During a papal plan press conference on his return from a recent visit to Greece and Cyprus, Pope Francis stated that “sins of the flesh are not the most serious,” but the sin of hatred and pride raise greater concern. This statement has caught the attention of some Catholic leaders concerned with LGBTQ issues.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told PinkNews that throughout history, Catholic leaders have frequently “emphasized sexual sins as the worst kind” and “used this focus to exclude people from the church community.” He continued:
“‘This has been especially true for LGBTQ people who have often been treated as pariahs by some in the church. Since one of his first interviews after becoming pope, Francis has been trying to get bishops to focus on social and economic issues, as he recognises that sexuality is not the most important focus that the church should have. Jesus said nothing about sexuality in the Gospels, but he said a lot about how people should treat one another, live justly and treat those in poverty or weakness.”
DeBernardo said that the pope’s reminder that sexual sins are not the most grave sends a “positive message of welcome and inclusion and others who have been excluded because of their sexuality.”
When the pope declares that “sexuality is not the most sinful area of life”, DeBernardo said, “it helps to end the tyranny of focusing on sexuality, which has not only harmed many people but also presents a narrow and petty image for the church, whose teachings and values are about so much more.”
Pope Francis made this comment after he accepted the resignation of the Archbishop Michael Aupetit of Paris. Aupetit was accused of having an “ambiguous relationship” with a woman in 2012, which he has denied, but resigned to “preserve the diocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust are continuing to provoke.” The pope admits that there was sin “but not the worst kind” and believes Aupetit was a “victim of injustice” because he “could no longer govern” due to public opinion and gossip.
While the pope’s statement is a positive step, he will need to give further clarification of this idea for it to heal the sting of the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-gender couples in March of this year The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) issued this directive after the pope had publicly endorsed civil union laws for same-gender couples. Will the CDF now respond to Francis’ alleviation of sexual sin? Let us hope not.
The context in which the pope made the comment about the unimportance of sexual sins is also troubling. The pope supported Archbishop Aupetit and condemned those who targeted him. We hope he would show the same kind of support when lay Catholic employees, especially those in the LGBTQ community, are fired from their jobs due to Catholic institutions’ discriminatory emphasis on sexual morality. He should also denounce the hatred and pride of these institutions.
Some Catholic leaders have an obvious double standard for assessing the seriousness of sexual sin. This attitude is rooted in clericalism and homophobia. Let’s hope that the pope’s new statement is a small step towards greater love and acceptance of LGBTQ persons.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, January 3, 2022