In a soon-to-be-published book, Pope Francis has said that gay men in the priesthood is “something that worries me” and that homosexuality has become “fashionable” in some contexts, comments further complicating his already mixed record on LGBT issues.
Francis’ comments are from The Strength of Vocation, a book-length interview with Fr. Fernando Prado. The pope’s thoughts on gay priests arose during their wider conversation about vocations, priestly formation, and religious life. Asked about people with “homosexual tendencies” who are in the priesthood and religious life, the pope responded (via Google Translate):
“It’s something that worries me, because perhaps at some point it has not been dealt with well. Always on the line of what we were saying, I would say that in training we must take great care of human and affective maturity. We must seriously discern and also listen to the voice of the experience that the Church has. When discernment is not taken care of in all of this, problems grow. As I said before, it happens that perhaps at the moment they are not evident, but they manifest themselves later. That of homosexuality is a very serious matter, which must be discerned adequately from the beginning with the candidates, if this is the case. We must be demanding. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and this mentality, in some way, also affects the life of the Church.”
Pope Francis offered two examples about gay priests and religious, saying “it is a reality we can not deny.” In the first example, he described a “pretty scandalized bishop” who discovered there were several gay priests in his diocese and had to intervene in formation “to form another different clergy.”
In the second example, the pope also mentioned a religious who, “surprised” that “good young students and even some professed religious were gay,” asked Francis for advice on the topic. The religious’ attitude was that “it is not so serious; it is only an expression of affection,” an attitude the pope called “a mistake.” Francis continued:
“It is not just an expression of affection. In the consecrated life and in the priestly life there is no place for this kind of affection. For this reason, the Church recommends that people with this rooted tendency are not accepted in the ministry or in the consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life are not their place. Priests, religious men and women religious should be urged to live celibacy in full and, above all, to be perfectly responsible, trying not to create scandal in their communities or in the holy faithful people of God by living a double life. It is better that they leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than live a double life.”
These latest comments raise again the question of what Pope Francis actually believes when it comes to gay priests. In 2013, asked about the issue, he offered the famous, oft-quoted line, “Who am I to judge?” Yet, in 2016, he reaffirmed an existing Vatican ban on accepting gay men to seminary. In May of this year, it was reported that the pope told Italian bishops to “keep your eyes open” about such applicants and “if in doubt, better not let them enter.” Headlines have framed these latest comments as being similarly negative; one headline suggested the pope had gone “full homophobic.”
But Francis’ thoughts on gay priests and religious are more complicated than simply a blanket condemnation. His focus in the interview seems to be two-fold: personal integration and authenticity.
As for integration, the pope was honest that to this point, homosexuality “has not been dealt with well.” His concern was for priests who are well-integrated and have addressed their sexuality in formation, and he rightly pointed that not doing so leads to problems. LGBT advocates and anyone involved with ministerial formation could agree with these statements.
Second, the pope’s later comments about “affection” in religious life seemed to be focused on sexual activity rather than sexual orientation. His concern is that priests and religious keep their vows and not lead double lives. Francis wants ministers who live authentically.
These two papal foci were good, but Francis’ comments revealed flaws in his own formation and education that need correction. Claiming that homosexuality is “fashionable” was odd, as were the two anecdotes by which he framed the latter remarks. He clearly has much to learn, a task which he should urgently undertake because homosexuality is indeed a “very serious matter” since it is often used as the basis of discrimination. The closet in which so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy and religious are forced is destructive. The culture of shame such exclusionary policies enforce harms the entire People of God. To prevent such harm and to conduct ministerial formation seriously, the pope needs to better educate himself on sexuality and gender issues before continuing to issue muddled pronouncements.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 3, 2018
The Catholic Herald, “In new book on clergy and religious life, Pope Francis addresses homosexuality”