I hate to say I was right, but I was right.
Various Catholic leadership groups are clarifying Pope Francis's recent supportive statement about gay priests, tamping down the enthusiasm that many media outlets expressed about a possible cataclysmic change in church doctrine.
Pope Francis's comments (“If [gays] accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized”) made many think that the pope as OKing the gay lifestyle. But inasmuch as his tone was less judgemental than we are used to seeing from the Vatican, nothing much has changed. Homosexuality, in the eyes of the Church, is still grave and disordered, and homosexual acts are sinful. But (and this is where the pope may have advanced the issue a few millimeters) as with all other sins (with the possible exception of abortion) you can be absolved of the sin of homosexual activity, assuming you are sincere and resolve not to sin again.
Of course, this is of little value to most gays, who don't see their own physical expressions of love as depraved. The pope's words doesn't end the church's stigmatizing gays as defective creations. The church's stance still tacitly encourages those who would treat gays differently than straights. I can't imagine any gay person who would feel the thrill of relief from the pope's words.
And yet, as we saw under Pope Benedict XVI, it can be worse. B16 had no words of forgiveness for gays, and sought to exclude them from the priesthood. Believe me, if you think there is a shortage of priests, wait till they kick out the gays!
But, I would like to keep an upbeat attitude and look at the positives. We have moved beyond a stance toward gays that saw them as a persecutable minority. And we have taken a first step down the track by seeing gays as worthy of being forgiven. But the race is long, and we are just off the starting block. What other steps could be taken to build on the foundation that Francis has given us?
One step would be to clear the air and explicitly welcome gay men to the priesthood. They are there anyway, so let's stop pretending they aren't.
Let's encourage gay priests to come out, allowing their flocks to deal with them as whole human beings, not as projection screens for the faithful's fantasies of priests as sexless beings.
Most importantly, let's open up a discussion on the decayed basis for the Church's teachings on sexuality: its biased and antiquated understanding of natural law. Back in the 13th century, before the advent of the scientific method, natural law was about the only way to understand God's creation. But science has taken us leagues further than that. The old notions, for instance that sex was for procreation only, have placed us into logical and moral conundra. Gay sex and even recreational straight married sex fall outside the bounds of this understanding of natural law. Let's take a closer look at the realities of living as incarnate sexual beings, and adjust our teaching using knowledge that is slightly less medieval. Let's bring the best of current anthropology, biology, psychology and ethics and develop teachings that address the realities of the human condition. Let's make the Church the leader in sexual ethics, rather than a retrograde embarrassment
Pope Francis might or might not intend to start a quiet revolution in our relationship with our gay brothers and sisters. If he is serious, he could begin the Church on the road toward regaining its moral leadership, and give gay men and women a reason to believe that they are worthy in its eyes.