Although Pope Francis has been coming across as more compassionate towards homosexuals than his predecessors, the Catholic Church still is a major source of blatant homophobia and prejudice.
‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge’ – it was with these words that Pope Francis stole the hearts and souls of the journalists accompanying him on a plane to Brazil in July 2013. In the blink of an eye the compassionate message made the headlines of almost all major newspapers. The public at large took these words as a harbinger of change that would alter the fate of homosexuals in the Catholic Church. The more gullible even envisaged the Church as welcoming homosexual relationships into her bosom. To top it all, Pope Francis made the cover of the gay magazine The Advocate as their person of the year! If you think that Pope Francis, who as the cardinal of Buenos Aires vehemently opposed same-sex marriages, might be brining any change to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, you’ve got another think coming! The Catholic Church is a single-minded, pig-headed maiden that keeps the door to her bosom shut to homosexuals.
The Church’s hard-line stance on homosexuality is outlined in past documents and statements issued over the last few decades. These are mostly guidelines for bishops, and by extension, the whole of the clergy on how to address the ‘homosexual problem.’ The documents inspire the sermons the clergy give to the members of their congregations. They also inform the debate on homosexuality within the Church and outside, being a treasure trove of arguments for many conservatives.
One of the Church’s statements on homosexuality was issued in 1986 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and was entitled ‘On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.’ Although the document purports to set out official guidelines for bishops on the pastoral care of homosexuals, under close scrutiny it actually doesn’t seem to take much care of them. It focuses attention on confirming that homosexual ‘actions’ are ‘intrinsically disordered’ and ‘self-indulgent,’ referring to gays and lesbians as having a ‘homosexual inclination’ or ‘condition.’ The document further states that ‘homosexuality prevents one’s own fulfilment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God.’ The only advice it proffers is a genuinely uplifting recommendation that homosexuals should conform in self-denial, which ‘will constitute for them a source of self-giving which will save them from a way of life which constantly threatens to destroy them.’
In 1992, prompted by legislative proposals to make discrimination on the basis of homosexual orientation illegal in many Western countries, the Congregation came out with a letter expounding the guidelines from 1986. Here the Church went as far as to assert that ‘there are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account (…) in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.’ The Holy Catechism, sadly, does not show much divergence from the previous documents, reiterating that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered (…) [and] contrary to the natural law.’
The Church’s directive from 2005 (which is still effective) on the admission of homosexuals to the Seminary explicitly states that the Church ‘cannot admit to the seminary (…) those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies and support the so-called gay culture.’ The doctrine is more lenient though with people ‘with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem.’ They still may be considered for admission to seminars. How on earth does the Church distinguish between homosexuality as a transitory problem and deep-seated homosexual tendencies remains a mystery.
All those theological musings on homosexuality, which indubitably vilify and stigmatise homosexual people, stand in stark contrast to medicine and psychology. Major health associations and organisations, like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the Royal College of Psychiatrist together with the World Health Organisation jointly conclude that homosexuality is not a mental disorder in any way and that the experience of discrimination, rejection and stigmatisation has a deleterious effect on homosexuals and bisexuals’ well-being and mental health. In the light of these statements, the Church’s official line on homosexuality is even more appalling and unacceptable.
Of course, there may be some who will stand up for the Church, pointing out that the documents also state that homosexuals ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity’ and deplore any form of ‘violent malice in speech and action’ targeted at gays and lesbians. The problem is that, in this context, the compassionate exhortations can only be taken at their face value and are completely offset by the whole of the discriminatory anti-gay discourse present in the documents. What is more, the only form of compassion gays need has to do with the judgmental lashing they get from the Church.
Professor Richard Woods OP from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, the author of Another Kind of Love: Homosexuality and Spirituality, says that the fallacy of the Church’s teaching stems from transferring prejudices to theology and from flagrant disregard of how diverse people are. He also says that Ratzinger’s theology resonates with biological determinism and doesn’t fit human nature. Woods suggests that it could be a good idea to have a ten-year suspension of statements in similar cases, since almost every statement on homosexuality released by the Church has been wrong and the reasons for the Church’s objections are yet to be deeply reconsidered.
On 5 February 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a report in which it expressed concern about ‘past statements and declarations made by the Holy See on homosexuality, which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents’ and called on the Holy See to condemn all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman Fr Lombardi, representing the Catholic Church led by the compassionate Pope Francis, responded to the UN report saying the Committee seemed ‘to go beyond its powers and to interfere in the very doctrinal and moral positions of the Catholic Church (…) involving moral evaluations of (…)the vision of human sexuality, in the light of [the Committee’s] own ideological (sic!) vision of sexuality itself.’
‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, and has good will – who am I to judge?’ – Pope Francis.
Indeed. Who are you then?