By Father Gerald D. Coleman P.S.S., Pd.D
Graduate Department of Pastoral Ministries, Santa Clara University
In a recent pro-life gathering in Rome (not sponsored by the Vatican), Dutch psychologist Gerard van den Aardweg made astonishing claims regarding homosexuality. He suggested that all “non-morality statements” on homosexuality be removed from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, e.g., homosexual persons should be treated with compassion (no. 2358). He claimed this is nothing more than “melodramatic rhetoric” and “unchristian.” He chastised the American Bishops for their false statements amounting to nothing more than “pastoral unction, dramatization, and psycho-babble” in their 1997 pastoral letter Always Our Children. He attacked the 2014-2015 Vatican Extraordinary Synod on the Family for suggesting that homosexuals “have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.”
“Gay ideology,” he posited, “hates marriage” and “opposes Humanae Vitae.” He more than once referred to “homosexual pedophiles,” giving the not-so-subtle impression that homosexuals are pedophiles, a sexual perversion. Homosexuality is “not inborn,” he concluded, “but the effect of dysfunctional parenting and suppressed masculinity.”
These egregious comments stand in stark contrast to subsequent events surrounding the outrage expressed by Pope Francis in light of the manner in which the Bishops of Chile mishandled and covered-up the abuse of children. In May, he summoned Chile’s 34 bishops to Rome for a three-day meeting which resulted in the entire episcopate handing in their resignations. They begged forgiveness for the “pain they caused the victims, the pope, the people of God, and our country for the grave errors and omissions we committed.”
In April, the Pope met privately with Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton, and Andres Murillo, survivors of sexual abuse in Chile. His primary intention was to listen to them in a climate of trust and reparation. These victims were sexually abused by Chilean priest Fernando Karadima who was found guilty of these crimes by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In comments made to the New York Times, Juan Carolos Cruz said he was looking forward “with an open heart” to hearing what the Pope had to say. Above all, he wanted to convey to Pope Francis “the pain and suffering of so many people,” many of whom, he said, suffered more than he has and “I’ve suffered a lot.” Cruz found the Pope “sincere, attentive and deeply apologetic.”
During this conversation, Cruz’s own sexuality came up because Chilean bishops had sought to frame him as untrustworthy since he was homosexual. Pope Francis countered this blasphemy by saying, “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like that and loves you like this and I don’t care. The Pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”
These comments are arguably the most explicit acceptance of homosexuality publicly spoken by a head of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2013 Francis suggested a shift in attitude by telling reporters, “If someone is gay and is looking for the Lord, who am I to judge him? You should not discriminate against or marginalize these people.” The Pope’s words to Cruz move the conversation further, not by changing church teaching, but demonstrating an affirmation of gay and lesbian persons. Pope Francis is signaling a more open, inclusive, and pastoral style.
Expounding beliefs more in line with van den Aardweg, a number of American and European responders have condemned the Pope and ridiculed his so-called misguided approach.
Clearly, however, the Pope’s comments are in sync with the church’s official teaching on homosexuality as found in the Catechism, nos. 2357-2359. He affirms that the “psychological genesis [of homosexuality] remains largely unexplained,” giving credence to the position that “God made you like that.” His pastoral approach is consistent with the teaching that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christian, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter” due to their sexual orientation.
The Catechism’s treatment of homosexuality comes under the heading of “Chasity.” This is a virtue to which we are called summoned. Its possession teaches us “self-mastery” and “inner freedom.” Chastity is nurtured by grace and prayer and “gradually” leads us to “Christian perfection.”
Critics quickly counter by chastising the Pope for not mentioning that homosexual acts constitute “grave depravity” and “intrinsic disorder.” The point is, however, whether or not it is it necessary or prudent to bring the entirely of the church’s teaching into play every time there is a pastoral and deeply sensitive context, as mirrored in the Pope’s approach to Cruz?
In Cruz’s meeting with the Pope, he encountered a merciful and understanding Jesus who did not think it appropriate to deplore, condemn, or further victimize. The Pope’s pastoral style should be implemented by each of us.