It takes a Jesuit to know a Jesuit. And when you have two Jesuits commenting on a third Jesuit, well, there has to be some thing of import and insight there, for sure.
The two Jesuits commenting are two of U.S. Catholicism’s most astute observers, Father James Martin and Father Thomas Reese. The third Jesuit upon which they have both recently commented is none other than Pope Francis, who, as everyone knows by now, last week made some very strong gay-positive statements.
Let’s take a look at what these two Jesuits have to say.
In a Washington Post online op-ed, Fr. Martin examined the pope’s message very closely, and, in the course of the examination, answered some of the critics of the pope’s statement. He made five important points, worth reprinting here:
“First, throughout the exchange on the plane, Pope Francis, speaking in fluent Italian, used the English word ‘gay.’ Previous popes and the majority of church leaders have been more likely to use words like ‘homosexual,’ ‘homosexually oriented’ and even ‘persons suffering from same-sex attraction.’ I cannot remember a pope ever using the term preferred by much of the world’s gay community.
Second, the pope’s response to a question concerning gay priests was not along the lines that some might have expected, especially given a Vatican document issued in 2005 that barred men with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ from the priesthood. Rather than saying, ‘There can be no gay priests,’ the pope declined to judge them. He also emphasized that it was lobbies — ‘any type of lobby, business lobbies, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies’ — that were cattivo (evil).
“Third, the pope moved rather quickly from a question about a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican to a comment about gay people in general. That is, he did not say, ‘If a gay priest is searching for God,’ but ‘If a gay person is searching for God.’ Then his remarkably compassionate comment: ‘Who am I to judge them?’
“Fourth, he did not use words from the Catechism that many gays and lesbian Catholics say frustrate them, like ‘intrinsically disordered.’ Nor, after saying that gays should not be ‘marginalized,’ did he warn against homosexual activity, as might be expected.
“Finally, the pope’s tone was eminently pastoral. When you watch the video of his remarks, you hear the voice of a kind pastor. Several of my gay and lesbian friends say the video moved them to tears.
You can watch a video of the remarks here:
Fr. Martin interprets all these distinctions as leading to what he considers will be the hallmark of Francis’ papacy: mercy. Fr. Martin states:
“So for those expecting a wholesale condemnation of gays and lesbians, Pope Francis pointed them to mercy — not changing church doctrine on homosexual activity, but highlighting church teachings on how our brothers and sisters deserve respect, compassion and sensitivity. And in a largely unnoticed comment responding to a question about divorced and remarried Catholics, another group that often feels marginalized, the pope said, ‘I believe this is a time of mercy.’ ”
Fr. Reese, in an interview with Detroit’s Free Press newspaper, made an important point about the “style/substance” dichotomy that many have expounded upon. Some critics of the pope’s comments have said that the only thing which has changed is style, not substance. But Fr. Reese thinks otherwise:
“The Rev. Tom Reese, a visiting scholar at Santa Clara University in California and senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, agreed that Pope Francis hasn’t changed Catholic doctrine.
“But, Reese added, Francis did ‘provide a different face’ from previous popes. ‘He emphasized compassion, love, respect, the fact that gays should not be demonized.’
“ ‘In the Catholic Church, style is substance,’ and so Francis’ tone in his remarks is a major difference, Reese said.”
These two Jesuits highlight important particulars about the pope’s comments that show that the papal words have a lot more potential for hopeful change in the church than one might think.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry