Pope Francis on LGBT Issues Is Out of Sync with Amoris Laetitia’s Overall Message, Say Theologians


Francis Clooney

Last week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted young theologians critical of the perceived dismissal of LGBT Catholics by Pope Francis in his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  These young scholars were also dismayed by liberal commentators who seem intent on preserving the narrative of progress for the pope’s administration. Today, we highlight theologians who have focused on the exhortation’s inconsistencies when it comes to LGBT issues.

Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney of Harvard Divinity School offered three points in America about Pope Francis’ treatment of same-gender marriages, concluding with an appeal for Pope Francis to rewrite”in his own hand, from his own heart”paragraph 251 which condemns same-gender marriages quite harshly.

Why does Clooney reach that conclusion? First, the priest noted the “rather formal, one might say cold tone” of paragraph 251 especially as it contrasts with paragraph 250’s rejection of anti-LGBT discrimination. Clooney observed that paragraph 251 extensively quotes the 2015 Synod report, which cited heavily a 2003 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is itself based in the Catechism. The Jesuit priest wrote:

” ‘I think [Francis] would have spoken differently had he spoken in his own voice. . .If the pope had written about gay marriage in his own voice, I don’t think No. 251 would have been the result. If some men and women, struggling for love, stability and family, choose to enter a gay marriage, might this not be a similar, analogous ‘this agonizing and painful decision’ [to procure an abortion] that merits the pope’s compassion, rather than the cold assertion made in No. 251?”

Clooney cited his own experiences which challenge paragraph 251’s assertion that same-gender relationships are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan.”About witnessing same-gender marriages in his life, the priest wrote:

“No relation is perfect, I am sure, but in these marriages I most often observe: honest, open, mature love; commitment, often over many years; fidelity and loyalty to one another, for richer or poorer, in health and in sickness; Christian faith, lived out in a deep human relationship; and, in several cases, great devotion to raising children. I am edified by these relationships, these marriages. . .

“[I]t should be evident to anyone with their eyes open, that gay marriage is in many ways similar to marriage as is esteemed by the church, and that analogies abound, including those I have mentioned. It is hard to see how or why Pope Francis might think that gay marriage could be entirely dissimilar and equivocally unlike heterosexual marriage. It is hard to see why Pope Francis, even if quoting quotes from other documents, would be willing to say that the marriage of a gay couple is entirely outside God’s plan. Is there anything or anyone outside God’s mercy and compassion?”


Daniel Maguire

In a commentary at Consortium News, theologian Daniel Maguire of Marquette University said the pope “should be embarrassed by the significant failings” of Amoris Laetitia.

Maguire denied the exhortation is “a retreat from rule-centered church teaching,” highlighting instead areas like marriage equality and contraception where Pope Francis’ respect for conscience becomes invalidated by his own words. The pope “waxes rhapsodic on the beauty and personal enrichment offered by marriage,” calling it ideal love, but Maguire also pointed out:

“And now the rub! This magnificent experience is reserved by God and the Catholic hierarchy only for heterosexuals. It’s beyond the reach of gays who love one another. The document should have been called The Joy of Heterosexual Love. . .

“Is it that all LGBT persons are too ‘selfish, calculating and petty?’ Are they so deficient in their humanity as to be incapable of this achievement of human love. Is the Pope suggesting in a new nasty way that all these persons are ‘queer’ and ‘deviant.’ Is that why heterosexuals have seven sacraments but gays only have six since marriage is beyond their reach? That is theologically queer. Do we see here the old brutal prejudice wrapped in the language of love, pastoral concern, and pity?”

This evaluation of LGBT people’s relationships is, in Maguire’s words, “cruel” and abandons the pope’s previous attitude of non-judgement. Divesting LGBT matters from broader appeals to conscience is a tremendous weakness of the pope’s document, Maguire noted, but the theologian remained hopeful, noting in his commentary’s conclusion:

“Catholicism has a splendid, but well hidden, theory of conscience. . .Some 30 years ago, I spoke to a Dignity group of Catholic gays. I explained Probabilism, reading from old Catholic moral theology books, and applied it to same sex unions. In the light of that, I said, ‘your loves are not only good they are holy and full of grace.’

“A number of them were in tears. They loved the Church and did not want their deep love of another to separate them from it.”

Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been praised for its compassionate style and reaffirmation of the primacy of conscience. He signaled a new welcome for marginalized Catholics who are divorced and remarried, or who use artificial contraception. But on LGBT matters, the exhortation seems conflicted, at best.  Clooney and Maguire clearly identify sources in experience and in tradition that will enable Catholics to develop LGBT Catholic thought in a manner that is actually consistent with Pope Francis’ calls for mercy and the respect of conscience. Pope Francis should pay attention to these critiques for the next time he writes on LGBT issues.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    It’s been widely reported that after the first draft by Pope Francis’ close advisor(s), the text was referred to the CDF for comment. It seems obvious to me that the obvious differences in tone between 251 and the text as a whole, reflect the difference between the pontiffs own position and the existing, formal doctrine as presented by the CDF and existing church documents.
    This need not alarm us too much. It was never on the cards that the Synod would formally change doctrine – that’s just not what it was about. Far more important, is that there’s been a fundamental shift in the relative importance of doctrine itself, which has been downgraded, and pastoral practice as listening and accompanying – which has been emphasised as central. The renewed emphasis on conscience, the interior forum, and the sensus fidelium necessarily means that it becomes ever easier for LGBT and Catholics in good conscience to simply ignore the doctrinal rules – provided that they really have interrogated the issues in conscience.

  2. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    Agree completely with the theologians! Some imponderable issues (for me) must be affecting Francis’.

  3. Paul Morrissey, OSA, author of The Black Wall of Silence
    Paul Morrissey, OSA, author of The Black Wall of Silence says:

    “If the Catholic Church wants to be taken seriously in any conversation about sexuality, especially to young people, it needs to be honest about the sexual abuse crisis first, including the cover up by its bishops. It also needs to be honest in its dialogue about sexual morality issues with the laity, and to invite them to speak out of their experience as Pope Francis has encouraged. This is not to say that “whatever goes” as the practice of sexual relations by someone is to be accepted, but any teachings by a Church that do not have the experience of its people taken into consideration is like a mind without a body, a set of laws without a basis in people’s actual lived experience. The Catholic Church has much to offer the world in terms of our beliefs on sexuality, loving commitment, sacraments, procreation and family, but we remove ourselves from the conversation when we present ourselves as having all the answers before the conversation begins.

    If the Catholic Church in the United States does not want to lose its entire younger generation, not to mention the older ones who are still trying to hold on and be faithful, we will take this vote for gay marriage in Ireland as a call to open up a discussion in our country about sexuality and where God is calling us now.” (an excerpt from article in USA Today, June 26, 2015)

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    Great comments by all of our responders. I think I’ve said this before at our forum, but I’ll say it again: at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, where I’m based, the senior pastor of the Cardinal Newman Catholic Center commented in a sermon, a few months ago: “The Admissions Offfice intake survey tells us that about 80% of each incoming class of students declare their religious affiliation to be ‘Roman Catholic’. So why is it that, with a student body of some 18,000 folks, we only ever see about 300 of you in the course of a semester!” It’s pretty obvious that, even with the “Francis Effect” in full bloom, the overall messaging being delivered by the Vatican’s official documents is a total non-starter for most young folks in their teens and early twenties. Whether we may eventually get them back — as they proceed into early adulthood (through their mid-twenties and into their thirties) — remains an open question and challenge. But if the genuinely charismatic Francis can’t accomplish it, then it’s hard to see how anybody else could rescue the durability of the Catholic Church in the near future, particularly here in the United States.


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  1. […] LGBT Catholics and their families. Indeed, theologians have noted how its treatment of sexuality does not seem consistent with the rest of the exhortation. The disappointment of gender and sexual minorities was present […]

  2. […] LGBT advocates (despite some of the exhortation’s good general developments), given that it failed to address seriously issues of gender and sexual identity, identifying the document as authoritative doctrine enables […]

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