Home News Pope Francis’ slur exposes church’s contradictions on homosexuality

Pope Francis’ slur exposes church’s contradictions on homosexuality


Pope Francis reportedly used offensive anti-gay rhetoric during a meeting with Italian bishops last month. Many Catholics were shocked How could a pope known for his openness and acceptance of the LGBTQ community use homophobic slang and warn bishops not to admit gay men to seminaries?

But the issue and the apparent inconsistencies in Francis’ message reflect the deep contradictions and tensions that exist in the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Francis on homosexuality.

The church considers “homosexual tendencies” to be “inherently disordered.” When it comes to ordaining priests, church guidelines state that people with “deep-rooted” homosexual tendencies should not become priests.

Yet ordination has also long been a refuge for Catholic gay men, researchers and priests say. At least thousands Most of the pastors in the church are homosexual, but because the church still holds prejudices against homosexuality, only a few of them are open about their sexual orientation.

While all these contradictions have been shrouded in an air of taboo in the past, Francis’ recent off-the-cuff remarks have brought them out into the open.

“The pope has lifted the veil,” said Francesco Lepore. Former Vatican Latin expert He left the church, came out as gay and became an activist.

The problem is exacerbated by long-standing prejudice and a sexual abuse crisis that emerged two decades ago. Some bishops and conservative church media incited accusations that homosexuality was the culpritThis is despite studies repeatedly finding no link between homosexuality and abuse of minors.

Despite social progress and Francis’ more progressive tone, church teaching still depicts homosexuality as a deviant and incorporates that view into rules and restrictions that critics say fuel widespread homophobia and exacerbate tensions.

“Unless they change the law, nothing will change under the dome of St. Peter’s as long as homosexuality is considered an abnormality and a disease,” said Luciano Tirinnanzi, who has written books about LGBTQ people and the church.

Yet homosexual clergy have existed throughout history. The 11th-century monk St. Peter Damian railed against the crime of sodomy in the church. Dante Alighieri condemned homosexual clergy to hell in his Divine Comedy, and there are documented cases dating back to the 16th century of bishops being accused of homosexuality and killed. (There are also numerous accounts of priests, and even cardinals and popes, having affairs with women and even fathering children.)

For gay Catholic men, becoming a priest has long been seen as a way to dismantle and overcome the stigma once associated with their sexual orientation, perhaps even suppressing it through celibacy, say scholars and bishops who advocate for LGBTQ rights.

“A large number of young religious people with homosexual tendencies seek the sublimation of celibacy,” said Italian church historian Alberto Meroni.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many priests are gay because there are no reliable statistics, but in the United States, gay men probably make up at least 30% to 40% of the American Catholic clergy. According to dozens of estimates by researchers and gay clergy The New York Times compiled those numbers in a 2019 investigation. Some pastors and activists say the number is closer to 75%.

“The Catholic Church cannot function without gay priests,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that supports gay Catholics. “That’s the simple fact.”

But it is also something that many believers in the church feel uncomfortable with.

Last month, Francis said there were too many homosexuals, but he used a derogatory term to describe homosexuality, confirming reports in Italian media, which prompted an apology from the Vatican, according to two bishops who attended the meeting. When asked why Francis used the insulting language, the bishops attributed it to Francis’s relaxed and colorful conversational style.

“In formal speeches, he studies carefully, but when he speaks impromptu, he lets slip some words that are not ideal,” said Bishop Luigi Mansi of Andria, Italy. Bishop Francesco Savino, vice president of the Italian bishops’ conference, blamed Francis for not being a native Italian speaker. “When he speaks, he uses a mixture of Spanish, Argentinian and Italian words,” he said.

Despite the surprisingly abusive language used, this is not the first time Francis has expressed the church’s position against gay men entering the church.

While he acknowledges that many gay priests are good and holy, Francis has repeatedly expressed concern that gay candidates for the priesthood will end up in romantic relationships and lead double lives.

At another closed-door meeting in 2018, Italian news media reportedHe said men with “deep-rooted” homosexual tendencies should not be allowed to attend seminaries.

Two years ago, the pope approved a document on priestly vocations containing exactly the same content, repeating a document approved by Benedict XVI in 2005.

Interpretations of the directives vary among clergy. Bishop Piero Delbosco of Cuneo, Italy, said the church rules “gay men cannot join religious orders,” adding that the church can allow some leeway to decide whether a candidate can overcome homosexual tendencies.

Others, like Bishop Manmon, said that “the Church does not say that homosexuals cannot be ordained to the priesthood.” But he added that the Church believes that ordination should be avoided because it is more difficult for homosexuals to “observe and live a life of celibacy throughout their lives.” Experts and bishops who advocate for LGBTQ rights strongly deny this statement.

“There are three explanations for this,” said the Rev. James Martin. High Profile Supports making the church more welcoming to gay Catholics. He said the church would either reject gay seminarians, reject people who are unable to remain celibate, or reject anyone who believes celibacy is the most important thing in life.

Some said Francis’ message only added to the confusion.

“He needs to be more clear about his views because it does confuse people,” DeBernardo said. “It doesn’t help the situation. It just makes it more complicated.”

Critics say the confusion blurs the line between celibacy and homosexuality, shifting the focus from legitimate concerns about unchaste priests to a general stigmatization of all gay clergy. They say it could lead to some gay men who might be celibate being barred from ordination, and many more simply hiding their sexuality.

Bishop Savino said the Italian bishops’ conference had adopted new rules specifically addressing the ordination of gay priests in Italy. The rules are awaiting approval from the Vatican and have not yet been made public.

The bishops said Pope Francis used the slur because an Italian bishop raised questions about the issue.

Bishop Savino said the issue of homosexuality is currently “highly controversial” because bishops with a more “pragmatic” and “positive” attitude want to update the rules. But progressive movements within the church often face resistance and prejudice.

Francis must strike a delicate balance between a message of openness and inclusion while recognizing the church’s more conservative sensibilities that remain firmly opposed to homosexuality.

When Francis last year Allow priests to bless same-sex couplesSome bishops from the conservative wing of the church fought back. To appease them, Holy See A statement said “local culture” should be taken into account in implementing the declaration, but it would remain church policy.

In interviews on the topic, some bishops referred to homosexuality as a “sick” condition, a “problem,” or used expressions such as “normal sexuality” to refer to heterosexuality rather than homosexuality.

Lepore said even the church’s guidelines mentioning “deep-rooted homosexual tendencies” are “offensive” because they send the message that homosexuality is temporary, curable and overcome.

He added that Francis’ effective message of openness would inevitably be undermined if church teaching and a large portion of the clergy continued to view homosexuality as a disease rather than a sexual orientation.

“The difficulties and divisions that the church faces,” he said, “all stem from this.”

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