Judging, Seeking, Good Will

Holy cow.

I saw the BBC “top headline” on “Who am I to judge?” It occurred to me that a Catholic firestorm was coming, but I was pretty tired last night and went to bed early.

I caught a little hand-wringing on the internet over my lunch hour. I had no idea there would be so much spin on the Pope Francis remarks on the theoretical gay person who “seeks God and has good will.”

Of course the Holy Father has not varied from Church teaching on homosexuality. But what has he said that strikes people as so different? Well, if you need it explained, you’re probably not going to get it anyway. And if you get it, you probably don’t need to read any further in this post.

I will point out that any number of Catholic prelates and internet pundits last decade were pleased with hierarchical rumblings about no homosexuals being suitable for seminary. The 2005 guidelines, while giving lip service to those who did not lead an active sexuality, also dissuade candidates who “support so-called gay culture.” (Among other things.) What on earth could that mean? Wouldn’t that include civil unions? Or not supporting so-called support for traditional marriage? Intelligent and insightful human beings see the wiggle room for persecutors. And given the way the CDF has been running the past three decades, maybe some people can understand why there might be skepticism about a difference between what’s written on the official page and how people are treated from behind the church desk.

I don’t know that Pope Benedict XVI was blind or naïve to the nuance of communication: it’s not just what one says, but how one says it. In 2010, he said, “Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.”

I had a friend who, while in seminary, had a relationship with a woman “back home.” The rector found out about it. My friend, an otherwise good guy, was sent packing. That was right. The issue about quality candidates for seminary is that they follow the rules, including that of celibacy. Sexual orientation doesn’t matter at all. But that’s not how it was said in 2005.

Fr Longenecker blames the media. He and many other Catholics have assured us that the media will eventually join them in ignoring Pope Francis and what he says. I’m not so sure. I’m a lot more cynical about the press than that. The press will cover Pope Francis as long as they can sell product when they do. As long as Left, Right, and SSA hangs on statements like these, it will get covered.

A lot more people are hanging on what Pope Francis says and the media willingly covers it? Is it because they like him more? Not at all. It is because more people tuned out Pope Benedict XVI. They knew what he was going to say, so why bother to pay attention? Today, everybody has a vested interest in what the Holy Father says. Why is it different? It’s not what he says, but how he says it.

Take “Who am I to judge?” Catholics who advocate for mercy and respect like this statement. We know Church teaching as much as our skeptical sisters and brothers in belief. But we find a measure of hope because when family members or friends or work colleagues confide in us that they are gay, we know they are people of good will. And Pope Francis seems to assume this. When I hear and read other Catholics, I note their opinion it’s all a plot by lesbians and gays to take over Western Civilization. But for the time being, people are going to pay attention to Pope Francis. But for different reasons, of course. And because of that, the secular media will pay attention too. They have toothpaste, cars, products from China, and even contraceptives to sell.

The BBC didn’t cover what he said about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. But I found that to be even more hopeful. More blogging on that later.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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