What Pope Francis Says

shutterstock_97345046 - 2Two days after Pope Francis’ now famous remarks on homosexuals and homosexuality, I heard a homily in which the homilist said Francis was giving us light “to see things in a way we never saw them before.”

That certainly is true. What the homilist didn’t say is that in the present instance the Pope also was taking a risk–a calculated one, no doubt. It’s the danger of being misinterpreted and misrepresented, whether accidentally or by design.

Plainly the Holy Father sees significant pastoral benefits in reaching out to gays. These include the possibility of reconciling some of them with the Church and fostering a more charitable, welcoming attitude toward them among Catholics at large. These are real goods.

But the potential harm involved here is no fantasy. It lies in the risk of creating the perception–or allowing it to be created–that the Pope is opening the door a crack to approval of the gay “lifestyle,” including homosexual acts and same-sex marriage. Some early reactions among gay rights activists to what Francis said seemed to justify this concern.

Francis is undoubtedly aware of these things. Even so, he apparently believes that, on the whole, the potential benefits outweigh the potential harms. This is a papal judgment call that the rest of the Church should respect.

Seen in context, what he said about homosexuality in the course of a freewheeling July 28 news conference on the plane carrying him back to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil was not so obscure.

Speaking of priests–and by extension, it seems safe to suppose, of non-clerics as well–he found no fault with someone who has a homosexual orientation but “seeks the Lord and has good will.” This, one might add, is hardly something new for a Church leader to say.

Instead, Pope Francis noted, the problem is with a “gay lobby” operating behind the scenes–supposing such a thing to exist–and with those who act out homosexual orientation by engaging in homosexual acts. He made the latter point implicitly but clearly by citing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on the subject.

All the same, it appeared at first that he’d made a serious verbal slip by repeating the familiar mantra, “Who am I to judge?”

Casual observation and serious studies concur that the moral relativism expressed in “Who am I to judge?” is dominant in today’s America. Non-judgmentalism is the eleventh commandment for many Americans, according to sociologist Alan Wolfe. Considered in this light, the Pope’s unscripted remark seemed unhelpful.

But did he say it? Look again at his words: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?” (In the original Italian: Se una persona e gay e cerca il Signore e ha buona volonta, ma chi sono io per giudicarla?) Reports that omitted the  first part failed to capture Francis’ meaning. This is the difference between what would otherwise be a shrug of the shoulders (“who am I to judge?”) and a necessary norm of faith (“seeks the Lord and has good will”).

If there’s a lesson, it’s a familiar one. Don’t believe everything you read and hear about this Pope. The Holy Father’s off-the-cuff populism is hugely appealing to millions. But it lays him and the rest of us open to hasty reporting that ignores nuances and complexities in favor of headline-grabbing simplifications, while at the same time making it easy for special interests to exploit the results.


Image credit: shutterstock.com

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at RShaw10290@aol.com.

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  • Jack

    Our Pope was expressing a message of love and inclusion. The secular media will misquote and misrepresent, they always do, but the message of love is still the message of Christ and must be shared. Are we to walk on egg shells for fear of misrepresentation? Misrepresentation will always be with us, as it is in this article you wrote. Jesus too shared a radical message that much upset the powers that be, should he have been careful to not speak in ways that could be misrepresented? When it comes to judging, perhaps you, should stop judging the Pope and try to support him and his message of love. Especially if you are in a position of communicating your ideas to a large audience with influence to sway public opinion as a “freelance writer”. Wouldn’t it be better to support our Pope rather than inspire dissent? Causing division and dissent is a message from a very different source.

  • As for me and my house

    The Pope is right that we must also “not judge” the following: Men, single or married, who visit brothels. men and women involved in polygamy or polyamory, adult men and women in incestuous relationships. Just like those involved in sexual perversion (e.g. homosexuality), we must use Jesus words “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more). He never could approve any of the immoral acts described above, including homosexuality.

  • Jeanette

    Perhaps Pope Francis will curtail some of these off-the-cuff remarks in the future, which would be wise, because this one has not gone well. He’s still a new pope who’s settling in to his position.
    In the end, nothing has changed. The Church still loves and welcomes sinners, and still teaches that homosexual acts are disordered and sinful.

  • Raymond Cote

    I honestly do not know where you are coming from, Jack. The writer was not judging the Pope at all. He was giving, I believe, an appropriate take on the Pope’s comments, noting the obvious media misuse of the Pope’s words. Mr. Shaw does not say a thing against the Pope. Nor does Mr. Shaw incite division. I suggest a careful re-reading of Mr. Shaw’s article.

  • poetgerard

    Two months ago the Huffington Post deliberately distorted the popes homily and saying that the pope was teaching that unrepentent atheists will go to heave.I read the whole homily and he said nothing of the kind.He was talking about atheists and catholics working together for moral good.Catholics are still called to evangelize atheists as to die in unbelief they will go to hell.The liberal media is also distorting the popes new comments on gays.The bottom line is dont believe the lying anti catholic media.