Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Today, during a long air flight, Pope Francis talked informally but “on the record” with the media, and among other things, says he won’t judge gay priests. There is, however, no policy change indicated.

The AP, at Talking Points Memo:

Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.

Francis was responding to a question about what he would do if he learned that a priest was gay but celibate. His statement is at least a less hard line, judgmental stance than that held by Pope Benedict. Via the Washington Post:

“˜If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ Francis asked. “˜We shouldn’t marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society.’

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory in his first news conference as pope, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

That is not an indication of a policy change.

Catholic teaching still holds that homosexual acts are “˜intrinsically disordered.’ But they indicated a shift in tone … and an emphasis on a church that is more inclusive and merciful rather than critical and disciplinary.

The Wall Street Journal writes:

Never before had a pope spoken out in defense of gay priests in the Catholic ministry, said Vatican analysts. Past popes have traditionally treated homosexuality as an obstacle to priestly celibacy, and the Vatican has sent extensive instructions to Catholic seminaries on how to restrict gay candidates from the priesthood. …

For bishops, the issue boils down to if “˜you got a priest you know is gay but is not active is that a problem for you or not?’ said John L. Allen, a Vatican analyst with the National Catholic Reporter. “˜For this pope the answer is “˜no.'”

In an odd but nevertheless familiar choice of words, Allen makes clear that celibacy remains the expectation. A priest who is gay but “not active” certainly means “not having sex.” If you expand the understanding of what it means to be “gay,” then “active” can also be expanded. And who knows, maybe the Pope realizes that.

In one of the more interesting, by way of a quite different “take,” John Avlon, at The Daily Beast, writes about “Pope Francis’s Lessons for the GOP.”

Pope Benedict always seemed to be the Dick Cheney of pontiffs. The longtime Vatican insider and master of papal politicking was beloved by conservative theologians for reaffirming strict doctrine and famously arguing that a smaller church of more devout believers would be more desirable than what might be called a “˜big tent.’

In contrast, Pope Francis is the ultimate outsider, the first South American pontiff in centuries, reflecting and embracing the demographic changes transforming the Catholic Church. He is an unapologetic believer in building a big tent, telling bishops in Rio, “˜We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel. …’

Avlon emphasizes that Pope Francis is certainly “conservative,” but with a “big tent,” more “inclusive” understanding.

At Bilerico, John Becker is more skeptical, or depending on how you look at it, realistic, writing, “Pope Francis: Not Quite as Anti-Gay as Benedict?”

Pope Francis, speaking yesterday aboard the papal plane on his way back to Vatican City from World Youth Day. …

Don’t expect Francis to be flying a rainbow flag anytime soon ““ remember, this is the guy who thinks marriages like mine are the work of Satan and an “˜anthropological throwback’ ““ but considering that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, wanted to block “˜deep-seated’ gay men from the priesthood entirely, this is a step in the right direction. (Wonder how long it’ll take for the Vatican to walk this one back?)

Sadly, this is what passes for progress in the 21st -century Catholic Church.

Though Benedict and Francis wholeheartedly agree on banning the gays from marriage, Francis at least is willing to throw open his luxuriously-robed arms to welcome them into the flock. Benedict, pre-emeritus days, had vehemently objected to the gays becoming priests, but Francis is willing to forgive and forget the sin thing.

It’s unclear from the Pope’s words if the “forgive and forget” thing is predicated on the not being “active” thing.

Francis also offered some candid, and softer, words regarding women, though no policy changes are indicated here, either.

From the Wall Street Journal report:

Women, he said, couldn’t be ordained as priests, because the issue had been ‘definitively’ settled by Pope John Paul II. However, the pope wanted to develop a “˜theology of the woman,’ in order to expand and deepen their involvement in the life of the church.

Okay, first, a “theology of the woman?” Does that mean if you know ““ not in the biblical sense, of course ““ one woman, you know them all? Secondly, I want to know who will get to do the “developing” required for such a theology? Third, the Vatican does know there is a rather long history and “development” of feminist and womanist and Latina and more theologies, surely.

Every step toward equality, toward simply being recognized and affirmed as human, is important. This one by Pope Francis comes with no policy changes, but it can still help open eyes and hearts and minds. That’s assuming, of course, people are willing to let that happen.

(Pope Francis Via the Vatican)