Pope Francis I

Pope Francis I talks about LGBTs again.

So let the parsing begin anew, as Pope Francis I talks about LGBTs again ““ what does he really mean? Are there changes in policy coming that reflect the much LGBT-friendlier words?

Recent comments are more about what he’s not talking about, but even that makes news. At the NY Times, Laurie Goodstein reports:

Pope Francis … said that the Roman Catholic Church had grown “˜obsessed’ with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.

In remarkably blunt language, Francis sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a “˜home for all’ and not a “˜small chapel’ focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings. …

The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, often appeared to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. These teachings are “˜clear’ to him as “˜a son of the church,’ he said, but they have to be taught in a larger context. “˜The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.’

The teachings, he says, are “clear,” but the “context” is missing the “love of God.” What does that mean, practically?

Back in June, Pope Francis made LGBT related news, which I wrote about in The Vatican’s “Gay Lobby” Confirmed by Pope Francis? Much bigger news was his late July remarks ““ Pope Francis Won’t Judge Gay Priests, But No Policy Change. That was when he said he won’t judge gay priests, but also indicated no policy changes. The next day, Cardinal Dolan “archbishop of New York, … joined the parsing and interpreting … of … Pope Francis’ gay friendly words. Basically, he said Francis didn’t say anything new.”

In July, Francis asked “Who am I to judge,” related to “gays.” In the recent interview ““ with Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal ““ Francis made clear he was talking about LGBTs in general, not just those who are priests.

“˜A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,’ he told Father Spadaro. “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.’

At CNN, Eric Marrapodi and Daniel Burke write:

Pope Francis said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to “˜interfere spiritually’ in the lives of gays and lesbians, expanding on explosive comments he made in July about not judging homosexuals.

Compared to Pope Benedict, this sounds positively loving. And Francis certainly seems to be far removed from the very anti-LGBT Benedict. And, it sounds good, to say, “Who am I to judge,” and that you must “consider the person.” How you do that, though, is surely influenced by how you understand the teachings of the church. The person can’t be “considered” in the abstract, either, but only in the real world in which they live, and in which, as LGBTs, inequality is a part of that real world.

At Bilerico, John Becker ““ who remains skeptical about the practical meaning of the Pope’s words ““ offers his analysis in “Pope Says More Nice Words About LGBTs, Changes Nothing.”

When the interviewer brought up the topic of homosexuality, Francis responded thusly:

“˜ … During the (July) 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.’

Now don’t get me wrong, the remarks made by Pope Francis … absolutely do represent a stunning change in tone … .

So there’s definitely progress being made on the messaging front. But look back to Pope Francis’s words themselves. This one sentence holds the key: “˜By saying this, I said what the catechism says.’

And then Becker quotes the catechism, which includes the assertion that “Scripture … presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity … . Under no circumstances can they be approved,” and “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.”

Not talking so much about homosexuality, as well as abortion and contraception, doesn’t necessarily mean a change in beliefs or policy. It’s progress, definitely. And who knows? Maybe it will be the steps toward actual changes in teachings, and so in policies.

The Advocate begins its story this way:

Continuing his habit of making tolerant statements uncharacteristic of Roman Catholic hierarchy, Pope Francis today said the church should not interfere in the lives of gay and lesbian people.

I don’t want to presume to know what Sunnivie Brydum, who wrote the piece, was thinking in using “tolerant,” but it might be a good summation of what Pope Francis I has said this far. Tolerance is better than intolerance, but of course, tolerance isn’t on par with equality. When we’re talking about an institution of the age and size and power of the Roman Catholic Church, of course, changes will almost certainly come in steps and stages.