Given the centuries’ long tradition of the Catholic Church condemning homosexuality, what can a new pope do?
Although the Catholic Church has taken a stronger stance against gay rights, the Catholic clergy has been a haven for sexual scandals with members of the same sex. Unfortunately, this has led to some disastrous dual life scenarios. The outgoing pope has recognized this problem and has done much to change the Church, but he has not altered the Church’s position on homosexuality. In fact, he only strengthened it in his recent public statements about marriage equality. Pope Benedict can best be described as a typical Catholic conservative.
Conservative Catholics have spoken out vigorously against issues such as marriage equality and any attempt to “normalize” the LGBT community. In fact, AmericanCatholic.com has a story on how U.S. bishops have urged the federal government to enact a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. From Catholic.com, we have the conservative Catholic position laid out in a few simple sentences:
“Every human being is called to receive a gift of divine sonship, to become a child of God by grace. However, to receive this gift, we must reject sin, including homosexual behavior — that is, acts intended to arouse or stimulate a sexual response regarding a person of the same sex. The Catholic Church teaches that such acts are always violations of divine and natural law.”
The core of this argument is simply that homosexuality is unnatural and should be treated as an addictive affliction like alcoholism. The appeal to natural law follows the traditions of St. Thomas Aquinas and can be traced back in its historical roots to Aristotle. However, the Catholic Church’s condemnation of sex for anything other than procreation can find its origins in St. Augustine, dating back to the 400’s AD. The Catholic catechism taught currently taught to school children condemns homosexuality as we can see in the public website of St. Charles of Borromeo, the Catholic grade school I attended in the 1970s, which is still active today.
Can a new pope change this tradition? As we have heard Christians say, “Love the sinner, but not the sin.” It is unlikely that the Catholic Church will bow to the wave of acceptance for gay rights and marriage equality sweeping the world, but that does not mean that the Church cannot do more to make LGBT individuals feel more love.
First and foremost, the new pope must let LGBT individuals know they are still considered members of the Church regardless of their private behavior. Public relations disasters such as the denial of a Catholic funeral for a gay activist must be prevented from happening again in the future. The pope must encourage LGBT Catholics to come to mass and participate in Church activities. The new pope can take an active role in ensuring that the LGBT Catholic community is shown the love that all people deserve. Jesus was his most gentle, loving, and careful with sins of the flesh. All Catholics who wish to condemn, ostracize and exclude the LGBT community should remember one of Jesus’ most important lessons: “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
Second, the Catholic Church should withdraw all political actions against issues such as marriage equality. Involving the clergy in public LGBT issues only serves to stir hatred toward the LGBT community. Although many clergy have attempted to reinforce that loving homosexuals is important, public actions by the Catholic clergy have had the opposite effect. The Catholic Church should focus on its parishes and let the public “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.”
Finally, the Catholic Church must publicly embrace Catholic LGBT community organizations such as Dignity USA. Groups such as Dignity work hard to reconcile LGBT individuals and their Catholic faith. The new pope can create a new era of love and fellowship by welcoming these groups into the Church rather than publicly condemning all efforts in support of LGBT rights.
It will take a very long time for the Catholic Church to catch up to the rest of the world when it comes to LGBT rights. It took the Catholic Church almost 400 years to apologize to Galileo. It may take another 400 years for the Church to develop a more reasonable position on issues such as marriage equality. However, there is much the new pope can do to help reduce the public hatred of LGBT individuals.