Reactions Mixed to Pope Francis’ Recent Gay Priest Comments

Father James Martin SJ

Reactions to Pope Francis’ recent comments about gay priests were mixed, though generally negative given his aside that homosexuality has seemingly become “fashionable.”

Fr. James Martin, SJ, was among those voices calling for a more nuanced analysis of the pope’s comments, which were reported by media outlets to have condemned gay priests (to read more about those comments, click here). Martin suggested on Facebook that the pope is not opposed to gay men in the priesthood, but to those priests who are not celibate. Still, the priest found Francis’ words problematic:

“Yet the language about homosexuality being merely ‘fashionable’ (unless he means more acceptable in the public sphere) is both wrong and hurtful. If he means that one is gay simply because it’s ‘fashionable,’ this goes against every reputable psychiatrist and psychologist, and, more important, the lived experience of LGBT people. Recently, he told his friend Juan Carlos Cruz, in a widely reported remark, ‘God made you that way,’ which seems closer to what he believes.”

Martin also told America Magazine that the pope should work to avoid seemingly contradictory comments which can confuse or demoralize people, as well as deepen divisions in the church, saying, “We all speak off the cuff, but I suppose when you’re the pope those off-the-cuff remarks are more likely to cause damage.”

Dr. Thomas Plante

Psychologist Dr. Thomas Plante of Santa Clara University agreed that the pope’s words were not a blanket condemnation of gay priests, and said that while he loves the pope, Francis “is not a mental health professional.” Plante argued for more precision in the conversation about priests and homosexuality so that people are not harmed. America Magazine reported:

“When the pope speaks off the cuff on such a charged subject, Dr. Plante worries that ‘homosexual priests get scapegoated because of the fact that they’re gay, not the fact of what they are doing with their orientation….It is who they are, not what they do, and that is a really big problem.’

“Dr. Plante wonders why the pope and other church leaders do not more often reach out to professionals in psychology or human sexuality before they speak out on the subject. ‘You want clarity here because it is such a hot topic,’ he says. ‘There is so much emotion, so much anger and hostility’ around the issue. ‘You have to take a deep breath and be very clear about your communication because when you are not really clear, other people are going to project their own narratives, their own storylines,’ he says, voicing concern that some will use the pope’s imprecision as ‘ammunition’ to bash gay men in the priesthood.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

But not everyone took such an optimistic approach as Martin and Plante. Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, wrote in The Advocate that Francis’ words suggest he and other church leaders are “conceding to traditionalist forces within the hierarchy.” This course, Duddy-Burke said, has negative consequences for gay priests and lesbian religious now, but could hamper February’s meeting on clergy sexual abuse:

“By intimating that gay priests and and lesbian and gay religious sisters and brothers are less able than their straight colleagues to manage their sexuality in ways consistent with their vows, is the Pope signaling that he will follow the lead of those who have been vocal in blaming the sex abuse scandal on gay priests? Has he concluded that the way to save the church is to scapegoat LGBT people? This would be a vilely sinful calculation, and one that will further alienate vast numbers of Catholics, many of whom see the upcoming summit as the final chance for the hierarchy to take meaningful action to address the disgraceful behavior of so many perpetrators and enablers. It would be a transparent failure of leadership to offer a simplistic and disproved excuse, rather than to reform the structures that allowed the culture of abuse to flourish for so many decades.”

Benjamin Brenkert

Benjamin Brenkert, a former Jesuit seminarian who is openly gay, also wrote in The Advocate. He harshly criticized the pope, rooting his column in his own experiences of homophobia in priestly formation which he said ultimately forced him to leave. Brenkert concluded:

“I am a proud gay man who represents Jesus. . .To the church, I could not fully represent Jesus as a gay man, but I’ll not renounce who I am for anyone or any order or any institution. It saddens me that that Catholic Church sees gays as weak, that their vocations are worthless — what if gay priests finally said ‘enough’? How many churches would close, how many ministries would be canceled? The church and the pope don’t have a clue how many of their priests, pastors, bishops, cardinals, abbots, and popes are gay, most of them living a double life, one of fear and trembling lest anyone find out they’re gay. . .The strength of my vocation led me away from the church, but to my delightful surprise, I am more priestly than ever!”

Nacho Fresno, a writer for Shangay, a Spanish language LGBT website, was critical but defiant. He explained in that despite feeling like he wanted to vomit upon reading Pope Francis’ words that homosexuality is “fashionable,” Fresno would not apologize for being gay nor would he leave the church. In an open letter to the pope, he wrote:

“But do not worry, not even things like these that you said are going to get me to lose faith. Even if it’s in the catacombs, I’ll still be a believer. Although, as we are, I refuse to have to ask for forgiveness, through the back door, as if I had to apologize for being the way I am, waiting for some word of comfort and acceptance for being gay. I am, period. As I am a believer. In the end, [the Church sought to] welcome us as an act of mercy. And, I’m sorry, I’ve already gotten tired: the Catholic mercy that my parents taught me was different.”

Voices from outside the church also weighed in. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte addressed gay priests in a speech, and claimed that “90 percent” of priests were gay as part of “the most hypocritical institution” in his nation which should not “postulate on immorality.” In fewer words, Rose Dommu of Out Magazine noted social ills like racism and the clergy abuse scandal before simply asking the pope, “Girl, don’t you have bigger loaves of bread and fish to fry?”

What do you think? Did Pope Francis’ comments suggest he does not want gay men in the priesthood? Or was he more focused on priestly celibacy and hypocrisy? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. For New Ways Ministry’s response to the pope’s words, click here

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 8, 2018

6 replies
  1. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    I bellieve the Pope is a good and kind man and, at the same time, does not fully understand what it means to be gay. He, like so many others, would benefit from professional research that has been done and is readily available. And he would also benefit from honest conversations with gays themselves who could answer his questions. God bless and open the minds of all whose pronouncements affect others so deeply.

  2. Father Anthony
    Father Anthony says:

    There are many gay men in the priesthood. I was one of them till I left the Roman Church. And who knew? This fact is hidden, not advertised.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

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

    I agree with the reviewers that the Church has never dealt well with sexual orientation. I would go beyond that and say the Church has never dealt well with the entire milieu of human sexuality. It has consistently refused to inform itself of the modern psychological and sociological aspects of human sexuality. This is certainly not the first time the Church has been on the wrong side of science. These lacks of actions have led to sexual immaturity in a minority of priests and men and women religious, especially those with a conservative outlook.

    The question of affection needs further clarification. As a gay man, I have close personal friendships with certain straight men. These feelings could accurately be described as affectionate. But at no time do I ever have erotic affection for these men. This kind of affection makes both of us better persons. If all of my male friends were gay, that would make me a very shallow human.

    What is the significance of, “In our societies it even seems that homo-sexuality is fashionable…?” I see this as a push back against the laity’s acceptance of LGBT persons. Make no mistake, the informed laity is the strongest ally of the LGBT faithful.

    I believe that celibacy along clericalism is a huge part of the problem with gay priests. Celibacy is not part of normal human sexuality. It encourages one to live a double life.

    The color of these latest comments suggest that a very conservative part of the hierarchy is having more influence on what Francis actually believes when it comes to gay priests.

  4. Fr. Paul Morrissey
    Fr. Paul Morrissey says:

    Benjamin Brenkert said it best with this sentence: “The church and the pope don’t have a clue how many of their priests, pastors, bishops, cardinals, abbots, and popes are gay, most of them living a double life, one of fear and trembling lest anyone find out they’re gay.” By that I mean, the “double life” Pope Francis speaks of is beyond being “actively” sexual, it is simply having to hide your identity from the people you serve. THAT is the “double life.” Forgive my self-promotion, but my novel, The Black Wall of Silence” shows this struggle and a way forward at this time.

  5. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    For a moment let’s consider Jesus as the first and model gay priest. Never married or closely associated with a woman. Virtually all of his associates were men whom he loved and called from their homes as he said a man and a woman would do if they married. His Mother was a guiding force and his father was a weak individual and did little in his formation. He said nothing against the strong homosexuality that was an integral part of the existing Roman/Greek culture. He spoke of individual freedom to express and love one’s self. How about all gay priests come out and lets examine who are the saints and who are the sinners.


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