Published: October 16, 2015
Pope Francis is not a politician. He does not quite fit into the “liberal” or “conservative” label, and, therefore, does not quite fit into American dialogue. Regardless, his pastoral attitude has charmed many left-leaning American Catholics, myself included, so his meeting with notorious bigot or esteemed martyr Kim Davis has left many understandably feeling disappointed. However, to accuse Francis of hypocrisy for his actions is to misunderstand the role of the Pope and his relationship to the secular world.
In last week’s issue, the article “Davis versus Goliath” raised the concern that Francis does not “practice everything he has preached” with regard to gay marriage, citing the “Who am I to judge” speech. First, it is important to note that the article presents the quote out of context. The translated snippet comes from a larger statement from a 2013 interview regarding not gay marriage, but acceptance of gay individuals: “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby,” Francis said according to National Catholic Reporter. “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”
Francis has not spoken about changing Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality, or expressed any “non-traditional things” with regard to teaching. His message of love and acceptance toward the LGBTQ+ community actually imbues Catholic teaching. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that gay persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” Further, the Catechism does call Catholics to embrace people with “homosexual tendencies” into the community and to fight “violence” and “marginalization” against them (Catechism n. 2358).
Those of us who have attended Catholic high school are probably familiar with the idea of “loving the sinner but hating the sin” with regard to the LGBTQ+ community. Francis has not fundamentally changed Church teachings, but rather, has changed the conversation by placing particular emphasis on the loving. His comments regarding the state of the family do seem jarring in comparison to this pastoral tone to which the global audience has grown accustomed. However, Francis has not contradicted himself or the message of the Church. Instead, he seems to attempt to reconcile the Church’s moral teachings on homosexuality with her call to stand beside the marginalized.
Francis’s meeting with Davis, regardless of the murky details, does not contradict the Church’s role in the world. Davis perceives herself as the victim of persecution based upon her religious beliefs. I do not agree and will not defend her. However, many Americans certainly do hate her for her actions. Perhaps Francis did want to offer some sort of consolation for her unwillingness to bend under the pressure of the secular world. Maybe he simply wanted to extend Christ’s love and mercy to an unpopular person, not unlike his attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community.
Finally, the dismissal of Rev. Kryzysztof Charasma seems more related to his violation of his vow of celibacy as well as the timing of his announcement, just before the synod on the family. In fact, the Vatican officially stated that “Charasma’s decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure,” Vatican News Network reports. Of course Charasma does point to an important issue within the Catholic Church, but dismissing the Church’s actions against him as homophobic is not accurate or fair.
The Catholic Church does not compromise her beliefs or teachings to fit neatly into the changing society. Expecting Francis to overturn hundreds of years of Church teaching shows a lack of understanding of the Catholic Church. Francis’ mercy, joy and love have drawn attention to the beauty of humanity and embodies the Jesuit ideal of meeting people where they are. He emphasizes the dignity of each person. The Church will not change simply because the rest of the world has. To be frank, I too hope that, in my lifetime, the Catholic Church does reconsider its position on homosexuality. However, if change does come, it should not come as a result of the pressures of the world on a “progressive” pope. Change within the Catholic Church should come as a result of God’s love.
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