After his trip to Brazil, Pope Francis had a candid moment to reporters in which he said, regarding gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” Many are hailing this comment as a new day for the Roman Catholic Church, but the church has not demonstrated a serious change in their position on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender matters.
The pope’s comments are a good first step, but the pope and the Catholic Church still need to do more to accept everyone.
While the pope may have made his personal views clear on the matter, he will still need to enact reform in the church before gay clergy can feel accepted or safe. As the Associated Press pointed out, Pope Benedict XVI signed a document in 2005 stating that homosexual men have no place within the church. This wasn’t much of a surprise, because Benedict was a particularly conservative pope, even by the standards of the conservative Catholic Church. The remarks Pope Francis made while flying from Brazil are important, but they do not indicate doctrinal change, and do not go far enough in recognizing the need for gay priests to feel accepted in the clergy.
In the eyes of the church, there is still a stigma attached to homosexuality. Pope Benedict XVI said that ridding the church of gay priests would solve the child molestation problems, even though groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Psychological Association have repeatedly debunked the myth of a link between homosexuality and a desire to molest kids. That evidence, however, has not been acknowledged by the church, and those claims simultaneously deny an underlying psychological problem in sexual abusers; thus, wrongly indicting homosexual clergymen.
The Vatican later clarified the pope’s statements by saying that homosexual orientation was fine, but acting on an attraction to a person of the same sex was still a sin. So, theologically speaking, it makes complete sense for the pope to have no qualm with gay priests, because they must remain celibate. Both gay and straight priests who have sex are sinners. For Catholics who are not ordained, however, gay sex is still a sin. Effectively, the Pope hasn’t made any changes to Catholic doctrine by saying he will not judge gay priests, because the Bible does not condemn a person for having homosexual thoughts, only for acting on those thoughts.
The APA tells us that a person’s sexual orientation is randomly and genetically determined, just like gender. Gay priests have no more control over their earthly desires than anyone else. If the pope is willing to acknowledge that gay priests are valuable to the Church as long as they do not sin, then the same thought should extend to female priests. The fact that Pope Francis is unwilling to change the church’s stance on women demonstrates that he is not ready for change, and casts a pall over his statements about gay priests. The church has no legitimate reason to discriminate against any person for characteristics beyond their control, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
In the Vatican’s clarifying statement, the church made it clear that gay sex is still a sin. There is no change from the text of Leviticus. For gay Catholics, this means that men and women who have sex with partners of the same gender are still committing a sin. Effectively, this means gay Catholics must remain celibate to be accepted by the Church. This is rather cruel of the church, to deny the physical representations of love for one part of the population. The church claims that “God is Love,” and often regards the act of lovemaking as one of the most sacred bonds between a man and a woman, so to deny that sacred bond for two men or two women is merciless. Effectively, this catches gay Catholics between the church and their partners, and forces them to choose one over the other.
Dan Morgan-Russell is a sophomore majoring in international relations (global business).
Follow him on Twitter @ginger_breaddan