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What Pope Francis Said about Gays and What People Heard

Pope Francis in airplane press conference


Sheila Liaugminas - MercatorNet - published on 08/06/13

The world's press appears to have blown the Holy Father's remarks on homosexuals out of proportion

It’s really quite remarkable that in an impromptu interview with the press on the plane after World Youth Day in Rio, some brief comments the pope made in response to a question about gays became the one big story.

Catholic Culture reports on what Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis has said that he does not judge homosexuals, including homosexual priests. “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” the Pope said.

The Pope added that a homosexual orientation “is not the problem.” He called for charitable treatment of homosexuals, saying that they should not be marginalized.

The Pope’s remarks– made during a long and candid exchange with reporters who accompanied him on his return flight to Rome after a visit to Brazil for World Youth Day—were widely interpreted by reporters as an acceptance of homosexuals in the Catholic priesthood. But in fact the Pope’s comments were addressed to different questions.

One was about rampant  rumors of a gay lobby in the Vatican.

The Pope said that although there have been many reports about a “gay lobby,” there is no clearly identifiable group. He joked that he had “never seen it on a Vatican ID card.” In that context, the Pope said that it is important to distinguish between a homosexual orientation and active participation in a “lobby” within the Vatican. “The problem isn’t the orientation,” he said. “The problem is having a lobby.

The first part of that statement is what got all the attention. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan responded to the reactions.

Dolan said the pontiff’s comments didn’t surprise him, but everyone’s reaction did.

“This is no way could this be interpreted as a change in church doctrine or the church’s faith and morals. It is a change in tone,” he said.

“It’s been a pretty clear teaching of the church based on the words of Jesus that we can’t judge people; we can judge actions,” he said.

Yes, both/and. It’s a change in tone, and a continuation though clarification – in Pope Francis’s unique and direct way – of longtime church teaching.

But because it was said with a “change in tone” some people heard it for the first time. Like Patheos blogger Max Lindenman and Eve Tushnet, who was quoted in this article.

”The main thing that I would love to hear from the pope is, ‘God is calling you,’ ” Tushnet said. ”God is calling gay people to love, to minister to others, to serve…certainly anything that comes from the pope that says that, ‘God has a specific call for you,’ I think that would be huge. I think the hunger is that gay people have been told what they’re not allowed to do out of love but they haven’t been told what they should do out of love.”

The pope’s interview with the press went for 1 hour and 21 minutes, but this was not only the lead in the reporting afterward, it became the story. It was a rich exchange, with some worthy news items about Francis’s remarks on the need for a ‘theology of women’ and their role in the church, and very much about divorced and re-married Catholics. But hopefully that will be unpacked over time, along with the magnificent World Youth Day in Rio he had just wrapped up so successfully.

For now, the pope’s remarks on gay people has broken open a new conversation about the Catholic church and its teachings about the truth of human dignity and equality. It has captured the world’s attention. And that’s a good thing. The pope is still Catholic, and church teaching and belief about love and respect has not changed. It’s just become more engaging.

Originally published at MercatorNet on 6 August 2013. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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