigeria’s Catholic Church had supported the legislation merely as a defense of traditional marriage between man and woman.

While the Nigerian church didn’t speak out against the criminalization of homosexuality, he insisted: “We were not supporting criminalizing of different sexual orientation. … We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who has been harassed, who has been imprisoned or punished.”

Michael Brinkschroeder, co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, which represents 42 organizations in 22 countries, welcomed Kaigama’s clarification. “That is good news for people in Nigeria,” he said.

Brinkschroeder said it was clear that the synod won’t change doctrine, but that the “Francis effect” appeared to be trickling down to local bishops. Many had “lost their fear” and are freer now to engage in dialogue with gays in a way they couldn’t under the last two popes, he said.

“With Benedict vanished from the scene, Francis has given signals for bishops to start pastoral work and dialogue,” he said.

Francis famously said “Who am I to judge?” when asked in 2013 about rumors that a top priestly adviser had a gay lover.

DeBernardo, of New Ways Ministry, said the next step is for gays to be at the table offering their testimony to bishops. No openly gay Catholics have addressed the closed-door synod, but two Catholic heterosexual couples have spoken about experiences of devout Catholics welcoming gays or trying to provide pastoral care for them. DeBernardo said he was “euphoric” that some bishops had said language such as “intrinsically disordered” was wholly ineffective in bringing people closer to the church.

“I think the change in language starts a chain reaction: A change in language will bring a change in pastoral practice which will bring about a change in teaching,” he said.

Not so fast, say conservative Catholics.

Hard-line Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the Vatican’s high court, insisted that gay sex was and will remain “intrinsically disordered” and that the church has to protect children from thinking otherwise. He was responding to testimony from an Australian Catholic couple who told the synod about friends who welcomed their gay son and his partner to a Christmas party which their grandchildren would attend.

“That particular form of relationship should not be imposed upon family members, and especially upon impressionable children,” Burke told the conservative LifeSiteNews. “And I urge parents or grandparents — whoever it may be — to be very, very prudent in this matter and not to scandalize their children or grandchildren.”

About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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  1. Its a sad thing, the welcoming and trivialising of sin by God’s Church so as to look “progressive” to the world. It seems that we have all forgotten the injunction by Jesus to be in the world but not of the world. One might ask if we are not all sinners. Yes, we all are. but the difference is that while other sinners are ashamed of their sin, hide them in their private spaces and yearn for repentance, gays are around of their sin. They beat their hearts and demand acceptance of them and their sin in the Church. Such phenomena are anathema to the true spirituality.

    Now do I condemn gays? No. Never. As a human and as a Christian I am expected to love all God’s creation no matter what they believe or profess, as Christ showed us. But it is perfectly possible to love someone and not mince words in the condemnation of their sins.

    • shakespeareanwalter

      You may afford yourself the luxury of believing you know the distinction between the ‘sinner’ and the ‘sin’. But bottomline is, most people, especially ‘Christians’ don’t. Society sees a gay person and that’s all it is it sees. His or her sexuality. The individual, who is essentially a makeup of different aspects, ceases to exist, and becomes this one aberration that should be shunned and derided.
      In my opinion, the Pope’s ‘Who am I to judge?’ stance is merely a way to create an acceptance for the PERSON. I don’t care much for gay marriage, or any sort of marriage for that matter (not a fan of the institution anyway), so if the church is deliberating on changing its stance with respect to who they wed, that’s not my concern. What my concern is, is the tolerance of a human based on his individuality, not his sexuality. THAT, my dear friend, is not the church being of the world. It is the church doing what it has been charged by Christ to do – to love even as He has loved us.

    • I agree with the hard line Bishop o! Because no matter how progressive we may want to sound, how do I explain to my daughter the gay phenomenon? It is easier to see the grey lines when you don’t have the burden of raising kids in this kind of world.

      • And what world is that, chidimma, pray tell. The kind of world where Christ says love your neighbour as yourself, just not your gay neighbour?

  2. Walter, I totally agree with you. Miguel, I don’t. While it is true that the church should take some measures (including parents) ,to protect the impressionable children, outright condemnation of the human being goes totally against what we claim to practice as Christians. Condemn the act, not the person.

  3. This topic again?
    Miguel also taking his “hate the sin not the sinner” stance again?
    Its all right, I’m watching and waiting.

  4. The following are the words of former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. When he was questioned thus:
    ‘ On the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage, do you consider your own views and those of the church as being out of touch with the views of your students at Cambridge, and do you think that’s a problem?’

    He responded:
    ‘I think it is quite a problem. This is the one area where there is the deepest sense of the church being out of step with what the rest of the culture take for granted. I think it’s quite difficult for some people outside of the church to recognise that there is something in the matter of several thousand years of assumption, reflection and ethical practice here which isn’t likely to be overturned in a moment. But, all that being said, I think the church has to put its hands up and say our attitude towards gay people has at times been appallingly violent. Even now it can be unconsciously patronising and demeaning, and that really doesn’t help. We have to face the fact that we’ve deeply failed a lot of gay and lesbian people, not only historically but more recently as well. I think that there is a very strong, again theological, case for thinking again about our attitudes towards homosexuality: but I’m a bit hesitant about whether marriage is the right category to talk about same sex relation, and I think there is a debate we haven’t quite had about that. But in a sense that’s water under the bridge, the decision has been taken, things move on. Looking back over my time as Archbishop I think that’s what most people will remember about the last ten years: ‘oh, he was that bloke who was so bogged down in issues about sexuality’.

    My point? More spiritual leaders should take a stand against the dehumanization of people based on who they have chosen to love.

  5. D world truly is coming to an end…I do hope dia don’t crack..

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