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Pope Francis clarifies comments on sin and homosexuality

Fr. James Martin, SJ. Credit: Kerry Weber via Wikipedia cc 4.0 | Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Jan 28, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has written a letter to clarify his comments on sin and homosexuality from a recent interview with the Associated Press.

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” the pope wrote to Jesuit Father James Martin, in response to a request for clarification.

Francis said he was trying to say in the interview that criminalization of homosexuality “is neither good nor just.”

“As you can see, I was repeating something in general,” he wrote. “I should have said ‘It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.’ This is to speak of ‘the matter’ of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin.”

Martin published the pope’s Spanish-language letter and an English translation on the website of Outreach on Jan. 27. Martin is the editor of Outreach, which describes itself as “an LGBT Catholic resource” operating under the auspices of America Media.

In an interview published Jan. 25 by AP, Pope Francis said, “Being homosexual is not a crime. It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”

The Outreach article posited that the pope’s comment that, “yes, but it’s a sin,” was intended to be from a hypothetical interlocutor to whom Pope Francis was responding.

In his Jan. 27 letter, Pope Francis ascribed the confusing statement to the conversational tone of the interview.

“It is understandable that there would not be such precise definitions,” he said.

The pope also noted that the AP interview was “not the first time that I speak of homosexuality and of homosexual persons.”

When speaking about the sin of sexual activity outside of marriage, he added that, “of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault.”

The Catholic Church does not teach that homosexuality, that is having same-sex attraction, is a sin.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, people with homosexual tendencies should be treated with respect, and unjust discrimination against them should be avoided, while “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Catechism also teaches that for a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be met: it must be grave matter, which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.

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  1. Pope Francis says “homosexuality is a sin” but is pushing its legalization?

    Pope Francis keeps allowing one James Martin to seduce him into these ideas?

    Pope Francis and James Martin have a merit to hide who else is involved?

    Pope Francis equates buggery with “sexual intercourse outside marriage”?

    Pope Francis wants to make this into a “Magisterium” and into acts of piety?

    The “conversational tone” of an interview makes up for what really should be taught but isn’t?

    Pope Francis says if you do not join in you are Pelagian and/or Jansenist?

    Pope Francis calls this clarification? …. when …. James Martin asked for it?

    • I think there’s an abiding ambiguity in the Pope’s thinking on the relationship between sin and culpability. According to the Church, my lack of full knowledge or deliberate consent may mitigate or nullify my culpability for an objectively disordered act, but this does not mean that the act is permissible for me even in a qualified or provisional sense, even for the sake of avoiding a greater evil.

      Pope Francis suggests just the opposite in his response to the Argentine Bishops’ Letter, which argues I could discern that it is not presently possible for me to avoid sex outside marriage if to do so would lead to a greater sin, though it may become possible in the future with the help of grace. The issue here is not really a lack of full knowledge or deliberate consent. On the contrary, I have deliberated on my options, and have decided that it is necessary for me to consent to sex outside marriage in order to avoid some consequence that I judge to be a greater evil (e.g., subjecting my children to divorce, etc).

      This is not the Church’s teaching. It is consequentialism with a smiling face. No matter how difficult my present circumstances may be, I can keep God’s law with the help of His grace. To say otherwise is not Christian mercy, but moral determinism. It is to strip us of agency and dignity, to deny the share Christ gives us in the victory of the Cross.

      All this, of course, is old news, but it makes it difficult for me to take the Pope’s much-welcome correction of James Martin at face value. Francis tends to stretch the Church’s teaching on mitigated culpability from something like a distinction between degrees of murder to a distinction between murder and self-defense. If it is sometimes impossible for divorced and remarried couples to avoid sex outside marriage, and if we must treat all sexual sins alike, could it sometimes be impossible for gay couples too? If so, what is the point of re-affirming that homosexual acts are always sins?

  2. “…of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault.”

    Yes, in individual cases, but from this will James Martin now manufacture the endorsement he needs to proclaim that LGBTQ as a category (!) is exempt from the natural law, the dubia and the Magisterium’s Veritatis Splendor?

    What would such an endorsement mean when, instead, the homosexual tendency is triggered or locked in by early sexual abuse, by random sexual experimentation, by the trauma of absentee or abusive fathers, by cultural victimization? Ought the Church to truly affirm the victim persons and call for confronting and healing the entire package of such background abuses–at, say, the “aggregated, compiled and synthesized” Synod on Synodality? Fat chance. But perhaps James Martin will supply Cardinals Hollerich and Radcliffe with the needed wording!

    But then there’s also the science–a literature review, plus the lab finding of a few genome “markers” of little explanatory value, and no gay gene:

    One recent STUDY in the mix is a review of two hundred peer-reviewed studies on sexual orientation and gender identity. The conclusion: gender identity is not an innate, fixed property of human beings independent of biological sex (Mayer/McHugh, The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Ethics and Public Policy Center, No. 50, Fall 2016).

    Other GENOME RESEARCH points to some genetic markers—it does not find a gay gene— and concludes that these markers do not account for same-sex behavior.

  3. Well to have clarified his remarks, although Pope Francis apparently doesn’t distinguish between sexual sins in the natural order, and those moral injustices that are a form of hostility to the natural order. Such are homosexual sins. Why the difference?
    God ordained human sexual behavior exclusive to a man and woman. The sin then offends God as a sin outside marriage, and a sin against natural law. Also, the common opinion of late is that the predilection toward same sex is not sinful described as such ‘attraction’. The error in this while it’s apparently true that some have a deep seated same sex attraction that of itself may not be sinful -similarly, the historical evidence shows homosexuality behavior can be an acquired sexual dysfunction.
    Francis clouds this distinction. That leads many to assume a form of liceity in that sodomy is no less grievous than natural sexual activity between a man and woman, adding to the willingness to engage in unnatural sex. As well as the Pontiff’s frequent admonition, this is how God made you, he loves you as you are. Hearing this from a pontiff weakens resistance to homosexuality, often for some encourages it.

    • Well said! The pope’s comment was rather shocking. As we read in scripture God condemns homosexuality which is an abomination to Him and for the pope to suggest that those who choose to disobey God should be given any consideration is wrong and speaks volume for a person in his position.

  4. I could just imagine all the heads exploding in “America” offices all over the land as they hear Pope Francis saying that homosexuality is a SIN.

    “He can’t say that!” they all cried out at once. James Martin swooned and had to be helped to the nearest fainting couch.

    “We need to get him to issue a clarification right away” all the world’s Jesuits screamed in unison. “No one can know that homosexuality is sinful in any respect! We must have full papal approval of homosexuality, at least in the public mind!”

    And so, Pope Francis did what he was told.

  5. Pope Francis says “of course, one must also consider the circumstances which may decrease or eliminate fault.” The catechism, however, clearly states that homosexual acts “under no circumstances can they be approved.” The catechism makes things clear, the pope’s statement does not. Some could claim that love for a same sex partner eliminates the moral fault of homosexual acts,

    • Rene, this conflated concept of mitigation is the lever used in Amoris Laetitia to neutralize intrinsically evil acts. John Paul II warned not to make mitigation [in Amoris as you correctly note mitigating circumstances] a category, as a classification of moral acts. Grace is what’s absent in Ch 8 Amoris Laetitia, a surreptitious omission. When the Apostle Paul complained of Satan’s thorn in his side [Aquinas considered Paul’s affliction a moral temptation] Our Lord answered him, ‘My grace is sufficient. My power is perfected in weakness’.

  6. Dear, dear Francis,
    I stopped listening to anything you say or write a long, long time ago. Issue an encyclical or make pronouncements ex cathedra on a matter of faith and moral and then I’ll listen and obey. But your day to day remarks are not only confusing but you’re forever contradicting yourself.

  7. I am deeply concerned over this pontiff and his comments.

    I wish there was a way, outside of prayer, that we can address our concerns in a spirit of filial love and correction to this Holy Father, similar to St Paul’s rebuke of St Peter, or that of an adult son to his elderly father.

  8. An interesting, albeit sad,turn of events. James Martin left his two audiences with Francis feeling encouraged and supported, probably due to his sense that the pontiff was on his side. But this is just another example of Francis doublespeak. Homosexual acts are sin. The church has taught this for centuries. There really is no need for clarification. Martin needs to either repent or be laicized.

  9. Last time I checked (okay, I never did, but still) mixing ammonia and bleach is not a crime, or even a sin as far as I know, but it is still an incredibly stupid thing to do, and carries with it the possibility of very, very scary breathing difficulties, if not death.
    Maybe sodomy should be looked at that way. Not a crime, but incredibly stupid and harmful on many, many levels. Not something that can ever be approved of and should always and everywhere be discouraged–including in marriage–an institution that is exclusively between and man and woman.

    • These are not equal comparisons as mixing bleach & ammonia are not known from research or millenia of human experience to be a “dysfunctional behavior against Natural Law” – as IS sodomy and all homosexual sexual behaviors. The ramifications of homosexual sexual behaviors are immediately harmful both naturally & eternally to the people involved, and the consequences of harm and destruction from even one encounter can expand like an algae bloom in summer, and from the common on-going behavior (“gay culture”) explode with far-reaching and forever consequences like the radiation from nuclear explosion/melt-down.

    • A very good analogy there, the mixing of ammonia and bleach. Unfortunately, with sodomy some have apparently to learn the hard way or, worse yet, never do.

    • I get your point and agree in part. However, I’m not sure it’s ever safe. He is rather like the old uncle or grandpa who keeps coming to family reunions and embarrasses (almost) everyone with his inappropriate comments and behavior. It’s egregious stuff, but nobody seems to be able to stop him. So he keeps roiling things up and fouling the air until, finally, he falls asleep in a rocking chair. Then, then we have a moment of peace and sanity.

  10. God said homosexuality is a sin both in the old and new testament LONG before any pope meekly mentioned it. It’s really sad that you all rely on a catechism made up by sinful men that doesn’t correspond exactly to God’s word. The world is watching as the Catholic church crumbles before their very eyes.

  11. The Pope is implying the realities of voluntary and involuntary homosexuality. The former are sinful and the latter possibly not, as especially when in youth under non-cognitive exploration, a person discovers sexual response though no one taught him nor did one learn it from a source (i.e. ‘it just happened’). If one does not know, then culpability is indeed mitigated. But the one who has already gained full knowledge of disorder (has taken the eternal curriculum of heterosexuality and chastity) and acts out still, ‘will be severely beaten’, in consequence.

    Dr/Fr Ripperger has covered this area called ‘involuntary vice’. But someone should write an entire book on this topic, because the tendency of the creature who has already voluntarily or involuntarily wired or configured his body to same-sex attraction (or any other disordered intoxication) preference, searches for every cognitive instance that will legitimize his configuration, to make licit the acting out in the preference. Addicts and compulsives do the same gymnastic of malaprop ‘understanding’ of commentary.

    The pope is plying mercy to these vast grey areas, but unawake sinners/the misconfigured accept only what conforms to intoxication preference. Scripture often gets misinterpreted in the same way, in a twilight before facing the fact of disorder.
    It is a very complicated area, arriving at actual moral culpability, because inner physical/psychological adolescent maturation often lacks guidance and occurs in total secrecy, and gets ‘locked’ into disordered patterns before cognition, reason or knowledge can undo them.

    Conversion is a slow awakening to what got misconfigured, how it should have been configured, and where to get the desire to desist the old and find a home in the new: to change, to be reconfigured: redemption. For many it will take a lifetime of struggle to overcome the Beast who wants to gain the interior permanent upper hand. Which many do not want to make since the misconfiguration is not their fault and because there is deep unfortunate attachment to the intoxication preference.

    These are some things the Pope could share with the press, which would have the impossible(!) effect of awakening, remorse, shock, release, amazement, understanding. That’s my prayer. Speak actual truth from the inner world of the sufferer, so he can come to freedom.

  12. Very sad and disappointing that the Holy Father was so quick to clarify his comments in response to the inquiry of Fr. Martin; yet… 4 Cardinals of the Church asked for clarification of the Holy Fathers writings over 6 years ago (the dubia) and these have still not been addressed.

  13. The lackadaisical “clarification” only compounded confusion about what constitutes a sin by persons experiencing same sex attraction. Sexual misbehavior is often a mortal sin, particularly such acts between persons of the same sex. While there are always mitigating circumstances, and only God can judge any particular soul, the Church should always strive to emphasize the “narrow gate” and that obstinate ignorance is not an excuse. Moreover, this would have been a most opportune occasion to strengthen the understanding of what is a God recognized marriage and Holy Matrimony. Instead we received a nuanced response from the Pope that “sex outside marriage” is a sin without soul saving instruction on either. Is there any wonder that Biden and Co Catholics may really believe that same sex “marriage” and funded abortion is supported by the Church?

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