New Books from Pope Francis, Benedict XVI Highlight Contrast on Homosexuality

Pope Francis with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Statements about gay people appear in two new books, one by Pope Francis and one by Benedict XVI, the deceased pope emeritus, predictably falling along the positive and negative approaches expected of each prelate.

La paura come dono (“Fear as a Gift”) is a book-length interview between Pope Francis and an Italian psychologist that touched on issues from climate change to priestly formation. Asked about gay people, Francis answered, per Vatican News:

“‘God is Father and does not deny any of His children. . .And God’s style is closeness, mercy, and tenderness. Not judgment and marginalization. God draws near with love to each of His children, to each and every one of them. His heart is open to each and every one. He is Father. Love does not divide, but unites.'”

These words echo statements the pope has made previously, such as speaking to parents with LGBTQ+ children and in a letter to Sr. Jeannine Gramick. He used similar language this week when, during an interview with the Associated Press, he called for an end to laws which criminalize LGBTQ+ people. To learn about Pope Francis’ full record on LGBTQ+ issues, click here.

Benedict XVI made negative comments about homosexuality in his new book, What is Christianity, that he requested be published only after his death. Most of the essays, all written during the pope emeritus’ retirement, were released previously. Only four of the 16 were new. According to The Telegraph, Benedict wrote about gay men in seminaries and the priesthood:

“Gay ‘clubs’ operate openly in Catholic seminaries, the institutions that prepare men for the priesthood, the late Pope Benedict XVI has claimed. . .The existence of ‘homosexual clubs’ is particularly prevalent in the US, Benedict said in his book, adding: ‘In several seminaries, homosexual clubs operate more or less openly.’

“He cited the example of an American bishop who allegedly allowed his seminarians, or trainee priests, to watch porn films ‘presumably with the intention of rendering them capable of resisting behaviours contrary to the faith’.”

In 2005, under Benedict, the Vatican released a ban on gay men being admitted to the priesthood, which Pope Francis signed off on in 2016 and in 2018. The pope emeritus made other claims about priestly formation in his new book, suggesting that in “not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books are considered unworthy for the priesthood,” adding his books are “concealed as dangerous literature.”

After Benedict XVI’s death, many commentators drew contrasts between his legacy and the record of Pope Francis. These two new books make clear just how different their approaches to homosexuality really are. While church teaching remains constant between the papacies, Pope Francis consistently emphasizes the personal and pastoral. For him, God’s style is—and therefore the church’s focus should be—not about judgement, but love. He repeatedly meets with LGBTQ+ people and their families. Unfortunately, Benedict XVI relied on faulty stereotypes and wrote abstractly.

There is a clear lesson from this contrast. The more LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies can personally encounter church leaders and do so with love, the more that expanded inclusion becomes possible in the church. As Pope Francis writes, “Love does not divide, but unites.”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 27, 2023

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