James Martin: Keep Pope Francis' comments on L.G.B.T. community in context.

Since there has been so much conversation around Pope Francis' comments about the church offering an apology to the L.G.B.T. community I thought I would offer a little context.

First, Pope Francis was responding to a question that referenced a comment, from a few days ago, by Cardinal Reinhold Marx, president of the German bishops' conference, who himself said that he felt the church should offer an apology since it had marginalized that community. Here are Cardinal Marx's comments.

Advertisement

Second, here is what the pope said in response to the question from Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service, aboard the papal plane, on the way back from Armenia: “I believe that the church should not only say sorry, as Cardinal Marx says, it should not only say sorry to the person who is gay that it has offended, but also it should say sorry to the poor and to women who are exploited, and the children who are exploited for work.” He went on to explain: “When I say church I mean Christians. The church is holy but we are sinners. Christians must say sorry for not having accompanied them, for not having accompanied many choices, many families.” Indeed, “Christians must say sorry and not only for this. They must ask forgiveness, not just say sorry” and also ask God’s pardon. “It is a word that we forget a lot today." Here is Gerard O'Connell's story.

Third, apologies from the church to particular groups, or even individuals, are not new. In the Jubilee Year of 2000, St. John Paul II issued sweeping apologies to, among other groups, the Jewish people, indigenous peoples, refugees, women and others. And forgiveness of course is an essential part of the Christian life. More about that here.

Fourth, this is groundbreaking. No matter how many people tell you that this is nothing new, it's new. No pope has spoken like this regarding the L.G.B.T. community. Just a few years ago saying that the church should "apologize" to gays and lesbians would have probably gotten a person censured, disciplined or silenced. Why? Because a few years ago any call for an "apology" would have been seen as a critique of church teaching on homosexuality. But Pope Francis knows that the L.G.B.T. community indeed has felt marginalized by the church.

Fifth, he's correct. No group feels as marginalized as the L.G.B.T. community. Why? Many reasons. Here are a few: First, the language used around their experience. Their inclination is "objectively disordered," according to the catechism. Now, this is not the place to enter into a lengthy discussion of that phrase, but for most L.G.B.T. people it is deeply offensive. (Imagine being told that a deep part of you you, the part that feels love, is disordered.) Also, some bishops, particularly in the developing world, use very offensive language when speaking, if they speak at all, about the L.G.B.T. community. Others, in countries where gays and lesbians are persecuted in extreme ways, either offer little opposition to government policies, or, in some cases, even tacitly approve of them. Finally, many L.G.B.T. people feel unwelcome in their local parishes, where some priests, either from the pulpit or in private conversations, create an unwelcome environment. And if you doubt any of this, just ask your L.G.B.T. friends. You may say that they shouldn't feel marginalized, but they do.

Sixth, a clarification. Federico Lombardi, S.J., the papal spokesman, noted that the pope used the word "conditione." In Italian, "conditione" is not a medical condition, but is better translated as "situation."

Finally, while this is groundbreaking, it's important to keep it in context. Pope Francis did not say church teaching was changing. He also placed the answer in a larger context, which included many groups that might have been offended by the church. Still, the tone and the response itself are historic. It is a very positive step forward for the L.G.B.T. community and the church. And of course the first is part of the second.

What can be done next? For one thing, bishops might be encouraged to listen more carefully—or just to listen—to the L.G.B.T. community. What are their experiences? What are their experiences of God? Of the church? That would be a good beginning.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
James Hynes
1 year 4 months ago
Theologian Fr. James Alison has written much which is helpful on this issue: http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/ He even sees an opening to gay people in the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI: https://vox-nova.com/2011/05/16/benedict-xvi-on-homosexuality-a-creative-interpretation-by-james-alison/ James Hynes
Edward DeSaulnier
1 year 4 months ago
Yes, groundbreaking and historic. Yes, the statement does not suggest Church Teaching is changing nor does Pope Francis suggest such a change. Most importantly, the Popes comments are revelatory in their contrast to statements of many Bishops in the US, like the AB of SF. AB Cordileone wrote, condemning the recent attack in Orlando, expressing his solidarity with those affected "regardless of race, religion, and personal lifestyle". The AB of SF will not use the word "gay". Why won't he? Some say he is uneducated in the importance of the word to the LBGT community in SF and others complain, why the unnecessary attention to his refusal to use the word. His refusal is not born out of complacency or indifference to the importance of the word to the LBGT community (letters that he used in ridicule in a speech last year in NYC). What I hope comes from the historic remarks by the Pope and the contrast with the words and strategies of the AB of SF is some truth telling as to why this contrast exists. Yes to forgiveness but, most importantly, honesty as to the transgression, its cause, and a challenge to those who will continue the injury.
Stuart Kenny
1 year 4 months ago
Even if homosexuality only exists because the world is fallen, that doesn't mean it isn't the best possible choice someone in that situation can make. Why couldn't God call gays and lesbians to same-sex marriage as the first in a series of steps towards holiness? What if a same-sex marriage is as far as some people will get in this life? Why can't we applaud and support this step? Why can't we help by supporting legal same-sex marriage? Maybe God doesn't call gays to celibacy. That's why I don't like groups like Courage--they assume that they know what God wants for each gay person. Maybe God wants gays to learn to live in relationship with another person of the same sex. Maybe the fruits of a relationship and the lessons of unselfishness are more important to God than some kind of enforced sexual purity.
Nicholas Marziani
1 year 4 months ago
God doesn't call gays to celibacy? Actually, God calls everyone to celibacy, outside of the specific vocation to Holy Matrimony, which the Catholic Church, at least, defines as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. Even within marriage, thus defined, there are biblical and catechetical exhortations to engage in periodic continence, for the sake of greater spiritual growth and focus, or simply to avoid an undesired pregnancy. Strong same-sex friendships are quite possible outside of physical intimacy, as are strong opposite sex friendships, even as at least two previous popes within recent history have engaged in (Pius XII with Sister Pascalina of Bavaria, and John Paul II with American philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka). In our hyper-sexualized culture we are in fact impoverished when it comes to really appreciating what human sexuality can mean in the Creator's intention for those made in his "image and likeness." Let's all try to do better than the superficial and godless culture around us.
William Rydberg
1 year 4 months ago
There are more than a few sins which over the years peoples have turned a seeming blind eye, preferring to hammer certain particular sins and choosing to say nothing about others. As Catholics, we all know that The Resurrected Jesus-God come in the flesh is the only Just Judge. Thank God, we know that the Holy Spirit convicts us all as to sin... Lord have mercy on us all, show us our sins and show us your Divine Mercy... Blessed be the Trinity...
Dimitri Cavalli
1 year 4 months ago
If Father James Martin no longer accepts Church teaching that homosexual conduct (as distinguished from homosexuals as persons with free will or homosexuality as a condition that leads people to have same-sex attractions) is sinful, then let him say so and why. If the Church is going to legitimize homosexual acts, then it has to bless oral and anal sexual acts even if heterosexuals, married or unmarried, engage them. (Yes, it's sinful if heterosexuals engage in these acts as well.) If certain conduct by heteros or homos is sinful, then we're not doing people any favors, in terms of eternity, by telling them that it's okay or no big deal. It would be nice (to some voices, I guess) if the only people who went to hell were members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), opponents of campaign finance reform, budget cutters, heretics who deny the existence of privilege, libertarians, and those who would seek to put Ayn Rand's ideas into wide practice, but I don't think that's realistic.
Gilbert Costello
1 year 4 months ago
Yes, apologies are in order. However, we as Catholics, must stay true to the teachings of the Church on human sexuality. Every person deserves respect, including gays, lesbians, transgendered, sadomasochists, onanists, and anyone else who takes on a sexual identity. But for Catholics, we must be careful to not in the process affirm dangerous sexual acts, especially when informing children of sexual choices. For example, all forms of anal sex is a health issue and should be avoided, regardless what one's sexual orientation is. Loving someone does not require that we affirm actions that harm those persons.
Dimitri Cavalli
1 year 4 months ago
In the last two years or so, I saw this documentary, maybe "Taboo" on the National Geographic Channel (NatGeo), about a man who has a sexual-like attraction to his car. One scene shows the man resting his head on the hood and tenderly caressing and rubbing the car, like one would do with a lover. Obviously, this man is not hurting anyone. Despite his unusual "attraction," "secret passion," or even "fetish," the man could certainly be a great guy. It would be ridiculous to force this man to undergo psychiatric treatment. Obviously, he shouldn't experience any discrimination or physical or verbal abuse. But is it wrong to even draw an inference that the man's sexual attachment to a vehicle may be disordered? I don't recall the man using the "I was born this way" argument. If he was, it would mean he has some gene that causes the attraction. We could eventually learn that this man is not alone, and that there have been hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of men and women, who experience sexual attractions to motor vehicles. These people could organize themselves politically with the aim of legitimizing their vehicle-attraction. Are we really asking for equality for individuals, or, as George Will once said, "the moral equality of appetites"?
Leisel Clark
1 year 4 months ago
As a curious but still non-Catholic, I am moved by the way Pope Francis values respect for the dignity of all people beyond all barriers our societies impose. Women? Wash their feet. Disabled? Embrace them. Poor? Break bread together. Religious differences? Walk with them. Draw near to people who struggle. Draw near to people who are different. Draw near to people on the margins. Draw near to people. *This is the message of the Gospel.* I am especially taken with the work of interviewer Krista Tippett, toward enhancing our public discourse on the human experience through her Civil Conversations Project. To borrow from Ms. Tippett's 2011 interview with Frances Kissling (a controversial figure within Catholic circles, I know), "I do think that when people who disagree with each other... come together with a goal of gaining a better understanding of why the other believes what they do, good things come of that. But the pressure of coming to agreement works against really understanding each other, and we don't understand each other." And how can we truly love people as we are Called if we do not understand each other ~ if we close up our hearts; if we don't seek discussions that are both honest AND sensitive? Here is not a matter of agreement, or sidedness. We are not being asked which is right. We are being asked who is suffering. Marginalizing people drives much farther and deeper the divide that separates us, one from another. Pope Francis is living what Love looks like in a time when we are sorely in need of examples. We must apologize to those whom we have failed to Love well, if we are to draw near to one another. And I must begin. To put it another way, said Thomas Merton: "Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy." Who, then, is condemned? If I am unable to give myself fully to the work of Loving people, then mine is the life in need of saving...
Tim O'Leary
1 year 4 months ago
I went through the transcript of Pope Francis's latest interview and noticed the LGBT acronym was not used. The phrase gay person was used, and there is no reference to the bisexual or transgender, which all have their special "situations" and moral issues. I noticed in the link that Cardinal Marx used the term homosexuals. The reason I point this out is that there are considerable differences in the moral and biological situations of self-identifying bisexuals and transgender people and self-identifying gays and lesbians. It is a modern ideology that lumps them together, primarily for political power, and to change culture, "science", academia, media, society and eventually Church doctrine (which it cannot do). This initialism began in the 1990s (according to Wiki) and is unstable, in that initials are being added at a regular basis and used to maintain political correctness discipline. So, the most up-to-date phrase today is LGBTQIA+. The most hip bishops and priests who want to kowtow to the Zeitgeist will rarely use LGBT now - at least a Q is required (as on the Episcopal Church website http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/lgbt-church and the Unitarians http://www.uua.org/lgbtq) and the Methodist General Conference rebels used the term LGBTQI (https://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/calledout/). Then there's LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM at Weslyan University in Connecticut (http://www.wesleyan.edu/creativecampus/studentgroups/themedhousing.html). I would also note that the Church really needs to address the bisexual condition/situation, since that is the fastest growing self-identifier (so much for biological determinism) and brings a pro-choice component to sexual behavior. The number of adults engaging in bisexual behavior has doubled (its now 8% vs 2% for gay or less for lesbian) since the LGBT term was adopted (http://time.com/4352899/sex-relationships-hookups). But, by the time they get around to that, the Episcopalians will be defining the paramaters of morally acceptable BDSM. Luke 18:8 comes to mind.
alan macdonald
1 year 4 months ago
Is Fr Martin writing this article from conviction or orientation?
JOHN MCMULLEN
1 year 4 months ago
Once again (I'm not sure if the first one made it) -- this is an ugly and bigoted statement and the anthesis of the Papal message. It is a slur that takes away from the content of Father Martin's piece and the orientation of Father Martin or any other human being is none of your business.
JOHN MCMULLEN
1 year 4 months ago
If Donald Trump and / or Hillary Clinton were homosexual, would it make her / him any more or less qualified to be President? Both JFK and Barack Obama tried to eliminate Catholic / Black bigotry and they failed -- and as long as we have comments like this one, the Pope will have failed also.
alan macdonald
1 year 4 months ago
Your over reaction to a fair question is typical of the progressive liberal elite narrative in the Catholic Church best represented by the three unspoken goals of the American Jesuits: same sex marriage, abortion and female ordination. This magazine and Fr Martin have totally lost sight of Catholic orthodoxy.
William Atkinson
1 year 4 months ago
As long as the church and especially the magisterium and theologians see any people's of any category as (less than) the church will be in error. The equality of the spirit as created in His image and likeness of the nature and spirit of the Father the church needs to ask forgiveness, seek reparation, apologise and go to great lengths to change ways, including councils, doctrines and faith.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 4 months ago
I agree in part. As Pope Francis said, it is not the Church but individual Christians (of all persuasions and situations) who have failed to accept others as children of God. But, as to apologizing, since we are all sinners and all in need of repentance and salvation, it is presumptuous to demand others repent before we do. And, as to the specific preoccupation of this article (notice the Holy Father also mentioned the poor and the exploited, but they failed to make the headlines), the Magisterium would be derelict in its duty if it did not point out what behavior was required to live a good Christian life. We are all called to a chaste life, no matter where we start from.
Michael Barberi
1 year 4 months ago
Good article Fr. Martin.
Diana Bygrave
1 year 4 months ago
What a sad statement "Imagine being told that a deep part of you you, the part that feels love, is disordered". As if this is the only type of love, physical/conjugal? SMH Fr. Martin, so disturbing.
Philip Cyscon
1 year 4 months ago
Read the quote that you quoted again. Fr. Martin never mentioned sex. You did.
Robert Koch
1 year 4 months ago
All people have opinions, and unless those opinions directly hurt another person no apology is required.
L J
1 year 4 months ago
Wonderful article Fr Martin. Thank you for being the fine Jesuit teacher that we desperately need in our media. Protestant John Calvin hated the Jesuits for a reason: they made too much sense to undermine his sanctimony. If only we had more tireless Jesuits stirring the hearts of our modern day Calvinists
Tim O'Leary
1 year 4 months ago
There seems to be a campaign in this journal and the general secular media to distort what the Holy Father said. He did not propose “the church offering an apology to the L.G.B.T. community.” He never used the acronym LGBT. He used the word the reporter used, gay, by first reiterating the teaching in the Catechism. Then he affirmed the moral legitimacy of political opposition to the homosexual agenda, something he has mentioned many times, even when he was in Argentina. "One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior ... Certain manifestations are a bit too offensive for others, no? ... But these are things that have nothing to do with the problem." He then emphasized that we must accompany (he never says condone): "The problem is a person that has a condition, (later edited to “situation”), that has good will and seeks God” (which I interpret as someone who strives to live the moral life of a Christian as described in the Catechism). But, he then turned Ms. Wooden’s phrasing around and said all who do not accompany those who are exploited (gay, poor, women, children, war victims) should ask for forgiveness (“Christians must ask for forgiveness for many things, not just these.”). He brings up Mother Teresa as the ideal example of how to accompany the inflicted in a really Christian way. This journal has completely missed this context, accidentally or otherwise. Here is a link to the pope’s comments for those who have good will and seek the fullness of what he said (it is at the end - the ninth & last reporter question): http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/full-text-pope-francis-in-flight-press-conference-from-armenia/
Martin Meehan
1 year 2 months ago
Decades past there was intense moral and societal condemnation of homosexual behavior. A child who realized he/she had homosexual tendencies was terrified and often felt they were the only one in the world with this terrible condition. Many of these children wanted to be good sons and daughters, so they so ‘covered up’ their sexuality. They often dated, pretended to be ‘straight.’ They sometimes married and had children.They sometimes became priests, brothers, or nuns. But inside they were frustrated. Many of these people might identify themselves as “bisexual” but they did not have a true attraction to both sexes. They have an inborn same sex attraction and a learned behavior from society to ‘fake’ heterosexual behavior, to pretend to be someone they are not. Recent times have made it easier for homosexual adolescents to be open about their sexuality to their families and friends. They will not need the “cover’ of pretend heterosexuality or bisexuality. They have done this with minimal support from the Church. The comments on this article alone are more than Jesus ever spoke about homosexuality. Almost a year ago on his trip to the United States Pope Francis enthusiastically met his old friend, YaYo Grassi, and his boyfriend of 10 years. Pope Francis did not preach to them, he did not condemn them, he did not judge them. He warmly hugged them. It may have been Abraham Lincoln who made the following statement: “You can tell the size of a man by the size of the problem that upsets him.” Poverty, injustice, discrimination, hatred, war are the issues that concern tall men and women. Who am I to judge the size of a man who gets overly concerned about words like homosexual vs. gays vs LGBT, about the lifestyle of men and women with an inborn same sex-attraction. Let’s turn our time, attention, our comments to the big issues of the humanity, to the principles which are the focus of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Images: CNS/Composite: America
On Nov. 11, the Catholic Church lost a moral titan in the long struggle for racial equality and justice in the United States.
Shannen Dee WilliamsNovember 22, 2017
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar military commander-in-chief, speaks during the Union Peace Conference Aug. 31 in Naypyitaw (CNS photo/Hein Htet, EPA).
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing wields great political power in the country.
Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts in “Wonder” (CNS photo/Lionsgate). 
‘Wonder’ is a tween melodrama on a mission of mercy.
Simcha FisherNovember 22, 2017
The change was in “no way” a response to the C.C.H.D.’s persistent online critics, an archdiocesan official says.
Kevin ClarkeNovember 22, 2017