The Vatican and homosexuality: forgive and forget?
Speaking at the end of his South American trip, Pope Francis expressed shockingly tolerant views on homosexuality. While he does not, of course, support radical ideas like same-sex marriage or adoption rights, as regards the individual who identifies as gay he had this to say:
A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?
Even though I grew up in an aethetiest household and remain non-religious as an adult the attitudes of the Catholic Church have always had an impact on my life, not least because of the deeply weird relationship between the Irish legislature and the Church. For me, hearing the Pope express such a tolerant statement was a tremendous moment, I can only imagine how it felt to the millions of Catholics worldwide – especially those Catholics who are also members of the LGBTQ community. Most of the LGBTQ people I know, regardless of their own personal relationship to Catholicism, have had their experiences shaped by its perceived stance on their identities. In Ireland it is often central to any conflict between people coming out and their families or communities.
While it’s probably as much motivated by Francis’ desire to reinvigorate a struggling Catholic Church which is losing members all over the globe, rather than a pure opening of his heart to the varied wonder of human experience, it does signal a massive change in the Vatican’s usual attitude to such things. I know the Pope is no longer an infallible figure and that his word does not immediately become the teaching of the Church but we can hope that his position on this will slowly drag the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy to join the majority of the faithful laypeople, some of whom have been calling on the Vatican to get update its attitude for quite some time.
While it sounds like the kind of statement one would associate with the proverbial ice age hitting Hell, it doesn’t signal a complete about-face in Catholic doctrine. Pope Francis accepts the individual – it does not mean he accepts the ‘gay lobby’ ( “[it is important to] distinguish between a person who is gay and someone who makes a gay lobby… A gay lobby isn’t good.”) and official teachings on homosexual acts are unlikely to lighten up any time soon. Additionally, it does seem as though Francis is speaking in particular about homosexuality in the priesthood – where celibacy is a given – and his talk about ‘forgiving sins of the past’, particularly of priests doesn’t sound like something we should necessarily celebrate. While forgiveness is central to the Catholic doctrine, there are some sins in the Catholic Church’s recent past where a forgive and forget attitude – whether you view it as homosexuality, pedophilia or both – simply won’t do.