— I feel like a second-class citizen in the Church of England
The church made me answer prurient questions in order to be ordained – and if I were to enter a civil marriage, I’d essentially be sacked
In many ways, my partner and I are quite boring and conventional. We may have met through a dating app – very 21st century – but otherwise there’s been nothing particularly scandalous or unusual about how we do things. Quite frankly, most people wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Except, of course, for the fact that I’m a priest in the Church of England – and that’s where the problems begin. For while the rest of the country seems able to see the clear and unambiguous good that springs from same-sex relationships, the church continues to drag its heels. For years, in fact, it has told us that there’s nothing good at all about our love for one another – that it’s something to be shunned, embarrassed about, even erased. Our love is, ultimately, a problem.
The poverty of such a view has become increasingly obvious to those within the church and without, but the bishops of the C of E have resolutely refused to say anything at all for years. They – including those bishops who are secretly gay – have been cowed into silence by threats from those who oppose same-sex marriage. A few years ago, in 2017, they finally said something – recognising that the church’s record had hardly been positive towards LGBTQ people but coupled with a firm refusal to do anything about it. And the clergy of the C of E told them to get stuffed.
So we find ourselves here in 2023, at the end of a long and, at times, tedious and painful process of thinking and discernment about sexuality across the church. We all knew something was coming, whether it was to keep the status quo or to make some kind of change. What we weren’t expecting was the inability of the House of Bishops to keep stumm before the official announcement.
And so, on Wednesday, we woke up to news that the bishops had decided that our love wasn’t all that bad after all, and that we may be allowed to have our relationship blessed in a church in the near future. As a priest, too, I may finally be able to support the same-sex couples that come to us asking for blessings or for marriage, and who we have to turn away.
And perhaps, at last, the prurient and strange questioning that we face as clergy could soon be a thing of the past, because at the moment people outside the church would genuinely not believe the kind of things we are asked about our love lives, and the things we have to commit to in order to be ordained – among them an almost obsessive focus on celibacy. Our priests, deacons and even bishops either put utterly unacceptable and unsustainable pressure on their relationships and on their partners, or they are actively encouraged to lie. And if we enter into civil marriages with people of the same sex, we are essentially sacked too. We are in one hell of a mess.
The problem, though, is that while the bishops have offered us blessings, they’ve stopped short of offering us marriage. There are all kind of complicated political and pragmatic reasons for going no further than blessings, but somehow that doesn’t quite make it better. It still feels like crumbs under the table. We remain second-class citizens.
For me, and for many of my clergy friends and colleagues, we may understand the politics and the pragmatism, and the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. We may know it will only ever be a slow process towards inclusion, and this is the next stepping stone on the journey. Yet it still feels like a gut punch. It still feels like we are begging for our place at the table. It still feels like we’re worth fighting for, but only so far. The church may indeed be planning to apologise, but it continues to do the damage.
So Piotr and I won’t be getting married any time soon. The C of E doesn’t want us to just yet. But change is coming, however slowly and painstakingly – and we aren’t giving up the fight for justice. And one day, the church may just recognise our love for what it really is – a love that moves mountains, and a love that changes everything.
Charlie Bell is an Anglican priest in the diocese of Southwark and a Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge
A new Vatican statement that has provoked widespread criticism for sharply rejecting the blessing of same-sex unions is the latest example of why it’s hard for many people to take the Catholic Church’s own professed values of equality and dignity seriously.
The decree, which notes God “cannot bless sin,” reiterates traditional Catholic teaching on sexuality. But the outpouring of painful reactions demonstrates the limits of Pope Francis’ welcoming gestures toward LGBTQ people and is a stark reminder that my church continues to deny people their full humanity. Straight Catholics who love our church and LGBTQ friends and family in equal measure are finding it increasingly difficult to square the church’s often contradictory messages.
The Catholic catechism insists gay people should be treated with dignity and “every sign of unjust discrimination” should be avoided. This is the same church that, in a 2003 Vatican statement, said allowing children to be adopted by same-sex couples “would actually mean doing violence to these children.” The same church that has promised to welcome and accompany gay Catholics is now opposing the Equality Act in Congress, which would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And in a U.S. Supreme Court case that will be decided this summer, Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia wants to continue operating as a government contractor and receive city funding while refusing to place foster children with same-sex couples.
It’s a strange and un-Christian form of love that tells people they are equal in God’s eyes but then acts in ways that deem their committed relationships and parenting as inferior.
The Vatican’s latest statement is likely to cause spiritual and psychological damage to young LGBTQ people who already experience higher rates of suicide, and push more people away from the institutional church. This statement stings even more coming after what has felt like, for many LGBTQ Catholics, a shift with Pope Francis toward more welcoming and inclusive language.
“Not since the anger over sex abuse in 2002 and 2018 have I seen so many people so demoralized, and ready to leave the church,” tweeted the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest and advocate for LGBTQ Catholics who has met with Pope Francis and serves as a Vatican adviser. “And not simply LGBT people, but their families and friends, a large part of the church.”
Perhaps a necessary reckoning over how the church thinks about LGBTQ people and human sexuality is arriving. Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said the Vatican statement left him with “intellectual and moral incomprehension.” In a commentary published in several Belgian and international newspapers, the bishop apologized for those who found the decree “painful and incomprehensible.”
The bishop noted that he knows same-sex couples “who are legally married, have children, form a warm and stable family and actively participate in parish life. I’m immensely appreciative of their contributions.”
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, told The Tablet, a weekly Catholic journal, the statement “isn’t by any means the end of the conversation. I think it should give greater impetus to another kind of conversation about inclusion.” Even the Vatican statement, which in part came as a response to German bishops involved with ongoing discussions about blessing same-sex couples, cites the “positive elements” of gay relationships and acknowledges they should be “valued and appreciated.”
Several U.S. Catholic bishops in recent years have made efforts to show greater welcome toward LGBTQ people. After the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich called for “real, not rhetorical” respect for gays and lesbians. Newark Cardinal Joe Tobin welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBTQ Catholics to the city’s cathedral in 2017. San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy has said the church’s description of gay sexual intimacy as “intrinsically disordered” is “very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally.”
LGBTQ Catholics and allies will continue to remind our church that until there is real discernment about how a disordered theology that excludes and wounds is never holy, welcoming rhetoric rings hollow. Catholic leaders can begin by showing more humility. The hierarchy does not have a monopoly on truth when it comes to the complexities of gender and human sexuality. Reform and renewal first begin by listening — and acknowledging you have something to learn.
More than 230 professors of Catholic theology in Germany and other countries where German is spoken have signed a statement protesting the Vatican’s recent pronouncement that priests cannot bless same-sex unions, adding to dissent over the document.
The statement issued Monday declared that last week’s text “is marked by a paternalistic air of superiority and discriminates against homosexual people and their life plans.”
“We distance ourselves firmly from this position,” it added. “We believe that the life and love of same-sex couples are not worth less before God than the life and love of any other couple.”
The document released a week ago by the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”
The congregation’s note distinguished between blessing same-sex unions and the Catholic Church’s welcoming and blessing of gay people, which it upheld. The document argued that such unions are not part of God’s plan and that any sacramental recognition of them could be confused with marriage.
It pleased conservatives and disheartened advocates for LGBT Catholics. The German church has been at the forefront of opening discussion on hot-button issues such the church’s teaching on homosexuality.
The professors’ statement, which was drawn up by a working group at the University of Muenster in Germany, said the Vatican note lacked “theological depth” and “argumentative stringency.”
It included signatures from professors in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
A representative of the Association of Catholic Priests, Fr Tim Hazlewood, has said he would bless the union of same-sex couples despite the Vatican ruling it out this week, saying the church ‘cannot bless sin’.
“If Christ was with us now, he would do the caring, the loving thing,” Fr Hazelwood said.
Earlier this week, the Vatican decreed that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin”.
The Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a formal response to a question about whether Catholic clergy can bless gay unions.
The answer, approved by Pope Francis, was “negative”.
Fr Hazlewood, who ministers in a parish in East Cork, said he had been approached by families who have somebody who is in a same-sex relationship.
“Our experience is that they are lovely couples and to hear something like that, that their relationship is sinful, I wonder how many of them know and meet and interact with those families and those people,” he told RTÉ Morning Ir
Fr Hazlewood said the Pope was in a difficult position, but to listen to that statement was “so disappointing, it was appalling.”
“He’s trying to hold all the parts together, in parts of the world, including Ireland, there is a small group who are very anti-Pope Francis and anti the changes, the new breath of life that he’s bringing.”
“For a lot of people and families, it’s very disappointing. Does he want to cause a schism in the church?”
When asked if he would bless a same sex couple’s union, Fr Hazlewood replied: “Just two days ago there were pieces of weed that grow in the ground and I blessed them. I blessed shamrock, now if two people stand in front of me and they love each other and they are committing to each other for the rest of their lives and I bless shamrock and wouldn’t bless them. I don’t think there’s a doubt or a question there.”
The church’s teaching on what marriage means has not changed, he said.
“In Ireland, we’re going to have a synod in the next five years and the bishops have said they want people on the margins to be part of that, would any gay person come near a church that says things like this?”
“There’s an awful difference between somebody in Rome making a promulgation and what’s the lived experience of the church and I think a lot of priests would say ‘if Christ was here with us now, what would Christ do?’
“He would do the caring, the loving thing. He was the one who challenged all of these rules himself. Pope Francis is asking us to talk about these things, this is the way forward”
“There’s going to be an awful lot more things like this in the church which is a good thing.”
I woke up Monday morning to harsh, depressing news
In a story from Axios, I learned Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have once again morally condemned me and most of the people I love, instructing priests to stop (or not to start) blessing same-sex unions — a practice that until yesterday was finding currency in more liberal Catholic quarters.
The story gets worse from there.
The details of the pronouncement are bad enough, but the bigger story is the journalistic environment in which they’re being reported. From the beginning of Francis’s papacy, major media have bent over backwards to find reasons to paint him as progressive on LGBTQ matters when regressive is a more fair description of his LGBTQ teachings and practices.
Journalists even in the most left-leaning publications often practice classic bothsidesism that paints a distorted picture of how Francis’s Church actually treats LGBTQ people, who mostly experience the Roman Catholic Church as an agent of oppression and stigmatization.
I belong to a large Irish-American Catholic clan, and I’ve heard my own progressive-ish nieces and nephews latch on to inaccurate news reporting that allows them to feel better about the Church they support and — this is critical — lulls them into a complacency that almost guarantees they will not pressure the Church to reform itself.
Here’s what the Vatican did on Monday
That Axios headline was clear and accurate: “Priests can’t bless gay unions because God “cannot bless sin.” Ireland’s RTE, a national public news service, broke the story down in more depth. Besides nixing blessings for gay couples, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has ruled that priests must restrict individual blessings to “persons with homosexual inclinations who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”
In other words, the Church demands celibacy in exchange for inclusion.
The ruling explicitly calls gay people disordered and sinful, spelling out that gay people are fine with the Church only so long as we never form intimate sexual relationships, a basic human need. With this document, the Church continues a tradition of religiously bullying members of gender and sexual minorities by inaccurately reducing our identities and innate biology to pathology.
Despite that, the CDF authors maintain their position constitutes the “respect and sensitivity” the Catechism requires. In Orwellian doublespeak typical of Francis, they claim their ruling is not a form of the “unjust discrimination” the Catechism forbids.
In fact, with Francis’s explicit authorization, this ruling affirms all the Church’s traditions that stigmatize and morally condemn LGBTQ people. For Catholic progressives hoping for the reform of Church teachings, Monday’s ruling dashes hopes.
Does Francis intend to reform the Church?
The document he just approved demonstrates his implacable opposition to reform. It’s harsh, authoritarian, dehumanizing, and damaging to real human beings all over the world. It gives Catholic clergy and lay leaders all the tools they need to continue condemning and pathologizing LGBTQ people.
That’s the real story here, and almost nobody is reporting it like that
Check out this New York Times sub-header: “In a ruling made public on Monday, the Vatican said the Roman Catholic Church should be welcoming toward gay people, but not their unions.”
That sentence is fundamentally inaccurate, even outright misleading.
It’s a perfect example of looking for two sides to a story even when one of those sides is barely true. Sure the CDF document calls for “welcoming,” but it explicitly instructs priests not to be welcoming — to withhold ordinary blessings from gay people in partnerships, to teach those gay people that they are living “in sin.”
You can dig into that Times article and get some good information, though you’d have to dig hard, and you would not find the critical piece about banning individual blessings. The Times chose not to report that, even though it’s perhaps the most important part of the story.
The Washington Post did a slightly better job, but their lede is as inaccurate and misleading as the Times’ sub-header: “Pope Francis has invited LGBT advocates to the Vatican. He has spoken warmly about the place of gay people in the church. He has called for national laws for same-sex civil unions.”
Seriously? That’s the lede? That’s neutral journalism?
It gets worse. Look how they report on individual blessings: “The decree said individual gay people could continue to be blessed by the church, provided they show ‘the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.’”
If the reader blinked, they missed that the Church just ordered priests to stop blessing individual gay people who aren’t celibate. This story is much more detailed than the one in the Times; it contains some accurate information. It frankly confronts the issue of gay Catholics feeling betrayed. But it uses classic bothsidesism to paint a more positive picture than exists on the ground. Nobody reading the story would conclude that the Church under Francis has regressed on LGBTQ inclusion, even though it has regressed substantially.
Reading the Times, the Post, or most mainstream newspapers, the reader would have missed something profoundly important: Francis often makes kind-sounding personal observations about LGBTQ people but has done nothing to translate those observations into policy. His specific actions have more often been regressive, and his statements have often been misleading.
Regressive: In 2018, Francis instructed Catholic parents to send gay children to therapy, implying that before the age of 20, conversion therapy might be effective. Prior to that pronouncement, the Church had a reputation for opposing conversion therapy, known to be ineffective and dangerous. Since then, Catholic dioceses all over the U.S. have partnered with conversion therapy providers, and the practice is increasing.
Regressive: In 2018, Francis indicated in unscripted remarks at the Vatican that families headed by LGBTQ parents are not “real families.” Subsequently, he refused to meet with with a delegation of Catholic families headed by gay parents. He demonstrated unwelcoming behavior.
Misleading: Last September, Francis was widely quoted as telling a group of Italian parents of LGBTQ children that “The church does not exclude them because she loves them deeply.” He did not address their petition to him, which was for the Church to stop excluding their children. His kind words were widely reported, but almost no press source reported that his words were so misleading they were, practically speaking, a lie.
Misleading: Last October, following the release of a documentary, press reported that Francis supports civil unions for gay couples, quoting him saying gay people deserve families. Nobody reported that he opposes gay couples raising children together. The Vatican later clarified that by “deserving families,” Francis meant that straight parents should not kick gay children out of their homes. He did not mean that gay couples ought to form families. Almost no one noticed the correction.
Mainstream press perspective on Francis is itself misleading
The Catholic Church is in crisis, shrinking in the western world so fast some analysts call the trend an implosion. In former monolithic Catholic strongholds like Ireland and Quebec, the Church no longer plays any significant cultural role. Around the world, from the United States, to Argentina and even Italy, Church attendance is falling fast, precipitously fast among young people.
Most of those young people cite harsh teachings and practices about LGBTQ people as one reason for seeking spiritual succor outside the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis and the Vatican have powerful motives to mislead about their deeply unpopular values. That’s understandable, but the Press ought to hold them to account.
It’s funny how mainstream news sources hold Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson up to barely concealed scorn, usually reporting their anti-LGBTQ practices and teachings accurately. It’s funny, because Pope Francis’s theology is every bit as harsh, yet the Press is consistently kind to him, seeming visibly to cooperate to make his harsh, stigmatizing theology appear “kindler and gentler.”
Granted, they’re following his lead, but that doesn’t justify bad reporting.
Francis’s Church causes enormous pain and suffering
In the United States alone, where bishops are very conservative, LGBTQ people trying to be included in Catholic spiritual communities are regularly shamed and shunned.
The details include teenagers bullied at school by administrators, blackmailed into unwanted counseling, and forced into conversion therapy. LGBTQ and allied teachers and administrators are fired in witch hunts. Music leaders lose their jobs after decades of faithful service. LGBTQ support groups are forced out of Church-owned buildings. Every day, Catholic leaders teach and show people that queer folks are second class and deserving of punishment
Around the world, the situation is even worse. Catholic bishops have incited anti-LGBTQ violence in places like Poland and Ghana. The Church is inarguably perpetuating and strengthening anti-LGBTQ sentiment. But the Press reported none of that yesterday.
It’s time for the Press paradigm to change
That story about gay civil unions is a story of oppression. It’s a story about a religious institution working to deny real civil marriage to same-sex couples, about an institution working to stop same-sex couples from raising children together.
You’d never know that browsing the Times or the Post — or almost any other major newspaper — because just like yesterday, the Press framed “both sides” of an issue that is deeply and factually one-sided. That paradigm has to change. It’s not the Press’s job to make excuses for a deeply toxic, unapologetically homophobic institution.
When the Press does that, they strengthen homophobia by normalizing it.
Mainstream press should be as hard-hitting as the LGBTQ press
The only hard-hitting press coverage I’ve seen of yesterday’s story about gay people being sinful comes from the Washington Blade, a newspaper that focuses on LGBTQ issues.
The Blade reached out to Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man and a survivor of clergy sex abuse who met with Francis at the Vatican in 2018. Cruz had harsh words of truth for the Pope and the rest of the Vatican hierarchy. He compared the CDF to Tomás de Torquemada, who spearheaded the Spanish Inquisition from which the CDF is descended. Cruz called for immediate change in Vatican leadership:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and especially its prefects are completely in a world of their own, away from people and trying to defend the indefensible. We see it in this quest to annihilate LGBT people, in the slowness with which the crimes of abuse are dealt with, their inhumanity in their awareness of people’s suffering so contrary to Pope Francis who I don’t know why he allows such inhumane and self-interested people in charge.
Bothsidesism is suppressing accurate news coverage
Francis will likely never hear Cruz’s angry, anguished words. He’ll likely never hear a chorus of outraged, anguished LGBTQ voices condemning him for his toxic, inhumane teachings and practices.
Most people will never hear those voices, because mainstream press won’t amplify them.
Laila Lalami observed in The Nation a couple years ago that bothsidesism “poisons America” by giving people too busy to thoroughly read news coverage a false impression of current events. When journalists bend over backwards to create balance where little exists, they do great harm.
That’s happening right now with Pope Francis, and it’s time for it to stop. It’s time for my nieces and nephews to stop finding excuses for the inexcusable dished up on silver platters. It’s time for them to feel deeply uncomfortable about the Church they support — so they can help reform it.
Knowledge is power.
It’s time for journalists to report on Francis as accurately — and as harshly — as they report on Evangelical leaders with beliefs almost identical to his.
“Who here isn’t sure if they believe in God?” I tentatively raised my skinny seventh-grader hand with bitten-down nails and chipped pink and blue polish; the entire class held their breath. I was apparently alone in my apostasy.
I had just turned twelve years old and was the new girl at a posh Catholic school in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. I was immediately summoned into daily, extracurricular religion classes by the school’s deacon where secondary school authorities attempted to replace my radical notions about religion. You see, I was baptized Catholic, but my family was very progressive – I had been taught that there was something bigger than me but not to be too judgey about what, or who, that bigger-than-me entity was.
Later in life, I went on to DePaul University, a wonderful Jesuit school, where I took classes on Catholic social justice and met followers of all colors of the LGBTIQ+ rainbow. I was always amazed at their unquestioning faith; mine had faded long before. For me, Christianity and all its sexual abuse demons, dogma and misogyny gradually went from questionable to unappealing to utterly nauseating. As an increasingly radical progressive, I felt like Catholicism was no longer compatible with what I stood for or who I was.
So it came as no surprise when I woke up to the news today that the world’s beloved “progressive” Pope approved an announcement from the Vatican that Catholic priests could not, in fact, sanctify the unions of same-sex couples because they are “not ordered to the Creator’s plan”. God “cannot bless sin,” the Pope and his compatriots in the Vatican had decided, adding that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered”.
This pronouncement is of course disappointing, but not surprising. The Pope is restrained by an archaic institution that is patriarchal, regressive and indisputably abusive. He himself is not the forward-thinking, open-minded, enlightened leader people hoped him to be. He never was going to be able to push such reforms within the framework of the Catholic Church, no matter what his personal views might be (and which we will likely never know).
Sure, the Pope wants gay Catholics to continue to attend church, as more and more followers consider leaving after child sex abuse horror stories and Vatican coverups continue to be surface. According to the Catholic News Agency, in Germany, one in three Catholics is considering leaving. The same goes for US Catholics. And it’s true that Pope Francis encouraged same-sex civil union laws, which was as far as he could possibly go to keep progressives coming to Mass. But endorsing the church-blessed sacrament of marriage for their unions? That was never going to happen.
Don’t forget that back in 2011, Francis said women could read at the altar, but could never become priests. Catholics and non-Catholics alike lauded the Pope for this change when they shouldn’t have. Like when women were granted the right to vote under the 19th Amendment but weren’t able to have a credit card in their name until the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, it was more about optics than anything materially life-changing.
Even more outrageous: It wasn’t until 2020 that the Vatican finally overhauled its pontifical secrecy laws that allowed the institution to evade reporting cases of sexual abuse to authorities.
The papacy and the patriarchy are outdated institutions that have caused more harm than good. And today, the Pope has proved that no member of their congregation with progressive views can truly feel they belong.
Pope Francis has invited LGBT advocates to the Vatican. He has spoken warmly about the place of gays in the church. He has called for national laws for same-sex civil unions.
But Monday, Francis definitively signaled the limits to his reformist intentions, signing off on a Vatican decree that reaffirms old church teaching and bars priests from blessing same-sex unions.
The pronouncement, issued at a time when some clerics were interested in performing such blessings, leans on the kind of language that LGBT Catholics have long found alienating — and that they had hoped Francis might change. It says that same-sex unions are “not ordered to the Creator’s plan.” It says acknowledging those unions is “illicit.” It says that God “cannot bless sin.”
The decree shows how Francis, rather than revolutionizing the church’s stance toward gays, has taken a far more complicated approach, speaking in welcoming terms while maintaining the official teaching. That leaves gay Catholics wondering about their place within the faith, when the catechism calls homosexual acts “disordered” but the pontiff says, “Who am I to judge?Francis’s words expected him to dramatically alter the church’s stance on LGBT matters. Many times, he has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage. Officially, the church says that sex should be between a man and a woman, for the purpose of procreation. Changing any part of that would also prompt a reconsideration of other church positions, whether on gender or contraception.
Though the Vatican did not specify what prompted the decree, it was written in response to existing doctrinal questions. Some Vatican watchers speculated that the church might be responding directly to bishops in Germany, who are in the middle of a multiyear series of meetings — to the alarm of conservatives — aimed at reevaluating major aspects of the church, including sexuality and the role of women.
In a 2019 interview with The Washington Post, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, the deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said that although he could not bless same-sex unions — “that would not be approved by Rome,” he said — he didn’t object if priests wanted to be with couples in a civil ceremony outside the church.
“I like to give the priests freedom to decide themselves,” Bode said
Monday’s note referred vaguely to proposals to bless same-sex unions “being advanced” in some quarters.
But the church’s doctrinal body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said blessings can only be invoked on a relationship when it is “positively ordered to receive and express grace.”
In some issues of controversy, Francis has left decision-making up to local churches, comfortable with policy that varies from country to country or even parish to parish. But in this case, Francis took the opposite approach — one that will put pressure on liberal clerics to fall in line.
Chad Pecknold, a conservative theologian at Catholic University, said Francis was following in the mold of Pope Paul VI, who had seemed open to doctrinal change on sexual morality but then issued a 1968 edict reiterating the church’s ban on artificial birth control.
“This is Francis doing much the same — shocking progressives by affirming the church’s teaching that sexual activity outside of the marriage of one man and one woman is contrary to the good of human dignity,” Pecknold said.
The church said Monday that its determination was not intended to be “a form of unjust discrimination” and called on priests to welcome those with “homosexual inclinations” with respect and sensitivity. The decree said individual gay people could continue to be blessed by the church, provided they show “the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”
The statement from the Vatican is fairly brief — 1½ pages — and begins with a succinct question, asking whether the church had the power to bless same-sex unions.
“RESPONSE: Negative,” the document answers, going on to elaborate.
The decree comes just five months after Francis roused hopes among LGBT Catholics with comments calling for same-sex couples to be “legally covered” by civil union laws. But there was a bit of mystery about whether the pope’s remarks had been meant to become public. The comments surfaced in a documentary premier, but they had originated from a portion of a 2019 interview with a Mexican broadcaster that was never aired.
Steve White, a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, said people who expected Pope Francis to change the church’s position on same-sex unions were not being realistic
White, who describes himself as conservative, believes the pope is simply reiterating existing church teaching, even as he has expressed love for people who are LGBT without condoning their partnerships.
“This isn’t a waffling back-and-forth from Pope Francis,” he said. “This is totally consistent with statements like ‘Who am I to judge?’ People who don’t see that are misunderstanding the pope.”
But many gay Catholics, speaking Monday, said they felt betrayed or wounded by the church. Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, America’s largest spiritual community of gay Catholics, said it is “hard for a lot of people to understand just how far removed the church is from human rights advances that are being made in the rest of society.”
Aurelio Mancuso, former head of Arcigay, Italy’s leading gay rights group, said that in a 2016 ceremony with his partner, a priest had blessed their wedding bands — and that such acts would continue to go on, “regardless of the reprimands.”
“Catholic homosexuals like me know the opinions and traditions of the Catholic Church,” Mancuso said. “The gist of it is that we’re not part of the Creator’s design, and are thus a sin, something that has to be corrected. It’s intolerable that the hierarchy — not the church — stubbornly keeps justifying a discrimination.”
But, he said, no matter the determinations inside the Vatican, the gates for greater acceptance had “already swung open.”<
“This is a document that nobody needed,” Mancuso said. “It’s not about the truth of faith, but the opinion of the hierarchy
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For LGBTQ+ Catholics, this appeared to be a sign that their Pope truly supported them. For conservative Catholics, it was proof that the Pope is dangerously revolutionary, and that they risk losing followers to more right wing religious groups
The Church’s positions have directly led to LGBTQ+ people feeling fearful. The pope’s views, and the Church’s positions, matter not just to Catholics but to people of other faiths and non-believers too. When the pope speaks, the world listens. Even the suggestion that Francis is supportive of same-sex marriage is enough to get people’s attention. As for what the future holds, that remains to be seen. A more LGBTQ+ friendly Catholic Church might happen one day, but for all he has said it is unlikely to happen under Pope Francis.