“Pope Blesses Gay Weddings”, declares the headline in Metro, one of Britain’s largest newspapers, over the subhead, “Homosexuals Are Children of God … They Have a Right To Civil Unions”.
True? Accurate? Close enough? Not really. Sort of. Maybe.
Pope Francis’s comments, which appear in the documentary “Francesco”, which premiered today in Rome, were not quite as clear as many of the headlines indicate, even if the actual comments were just as attention-grabbing.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis stated, later adding, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered … I stood up for that.”
I don’t know the specific question asked of Francis, but CNA reports that the “film chronicles the approach of Pope Francis to pressing social issues, and to pastoral ministry among those who live, in the words of the pontiff, ‘on the existential peripheries.'” I don’t live in Italy, but the notion that homosexuals in, say, the United States are confined to the “existential peripheries” is rather humorous (though to say so is, I’m sure, considered homophobic and intolerant.) It is nearly impossible to go out of one’s house, or turn on the TV or radio, or read a newspaper or magazine and not be bombarded with the existential omnipresence of homosexuality. Needless to say, gay is always presented as normal, great, and requiring even more—if possible—affirmation. In fact, the Reign of Gay is so 2014; we now are fully living in the Tyranny of Trans.
But, I digress. The matter of the specific question might not be clear, but the end result of this quintessentially Francis moment seems clear enough: more controversy, more confusion, further sniping over what the Church really teaches, and where papal comments in documentaries should be placed in the realm of magisterial statements: Above interviews given to an elderly, atheist Italian journalist? Below off-the-cuff remarks made while flying at 30,000 feet? Close to private phone calls made to this mother or that old friend?
Here’s the thing: if Francis’s remarks were made without prudential concern for how they would be received, they are deeply troubling. Or worse. If they were carefully made with specific attention to how they would be received, they are deeply troubling. Or worse.
Yes, everyone has a “right” to be a “part of a family”; their very existence suggests they came from a family. But is Francis then saying that homosexuals have a “right” to have a family? It appears so. As the CNA report notes, the film includes a story of Francis “encouraging two Italian men in a same-sex relationship to raise their children in their parish church, which, one of the men said, was greatly beneficial to his children.” It also notes that in his 2013 book On Heaven and Earth, Francis stated that laws “assimilating” homosexual relationships to marriage are “an anthropological regression,” saying that if same-sex couples “are given adoption rights, there could be affected children. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.”
So, which is it? Well, that probably depends on the day and week. Changing course and shifting narrative parameters for different audiences has been a regular feature of this pontificate, which often flies by the seat of its sentimentally-inclined papal pants.
Of more interest to me, in many ways, is the statement, “They’re children of God…” First, is Francis speaking of Catholics who are homosexual? Struggling with same-sex attraction? Or all homosexuals? Again, not clear. But the “we’re all children of God” slogan has been a prominent feature of this pontificate, as when, in a video message in January 2016, Francis stated, “Many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways. In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty that we have for all: we are all children of God…” The same sentiment can be found in the recently released encyclical Fratelli tutti.
Is it true that we are all children of God. Well, yes—but no.
Whenever I hear the statement “we are all children of God”, I immediately think of what the Apostle John wrote in his first Epistle:
No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother. (1 Jn 3:9-10)
Strong meat, without doubt, and certainly out of touch—thankfully—with the intolerant “tolerance” of our current age. But John is simply voicing what is a strong theme in the New Testament: becoming a children of God requires grace, faith, conversion, and the pursuit of holiness (cf. Jn 1:12; Rom 8:14; Gal 3:25-29). And there are many who knowingly refuse the gift of divine sonship.
Benedict XVI, in a 2012 General Audience, made an essential distinction that Francis often seems to either ignore or collapse. God, said Benedict, “is our Father because he is our Creator.” We are all created in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:27), and so for God “we are not anonymous, impersonal beings but have a name.” Then Benedict states:
Nonetheless this is still not enough. The Spirit of Christ opens us to a second dimension of God’s fatherhood, beyond creation, since Jesus is the “Son” in the full sense of “one in being with the Father”, as we profess in the Creed. Becoming a human being like us, with his Incarnation, death and Resurrection, Jesus in his turn accepts us in his humanity and even in his being Son, so that we too may enter into his specific belonging to God. Of course, our being children of God does not have the fullness of Jesus. We must increasingly become so throughout the journey of our Christian existence, developing in the following of Christ and in communion with him so as to enter ever more intimately into the relationship of love with God the Father which sustains our life.
It is this fundamental reality that is disclosed to us when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and he makes us turn to God saying “Abba!”, Father. We have truly preceded creation, entering into adoption with Jesus; united, we are really in God and are his children in a new way, in a new dimension.
It is not enough, then, to say that a homosexual—or anyone else—is “a child of God” and leave it at that, as if the central mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation are just poetic niceties or doctrinal distractions. The entire moral life, as St. John Paul II emphasized in Veritatis Splendor, is oriented toward authentic freedom and reality—that is, God Himself—and that most certainly includes the truth about sexuality, marriage, and procreation. “For this is the love of God,” says the Apostle John, “that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). Or, put another way, God’s commandments cause no misery.
Now, if everyone is born a child of God and that’s all that matters, then being re-born by the power of the Holy Spirit so we might, in Jesus Christ, have communion with the Father is mere sectarianism or, worse, intolerant dogmatism. If we are all children of God on our own, then the Church is non-essential and Catholicism is nonsensical. And there certainly is no reason to believe that chastity is for everyone, marriage is for a man and woman, and that sex is meant for marriage alone.
Pope Francis has, at times, strongly upheld those teachings of the Church. At times, however, he seems like a Seventies-styled Jesuit trying to grapple with the “realities” of the early 2000s. How much better it would be, I think, if he would take to heart these words of wisdom from his predecessor:
The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!