'Who am I to judge?' marks new tone on homosexuality

'Who am I to judge?' marks new tone on homosexuality

It’s amazing how five simple words – “Who am I to judge?” – can change perceptions and open doors.

The words came from Pope Francis to reporters on his plane back to Rome following a weeklong trip to Brazil, and the topic was homosexuality.

The pope's remarks were telling, both for what he said and what he didn't say.

I was not on the plane, but my former colleague Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service was on board:

"A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will – well, who am I to judge him?" the pope said. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn't this (homosexual) orientation – we must be like brothers and sisters.”

Amid the media attention that inevitably followed, it’s important to note that although the pope was responding to a question about an alleged “gay lobby” in the Vatican, his comment was not specifically about gay priests.

Some media have portrayed the pope as saying he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation, which would seem to call into question the Vatican’s 2005 document that ruled out ordination for men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” Based on the pope’s actual words, I think that’s a stretch.

In fact, what the pope said – as he himself pointed out – is essentially affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that gay men and women “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

What the pope didn't discuss with journalists was the catechism’s line that the homosexual inclination is itself “disordered.” That was the basis for the Vatican’s ban on gay priests. Francis didn’t disown that particular teaching, he just didn't mention it.

It’s an important shift in emphasis. And Pope Francis is clearly trying to reach out to those who have been alienated by the church’s statements about homosexuality in recent years.

Although comparison between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict is not always fair, I think in this case it’s instructive. When asked about the church’s teaching on homosexuality in a book-length interview in 2010, Pope Benedict responded that gay men and women deserve respect, but added:

"This does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.”

Pope Benedict went on to say that homosexuality among the clergy was “one of the miseries of the church” and that “homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.”

“Who am I to judge?” sends a very different message.

UPDATE: Here's a translation of the relevant portion of the Q and A aboard the papal flight. The English translation was done by Father Tom Rosica of Salt + Light TV, on the basis of an Italian transcript provided by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi:

The Question to Pope Francis from Ilse, a journalist on the Papal flight

Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question.  Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life.  I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question.  How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?

The Pope’s Answer

Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation.  And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him.  We found none of that.  That is the answer.  But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the "sins of youth," for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.

But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing.  That is the first question.  Then you spoke of the gay lobby.  Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!


15 comments (Add your own)

1. TACit no more wrote:
It is quite astonishing how a purposely truncated quoting of Pope Francis' response (which it seems was made in Spanish) to this question is reverberating throughout the media. The Spanish-language paper 'La Nacion' (Argentine?) published this response, the second half of which was as follows: "....Si una persona es gay y busca al Señor y tiene buena voluntad, ¿quién soy yo para juzgarlo? El catecismo de la Iglesia católica lo explica de forma muy linda esto. Dice que no se deben marginar a estas personas por eso. Hay que integrarlas en la sociedad. El problema no es tener esta tendencia. Debemos ser hermanos. El problema es hacer un lobby." The final, short sentence has been dropped in every quoting in the English-speaking press that I have read. The Pope said in it, "The problem is making a lobby", in effect altering the sense of the foregoing 3 sentences. He first said that the problem is not having the tendency - which set up his final sentence, "The problem is making a lobby" (of the gay issue, is understood here). Nor have I noticed any translating of his mention that the Catechism explains this issue well. A thorough mis-representation and twisting of what the Pope said is being committed by those in the English-speaking media who quote without referring to the Pope's actual answer.

Mon, July 29, 2013 @ 2:36 PM

2. Jahnabi wrote:
Thanks for this, John.

Mon, July 29, 2013 @ 11:58 PM

3. Rod Larocque wrote:
When will the modern popes learn to stop granting off the cuff interviews.
Do what media savvy dignitaries do, request questions in writing and answer them in written form. Thus no ill considered terms or phrases.
With all due respect, sometimes the Pope needs to zip it.
He is causing great stress amongst sincere Catholics that are feeling constantly hammered and confused, trying to hang on the the faith and morals, without having things confused and watered down to make the guilty feel better.
A time of mercy should be given to the faithful Catholics that have been abused by their own careless prelates lo' these past 50 years.

Tue, July 30, 2013 @ 3:23 PM

4. Jim McCrea wrote:
The catechism explains very few things very well when it takes proof texts out of context. That is simply pretext, not proof.

Tue, July 30, 2013 @ 6:41 PM

5. Jack wrote:
The teaching of the RCC always was clearly that (active) homosexuality is a serious sin.
Why did the post conciliar Church label it as "intrinsically disordered"?
So it downplayed the sin and made it less grievoius, almost venial.
Yes, an intrinsical disorder isn't a sin. For example, the bedroom of my first daughter Caroline which is always in a big mess, is "intrinsically disordered", but so far as I know that's not a sin.

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 7:28 AM

6. JMJ wrote:
It is sad that our Holy Father, misused the word "gay" to describe someone/thing that is not gay, but, in fact homosexual by their thoughts and/or actions. This is an insult to those that have Gay in their name and it is horrible to take such a wonderful word to misuse it this way. When I listen to old radio shows, this word is used quite often and we know just what they mean. It is time to use our words in the proper manner and get back to common sense once again. Bless you Holy Father for being so faithful to Jesus and His Church. +JMJ+

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 8:08 AM

7. Kelly wrote:
What is interesting about the whole exchange was how media savvy Francis is. The news conference was on the way back to Rome which meant the gay comments didn't step on the Brazil trip itself (which was a Benedict problem). And Bergoglo was known for his rather standoffish relationship with the press in Buenos Aires. The fact that he can hold court with the press (albeit a sympathetic press after a solid week of glowing coverage) is a revelation.

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 8:57 AM

8. Deacon John M. Bresnahan wrote:
The most important point about media dereliction is how many stories in the mainstream media conveniently left out Pope Francis's emphatic embrace of what the Catholic Catechism teaches on these issues.

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 9:02 AM

9. Rosemarie paz wrote:
The church teaches that you respect the gay person, but not the sin,God is the only one to judge a person for he know the state of his soul. If a gay person goes to confession,he or she must confess the sin and not to repeat it.Many people will go right back and continue the behavior.Their behavior is not in line with church teaching.

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 1:42 PM

10. Conscience wrote:
I agree so much with Rod Larocque above. The Pope should be just. Justice requires he respect the best most faithful people first. Ordinary caholics who have the Faith are getting hammered by all and sundry. Popes should not ad fuel to the fire - even unwittingly. Even Popes should sometimes zip it.

Another point. I am not comfortable with the Pope explaining how much he followed canon law. He is the boss. He has the right to break canon law. He has the right to rewrite canon law.

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 2:01 PM

11. Brendan Flynn wrote:
We will be getting more obscure, confusing comments like this from Pope Francis. Still can't understand why Benedict still lives and we have someone parading his position, in the papal office. No doubt Benedict could have remained papal head whilst scaling back his duties, most people would be accepting of that. Watch Pope Francis change like the wind and oppose everything Catholics stand for. We won't know what hit us.

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 4:06 PM

12. Mark wrote:
For those lamenting Pope Francis's off the cuff remarks, rest assured the Holy spirit is at work. Any Catholic at all interested in understanding what was said and what the Church teaches will dig. Those who aren't are being lead astray by their own apathy anyway. More importantly, seriously seeking non-Catholics may now start to ask questions also. It's all good. As Pope Francis said to the youth, (and I paraphrase) it's time to take our faith to the streets! What a great jumping on point!

Wed, July 31, 2013 @ 10:22 PM

13. Jim McCrea wrote:
Don't worry. Those of us who are gay or lesbian (yes, I will use that term, "JMJ") harbor no delusions. So far Francis has been great on style and tone, but substance? .... same-old, same-old.

And that is why this church holds so little attraction to so many of us who were born and raised in it.

Thu, August 1, 2013 @ 5:03 PM

14. brendolnz wrote:
This whole thing is unremittingly stupid. The Pope was obviously talking about the case of one man - Ricca, and the allegations that Ricca engaged in homosexual conduct in the past. It was specifically to the case of Ricca that the comment "Who am I to judge" was directed. It was not to gays in general. It was not about gay priests in general. It was not a change in policy, or tone, or anything else. The pope circled back, though, to gays in general when he began referencing the Catechism as support for his "Who am I to judge" stance vis a vis Ricca. The only reference to gays or gay priests in general was that reference to the catechism.
Benedict never waivered from showing mercy to gays per Catechism 2758. In fact, his 2005 directive that those with deeply seated gay tendencies should not be priests references that same exact Catechism section that Francis referred to. Im Benedicts document, it says:
"Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called to fulfil God's will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter[8].

This is the thing that Francis said was so beautifully stated.

No difference between Benedicts position and Francis's. None whatsoever. The media made Benedict out to be the bad guy, he was not. He will be a Doctor of the Church and most likely will be canonized.

Sat, August 3, 2013 @ 9:10 AM

15. Louise LaFond wrote:
The Pope is quoted: "The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime. But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives."

Let's follow up on the child abuse crimes: Is it possible that the Pope is suggesting that with child abuse it's not simply 'forgive and forget'? That it's more than a 'sin' that is 'conversion-able' and forgettable?

Let's hear it from Pope Francis straight out and loud; backed up by a sincere policy of transparency and disclosure. His silence on the front-and-center issue of clergy sexual abuse has been deafening. When will he speak out - and act - on behalf of those of us so betrayed by the Church and its defensive and adversarial practices toward the victims of the 'crimes' of "child abuse"? As a victim am I expected to forgive and forget? Or is there another accommodation that might be forthcoming from the Church to welcome me back into her fold without the guilt and shame of having 'seduced' an innocent priest before I was even 7 years old? And the insistence that my own healing might be brought about by prayer and forgiveness of this priest, my Pastor? I have lost decades of my life to the doublethink imposed by the Church which was fortified by my parents' following of the Benedictine rule as Oblates.

Pope Francis, it's not just about the poor or the gays - those are the easier issues; you need to step forward, urgently and decisively, on this very important issue of betrayal by those who the Church designated as special and trustworthy through the Sacrament of Priesthood. Then you might see the formerly 'Faithful' returning to a Church that sincerely takes its cue from the most challenging actions of Jesus Christ; those actions that made Him so dangerous to the status quo.

Sat, August 3, 2013 @ 3:43 PM

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