Pope Doesn’t Change Church Teaching, Makes Headlines for ‘Change’

David Oatney Catechism, New Evangelization

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013Over the last couple of days, the secular news media is abuzz with what Pope Francis supposedly said about homosexual persons in an unexpected, impromptu in-flight news conference that he held on his way back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. To see some headlines in the secular press, you would think that what Pope Francis said marks some change in Church doctrine. Not only does what the Holy Father said not mark a change in the teaching of the Church, but the Pope essentially reiterated what the Church has always taught. Video of the Holy Father’s comments can be found in the box on the right of this post.

Vatican Insider has a pretty good English translation of the Holy Father’s entire Pope Francis, 13/3/13press conference, and what seems to have raised eyebrows is really the Holy Father’s statement about a so-called “gay lobby” in the Vatican. There has been a lot of talk about this in the press, especially in Britain and Europe, especially after Francis made some other impromptu remarks a few weeks ago that seemed to suggest that there was something to the story.  In his remarks aboard the papal aircraft, which I have always liked to call “Fisherman One,” the Pope really didn’t do anything other than reiterate what the Church already teaches about homosexual persons and homosexuality. The Holy Father said:

“…If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them? The Catechism of the [Catholic] Church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against; they should be made to feel welcome. Being gay is not the problem…”

I’ve shown the papal comment as continuing because I want to highlight the rest of what the Holy Father said in just a moment. However, here is the relevant section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which Pope Francis was referencing, it is Paragraph 2358:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

The Church clearly teaches that we shouldn’t discriminate against people who are gay, but it also says that homosexual sex is a gravely disordered and sinful act (2357):

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved [emphasis mine].

It seems like a contradictory position to the modern secular world, but it isn’t. Why? Because the Church is essentially saying that “no, we don’t know or understand how it is that people end up gay, or have same-sex attraction, so we can’t judge that, but we do know that the Bible says that homosexual sex is sinful, that it is terribly wrong, and so we hold that to be true.” The Church’s teaching on human sexuality and sin can most easily be summed up by saying that Holy Matrimony exists between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that all sexual activity outside of that context is sin, because sex, which is beautiful, is part of God’s plan for how the human race is to be carried on.

Hence, sex that is not open to life is intrinsically disordered. That doesn’t mean that two people have to have children in order for their sexual relations to be legitimate. I am married and have not been blessed with children, for example. However, you must to open to life at all times, and open to the possibility that the sexual relationship that you have with your spouse may bring about a new person into your family. Closing off the natural God-ordained means of the procreation of the human family means that you are perverting the very purpose of human sexuality. Homosexual acts are sinful for essentially the same reason that artificial contraception is sinful, and that is because the sexual act under those conditions is never open to the natural creation of life.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan made an appearance on Today Tuesday and and said thatfrancis11 in no way can the Holy Father’s remarks be interpreted as a change in Church teaching, but it may mark a “change in tone.” I suppose I may just have to ask His Eminence about that when we all see him at the Eucharistic Congress next month, because I’m not even sure I see the change in tone, it almost appears to me to be a kind of Cronkite-esque “the Church teaches this, and that’s the way it is.” It may be that some people would interpret the very public discussion of the issue as a “change in tone,” and maybe that is what His Eminence is trying to say. However, as Cardinal Dolan rightly pointed out in his interview, the Pope does not change doctrine, despite what certain people at Time magazine fancy to be the prerogatives of Petrine authority, it is his job to hand that teaching on as it was given to him. He might emphasize things in the teaching that are close to his heart, as Francis is certainly doing, but his job is to guard the deposit of faith.

What most struck me about the Holy Father’s remarks in context was his apparent disgust with the whole idea of “lobbying” Holy Mother Church.

Being gay is not the problem, lobbying is the problem and this goes for any type of lobby, business lobbies, political lobbies and Masonic lobbies.”

So the Holy Father sees the notion of “lobbies” in the Church as highly problematic. What’s more, in making this statement, Pope Francis appears to be reiterating yet another Church teaching that his predecessor Benedict XVI took great pains to clarify in the days when he led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and that is that being Catholic and being a Freemason are two things that do not mix. Indeed, if you are a Catholic and a Freemason, and you are aware that the Church says that you can’t be a Mason and be a Catholic, you are in a state of grave sin (see the 1983 and 1985 statements from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which I have cited in context here). If you weren’t aware of that reality before reading this paragraph and checking out the linked sources from the Holy See (and many otherwise-good Catholics don’t know, even some clergy) now you know and can act based upon this knowledge.

We’ll discuss more about why being a Mason isn’t something a Catholic ought to do in greater detail in some future post, but our point today was to show that even as the Holy Father is making a statement that the secular world thinks is some sweeping change, he reiterates things and ideas that the Church has continually taught. He will continue to do so, because he is the Vicar of Christ.