Elton John last week called Pope Francis a great hero for gay rights. Some welcome this and rejoice that someone who wouldn’t normally look at the Church is now engaged with it in some way. Others say: yes, people like Elton John see an open door, but it’s opening a door that affirms them in a sinful lifestyle. How can the Church best now navigate this situation she finds herself in so that there is truth and charity?
Only by the diligent effort to explain very carefully the Church’s teaching with regard to homosexual acts, and to make the proper distinctions between the sinner and the sin. This was one of the difficulties of the Synod, that this was all confused where it was at least implied that there could be good elements in mortally sinful acts. We all know that’s not possible. There cannot be any good in this. And so if the Pope is being praised for caring deeply about people suffering from same sex attraction — and in society today this is at least made very conscious through the whole gay rights movement — the Pope’s concern for them is that they understand that, even though they have this attraction, it is an attraction to disordered acts and that they need to seek the healing and grace needed and to order their lives correctly and to deal with this suffering, and it’s a very profound suffering.
But the Pope’s position cannot be seen to be somehow the Church taking back what she cannot take back; namely, the teaching that these are contrary to nature.
There was also an article last week about how you managed to bring a homosexual man back into the Church.
Yes, I remember the situation very well.
How did that happen?
He was very aggressive in the homosexual movement. Obviously he suffered very severely from the same-sex attraction. And he had tried in a way to be in the Church, and finally he became very angry. It may have even been caused by some teaching that I had given publicly with regard to homosexual acts and to the whole situation. And so one day he delivered to my office this box with what he called “the trappings of my Catholicism,” and he wrote a letter saying he was renouncing the Catholic faith and wanted to be rid of these. There was a crucifix, a rosary, a bible, the normal tools of the faith.
So I told my secretary to put them in the closet because I think the man will come to see the truth and then he would like to have those objects back. And so we put them on the shelf, and that’s exactly what happened. He experienced a conversion and he was helped. I didn’t help him directly with the conversion. He was helped by a good priest and by some very good laypeople who took him into their home because he had been so actively engaged in the homosexual movement that he was in a very deeply wounded condition. And then he made an appointment to come to see me, and on that occasion I certainly embraced him and told him how happy I was for him, and I told him: "I saved these things for you, and I think you would like them back." And he was delighted to have them back, and so I gave them back to him.
Sadly I’ve lost contact with him now, once I moved away from the United States, but I hope that he’s still doing well, because this is a suffering and there can be recidivism. But in any case, in that instance I saw the beauty of the Church’s teaching at work. It really was the best thing for him, and when he was able to come back to the practice of the faith and lead a chaste life he was truly happy.
Was there any lessening of the Church’s teaching on your part?
No, no. I don’t bear bad feelings towards people with same-sex attraction. I try to help anyone who would come to me, but I’m always clear with them that the ultimate way has to be to cease any kind of activity and lead a chaste life, but that’s true for all of us.
Returning to the topic of your recent interviews, as perhaps you saw, Religion News Service Friday identified you as the cardinal “who has emerged as the face of the opposition to Pope Francis’ reformist agenda”. How would you respond?
My purpose, my goal is to present the Church’s teaching around which there has been a great deal of confusion, also some of it caused by what happened at the Synod of Bishops. The Holy Father is the Successor of St. Peter and I don’t ever put myself in opposition to the Successor of St. Peter. But I think that people who wanted to identify the so-called “reformist agenda” of Pope Francis with all of their favorite ideas of what the Church should do or what the Church should become now try to discredit what I say by attributing it to some personal animosity toward the Holy Father, and that is not right.
But there is increasing talk of fear of schism, that if the Synod of Bishops keeps going in the direction it’s going, that it’s going to get worse. What could be done to avoid that happening, in your view?
We have individually to make sure that we keep in strong contact with the Tradition through our study of the Catechism, above all through prayer, and also through sound spiritual direction, strong in our Catholic faith and our witness to it. And then that we use other occasions and opportunities, whether it’s our personal witness in our daily contacts, visits with family and friends and so forth, to underline the beauty of the truth about marriage. And also events like today’s, a colloquium centering around questions that were raised at the Synod on the Family, and other questions around which there is a lot of confusion.
I think, for instance, of the question: is it possible that the Church’s teaching can remain the same and yet that she could have a pastoral practice which seems to contradict it. Those kinds of questions need to be addressed. And the confusion, too, surrounding the position of the Fathers of the Church with regard to Communion for those who are in irregular unions, or the confusion surrounding the practice of the Orthodox Churches and so forth, and the idea that we should adopt the same practice.
And do you think that there is a real risk of schism in this?
If in some way the Synod of Bishops was seen to go contrary to what is the constant teaching and practice of the Church, there is a risk because these are unchanging and unchangeable truths.