Pope Francis says: “I have never been a right-winger…”
And the 266th and current pope of the Catholic Church went a good distance in confirming that sentiment in a remarkable interview with the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica.
Asked about the church’s stance with regard to lesbians and gays, the Pope replied:
In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are “socially wounded” because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro, I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person.
But the Pope, in the interview that has been published by the New York–based Jesuit journal America, went further, volunteering that
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
As Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity, a group that advocates for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics, says, the Pope’s words “signaled an entirely new direction for the Catholic Church.”
“To me, it is a clear directive to the bishops of the church to end their antigay campaigns,” says Duddy-Burke. “He is essentially saying, ‘Go back to being pastors, stop being rule-enforcers.’”
Whether that aspiration will become reality, especially in the United States, remains to be seen. But, in the interview, the Pope bluntly declared, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”