On Gay Priests, Does Pope Francis Still Believe “Who Am I to Judge?”?

Pope Francis

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

Related Articles

The Catholic Herald, “In new book on clergy and religious life, Pope Francis addresses homosexuality

US News, “Pope Says He’s Worried About Homosexuality in the Priesthood

11 replies
  1. Mark Clark
    Mark Clark says:

    The pope’s quoted worries that LGBTQ clergy and religious are by nature somehow more susceptible than straight people to succumbing to temptations to be affectionate or to violate their promises of celibacy seem on their face to be directly contradictory to his comments on other occasions about the need to deal with different expressions of sexual orientation with justice and equality. Maybe straights should be excluded too lest they strike up a close friendship with or flirt with someone of the opposite gender.

  2. Margaret Huggon
    Margaret Huggon says:

    Thank you for this. I am appalled at the Pope’s attitude and ignorance and I think this might be the final push I need to disassociate myself from an organisation that holds such views.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    Quite honestly, I wonder if the Dear Old Boy is getting a bit soft in the cranium. He’s now in his early 80s, and his opinions have been meandering all over the theological spectrum, especially during the past few years. And he’s now tacking somewhat to the right. Nobody wants to see a doctrinaire iron-fisted Pope, which is what Benedict became. But at the other extreme, a Pope who quivers like a bowl of intellectual jello is not offering much in the way of pastoral help or comfort. I wonder if we should throw in the towel, and just declare ourselves to be newly-minted Episcopalians!

  4. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    To use the term “fashionable” is offensive. Is heterosexuality a “fashion” ? How can someone designated to be Christ’s Vicar on Earth make such an excluding and diminishing remark ? I have to wonder if the heat from conservative quarters hasn’t been turned up to the ‘uncomfortable’ setting for Francis.

  5. James Williams, MD
    James Williams, MD says:

    As an ex-Jesuit priest, a gay person, a medical professional, a founding member of the profession’s response to children who have been sexually or physically abused, and an active member of Dignity, it does NOT matter to me and my kind what Francis or any other hierarchy member thinks of gay priests.

    The hierarchy have done enough damage. Have you ever read Gary Wills’ “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition.”? The hierarchy’s credibility has departed a long time ago. They are NOT my/our moral leaders or teachers.

    Why are you, New Ways, so enthralled by every little burp they make?

  6. Tom Nelson
    Tom Nelson says:

    That Pope Francis’ stance on homosexuality is a concern of any loving, intelligent Catholic is a misguided position at best. It seems to me that such a concern bypasses the major cause of such papal intellectual fantasy. The root cause of a broad hierarchical ignorance is what needs more focus: The Catholic Church has incorporated the centuries old practice of mandatory celibacy, which most assuredly promotes and idolizes a lifestyle devoid of loving and which promotes much ignorance and false doctrines. That they encounter many ongoing violations of their rules is no surprise. God made us to love. Jesus gave us one commandment: “Love one another.” God created sex. The Church promotes celibacy, the antithesis of love.

    Along with “no sex,” celibacy promotes isolation. The argument that the celibate state affords one an undistracted focus on the spiritual is intellectual obfuscation. Any spiritual benefit is more than offset by the negative consequences of denying the clergy the reality of their sexuality and the experience of loving another human being. The core of celibacy’s flaw is the denial of the experience of an intimate human relationship. Loving is so fundamental to the human condition that to deny it means for most persons, to inflict a stunting of the most basic of human learning. Loving is the essence of life. The celibate person is ill equipped to teach anyone on any aspect of loving. The celibate clergy in my view is basically an isolated group of people who think they are gifted to teach about something they have never experienced, and tell us God reveals it! Most Catholic clergy live isolated lives of exclusion. The higher their rank, the greater their exclusion. While there may be some noted exceptions to this truism, note that “actions speak louder than words.” Why are we suffering the debilitating loss from the priesthood? It is sad enough that celibacy promotes class distinctions and isolation of the clergy; but worse, fewer and fewer men are accepting the invitation to participate in the vaunted vocation of the priesthood. Some would argue that one major reason is quite simply the requirement for mandatory celibacy. Not surprisingly, our modern, more educated laity tends to reject the prospect of a life devoid of a loving relationship. Modern education can often be a two-edged sword. It is easy to see from the large number of former priests, who are now married, that celibacy is a major concern for those considering the priesthood. It’s definitely a contributing factor. Few would argue that aspect of celibacy.

    So the constant bleating of the hierarchy of about what is now being termed “fashionable” homosexuality is not the core flaw in the Church. The core problem is the abysmal ignorance of the human condition in anything relating to our sexuality and more particularly the total ignorance regarding the essence of loving relationships.

    So, it would be better to point out the ridiculous pulpit from which they pontificate.

    “Marriage may often be a stormy lake, but celibacy is almost always a muddy horse pond”—Thomas Love Peacock, 1785–1866, English satirist and author

    Tom Nelson

    • William Fisher
      William Fisher says:

      Thank you. You have expressed so well what I have been thinking myself for quite some years now. And thank you for that very pertinent quotation from Thomas Love Peacock.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] in which so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy and religious are forced is destructive,” Shine wrote. “The culture of shame such exclusionary policies enforce harms the entire People of […]

  2. […] in which so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy and religious are forced is destructive,” Shine wrote. “The culture of shame such exclusionary policies enforce harms the entire People of […]

  3. […] in which so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy and religious are forced is destructive,” Shine wrote. “The culture of shame such exclusionary policies enforce harms the entire People of […]

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