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Are you worried about Pope Francis? So am I.
The media has been filled with troubling reports that he is soft on the abuse crisis and that he turns a blind eye toward bishops who work at cross-purposes to their flocks. The Atlantic and Vanity Fair, from two different perspectives, have each suggested he might start a schism.
But when I was writing my book What Pope Francis Really Said I noticed a common phenomenon: The real Francis and the Francis we hear about are often two different people.
Whenever Pope Francis seems to be out of step with Church teaching, what he says gets a lot of press.
When he strongly affirms Church teaching, what he says gets buried.
In The Strength of Vocation, a new book-length interview with Spanish priest Fernando Prado, Pope Francis strongly affirms Church teaching on homosexuality, but his comments got short shrift in the media.
Catholic teaching has three parts. The Church says same-sex attracted people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” but it also insists that homosexual acts are disordered and “Under no circumstances can they be approved”. A third part is pastoral, giving ways that same-sex attracted people can be chaste.
The Holy Father stresses all three in the new book.
Pope Francis says the situation of actively gay religious causes him distress:
“It’s something that worries me,” he said. “We have to discern with seriousness and listen to the voice of the experience that the Church has. … It may be that at the moment they are accepted they don’t exhibit that tendency, but later they come out.”
Pope Francis says the Church must buck the trends of our time:
“In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable, and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church.”
Pope Francis says it is wrong to minimize the danger:
To those who say the issue is not “that serious, it’s just an expression of an affection,” he answers, “That’s a mistake. It’s not just an expression of an affection. In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.”
Pope Francis compared homosexuality to other disordered inclinations:
“When there are candidates with neurosis, marked imbalances, difficult to channel not even with therapeutic help, they shouldn’t be accepted to either the priesthood or the religious life, They should be helped to take another direction but they should not be abandoned. They should be guided, but they should not be admitted.”
To priests and religious who are same sex attracted, Pope Francis says:
“We must urge you to live fully celibate and, above all, to be exquisitely responsible, trying not to scandalize your communities or the holy faithful people of God by living a double life. It is better that you leave the ministry or consecrated life rather than live a double life.”
Pope Francis urges religious houses of formation and seminaries not to accept candidates who have this “ingrained tendency”:
“Homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates,” adding, “The Church recommends that people with this ingrained tendency not be accepted into the ministry or the consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.”
If it comes as a surprise that Pope Francis said these things, then be aware: On homosexuality, as on many other issues, our understanding of Pope Francis is often influenced by selective reporting.
A big example was his airplane interview on the way back from World Youth Day, 2013.
Pope Francis called homosexual activity a sin that must be repented, he called homosexual lobbies “not good” and the he said, “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”
Most reporting focused on just five words of what he said: “Who am I to judge?”
When Pope Francis visited the United States, he met with conscientious objector Kim Davis, the court clerk who was jailed for refusing to allow her signature to be used on marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Asked about that visit on the plane, Pope Francis defended the conscience rights of everyone, even government officials (see his exchange with “Terry Moran, ABC News” here.)
But that was barely mentioned. Instead, coverage focused on a visit he made with a former student who is gay.
Both visits were important. The fact is, Pope Francis really does follow Church teaching with regard to the same-sex attracted. He accepts them, loves them, and his teaching calls them to repentance and chastity.
The real story of Pope Francis is that he shows that the real, authentic Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction is far from being a “way of hatred.”
It is a plea for compassion, because everyone has inherent dignity and worth — and it is a clear-headed understanding that compassion means telling the truth to those we love.
Photo: Wikimedia; White House