The pope and gay priests

The pope and gay priests

A priest holds a host © Corinne Simon (KNA)

Pope Francis has again touched on the subject of homosexuality. In interview, he expresses tolerance for clergy who have same-sex feelings but live chastely. But his exact profile on the ie remains unclear.

In the interview book "The Power of Vocation," published Monday, he comments on how to deal with candidates for priesthood and religious orders who are attracted to the same sex. Practically in the aftermath, he says homosexual clergy must be urged to "live celibacy fully" and deal with their sexuality "in a fully responsible way".

The papal concession alone that gay priests and lesbian nuns are just as welcome as heterosexual ones would be a relief for those consecrated who still think they have to hide their difference – and a red rag for conservatives in the Catholic Church.

Difference between person and deed

Francis has always distinguished between person and deed. When, shortly after his election in July 2013, he declared that he could not break the baton over a person who sought God and was of good will simply because he was homosexual, liberal commentators celebrated this as a major turnaround. The "Who am I to condemn him" became the signal word of a new openness.

In doing so, the pope remained completely grounded in official teaching. Catholic catechism exhorts to treat homosexual men and women "with respect, compassion and tact" and in no way "to set them back unfairly in any way". Homosexuality per se, on the other hand, the Fundamental Book of Faith calls a "propensity that is objectively disordered".

In dealing with gays, Francis shows no fear of contact. In April, he hosted Chilean Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by a priest as a teenager, at his residence for a week. Cruz explained afterwards that he had felt taken seriously and accepted by the pope even with his homosexuality.

Line crossed

To be sure, a line is crossed for Francis when clergy who are under vows of celibacy live a same-sex relationship. So it came to a scandal when the priest Krzysztof Charamsa, employee of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced his life partner to the media public in 2015.

Later, the Vatican inadvertently used a picture of Charamsa in a priest's collar with his boyfriend as a campaign photo for a pastoral ministry that is more attuned to people; the laughs were delighted, but Charamsa had to go.

It is not entirely clear, on the other hand, to what extent simply being gay is compatible with spiritual status from the pope's point of view. A 2005 document from the Congregation for Education excludes from seminaries those with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" because they are prevented from "establishing correct relationships with men and women".

In the interview volume by Spanish theologian Fernando Prado, Francis also emphasizes that, according to church directives, persons "with this deep-seated tendency" should not be admitted to the priesthood or religious vows. "The ordained ministry or consecrated life is not their place," pope says categorically.

The ie is also sensitive within the church because certain circles link it to sexual abuse.

Homosexuality in vogue

Misconceived looseness has led to a general softening of morals, is the criticism. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano accused the pope of promoting a "confusion and division" in the church, and even a "plague of homosexuality" with a lack of moral rigor. The bishops at the last synod saw the ie as so controversial that they themselves widely erased the term "homosexual orientation" from the draft final document.

In the new interview, Francis now seems to recognize such homosexual clergy who have this orientation but do not live it: "The homosexual priests, religious men and women would have to be urged to live celibacy fully and, above all, to be fully responsible." Never should they be allowed to cause scandal by "leading a double life".

What the pope says. But also, "We have to be strict. In our societies homosexuality seems to be almost a fashion, and this thinking influences in a certain way also the life of the church." Where his course goes remains open.

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