It’s interesting to see how many supposed defenders of Pope Francis have been attacking the March 15th document he approved for publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That document rejected the idea that the Church should bless same-sex unions. It’s also interesting to observe how many self-styled Catholic media persons who purport to support Pope Francis are ridiculing not only the CDF document, but also its teaching. This includes the parts that come from Pope Francis, such as this from Amoris Laetitia: “… there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (AL, 251).
I don’t think Pope Francis intended those words to be “hurtful”. No doubt, there are those who hope the Church will accept same-sex acts and same-sex unions as good who saw them as “hurtful”, though some of them probably refrained from saying as much, in the interests of furthering the misperception the Church is changing her teaching and practice. Sometimes we have to speak truths in love that may unintentionally hurt some people. We can hope and pray others will be helped and even those hurt may eventually undergo conversion.
Of course some traditional Catholics have criticized Pope Francis about various matters throughout his pontificate. When they do, they usually appeal to traditional Catholic teaching and practice. Whether they’re right or wrong in their criticism, they have a basis in what they and Pope Francis hold in common.
But the self-styled defenders of Pope Francis now criticizing his teaching about whether or not the Church has “the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex” seem to be in a different situation. They directly contradict what Pope Francis has said about same-sex unions. They contradict what Catholic teaching has always said about same-sex unions. They can’t appeal to a common body of doctrine and practice.
It’s true that these self-styled defenders of Pope Francis agree with him that same-sex attracted people should be treated with the respect due human persons. Such persons of course ought to be cherished as persons and called to participate in the life of the Church. But then, in saying so, they agree also with Benedict XVI and John Paul II on that same point. As well as with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says same-sex attracted persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” while also saying the “inclination” to homosexual acts “is objectively disordered” (CCC, 2357-58). The Catechism also states, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” But of course the Church’s decision not to bless same-sex relationships, which implies such relationships are good, is not “unjust discrimination”.
Apparently, some self-styled defenders of Pope Francis disagree with him and other Catholics when it comes to whether respect for same-sex attracted persons implies agreement with their choices and patterns of life.
The argument, apparently, is: “Love me, love my choices and actions and way of living.” Sometimes the Motherhood of the Church is invoked, as if to say, “As a mother blesses her children, even when they do things she thinks are wrong, so she blesses too what they do.” And from this we are supposed to think, “As the Church as Mother blesses her children, so too she blesses what they do.” But of course good mothers love their children without blessing things the mothers’ regard as wrong. Likewise the Church as Mother.
In fact, most of us don’t usually think respecting or loving people implies respecting or loving their choices or patterns of life. We don’t think that way about plenty of other people we know. We often love people who make choices and act in ways we regard as wrong. We often love people whose patterns of living we don’t think good or prudent.
And you know what? Some of us who respond in that way are same-sexual attracted people. Same-sex attracted people, like opposite-sex attracted people, often respect, love, and accept people who make what they regard as bad choices, act in ways they regard as wrong, and who live in ways they find unacceptable.
It would be good if the supposed defenders of Pope Francis who are now forcefully denouncing the Vatican and the document the Pontiff agreed to have published, would stop the ideological rhetoric and political posturing. It’s unlikely they will stop, given the topic—but it sure would be nice, coming from supposed defenders of the Pope.
Some folks are rightly concerned with how the Church is “heard”. Of course we have to take that into consideration. But there is an opposite danger: being so concerned about how the Church is “heard” by people whom we know will take offense, and in some cases are looking to be offended, we begin to soft-pedal and even avoid “hard sayings”, however lovingly presented. We begin to confuse “ideals” as standards of Gospel living with “ideals” as aspirational goals, as if sinful things are simply less good than the “ideal” rather than contrary to it. We begin to look for good aspects of a bad, sinful relationship and we talk about those at the expense of ever challenging people in such a relationship about its evils.
When we behave this way, we can cause people to suffer in other ways than they can suffer when they hear unpleasant, challenging truths. People reassured by false but pleasant messages suffer, even if they don’t realize it. Being in ignorance or error or in rationalization is a form of suffering. And people struggling to live the truth often suffer when they see their spiritual guides talking and acting in ways that undercut a resolve to live the truth. They begin to think perhaps their friends are right when they say, “The Church is wrong” or “The Church will change, so why put yourself through such sacrifice?”
When it comes to human sexuality, both same-sex and opposite-sex attracted people can be tempted to doubt and to sin when Catholic leaders, wittingly or unwittingly, leave the impression that what constitutes authentic human sexuality is changing or is up for serious debate in the Catholic Church. We don’t need always to lead off with a conversation about “sin” or constantly to come back to it, but we shouldn’t act or speak as if sin were only a choice less good and is a supposedly fine-as-far-as-it-goes human good somehow differently pursued from the Church’s teaching. That is not authentic accompaniment.
Pope Francis’ call to reach out to same-sex attracted people has never entailed blessing their sexual relations. Nor has it meant that such sexual expressions must be treated as good in themselves. We can love people without approving or blessing what they do. And we can be loved by people without them loving and approving what we do.
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