What Pope Francis is saying on homosexuality

Francis with media in jet

One way to characterise what Pope Francis is doing regarding attitudes to homosexuality is that he is prodding us to think about what the Church's position should be, rather than what it has been, writes John Langan SJ.

- America magazine

Until recently, where the Catholic Church stands on homosexuality was regarded as obvious. The stance of the Church toward gays and lesbians and their distinctive activities was seen as negative, leading to judgments and condemnations.

Of decisive importance was the negative moral judgment on homosexual acts as intrinsically evil. Even though the magisterium had distinguished between homosexual acts and a homosexual inclination, the intrinsic moral evil of the acts meant that while the sexual orientation was not sinful in itself, it represented an inclination to do sinful things and so had to be resisted.

Recently, the Church in the United States has strongly resisted the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, arguing that it would legitimize intrinsically evil homosexual acts, that it would have very negative effects on the institution of marriage, and that it would pose a serious threat to religious freedom. Recent comments by Pope Francis in this magazine and elsewhere imply that there may turn out to be more complexity to the Catholic position.

Francis has declared on several occasions that he has no desire to challenge or change Catholic moral teaching on sexual matters or to innovate in Church doctrine. Presumably, he does not want to contradict himself or the long tradition of Catholic teaching on this subject, which has biblical roots and has shaped legal norms in most Western countries for a long time. So, what is the Pope up to?

Trying to decipher the mind of a sitting pope is a perilous enterprise, especially when he is opening up a highly controversial topic in both Church and civil life. The most a friendly and admiring moral philosopher can do is read his words and actions and offer suggestions about how to construe them so that they form a coherent picture. This is something that should be done before people celebrate or condemn what the Pope has been saying.

It is important to keep in mind that on this topic the Pope is not using the ordinary means of presenting and developing Church teaching, which would normally be done by formal addresses, statements from Vatican officials and, in a more lasting form, through encyclical letters.

FULL STORY Understanding Pope Francis’ statements on homosexuality (America)