Deacon Greg Kandra, who always has the story, published a recent post about a priest in San Francisco who removed the portrait of Pope Benedict XVI because members of the parish complained that they felt hurt by things the Holy Father had said about LGBTQ people.
The priest said he was “saddened” by this, but removed the portrait. In his letter to the parish, he wrote about people who “will not accept us as we are” and what we should do about them. His letter asked parishioners to “forgive” the pope, as if the pope had sinned by refusing to back down on Church teachings.
While I have not read every word Pope Benedict wrote, I have read quite a few of his statements on the question of gay marriage and the responsibilities of political office holders. None of the things I read said anything condemning homosexual people. So far as I know, the Holy Father has always supported the simple truth that homosexuals are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God and that they are precious in His sight.
Despite this, I admit that some of what I read was hard for me to accept. I had gay friends who meant a lot to me and I did not want to disappoint them by failing to support gay marriage. I wrestled with this, prayed about it and engaged in lots of long talks with my pastor over it. It was a tough one for me.
I ultimately decided that I have proven to myself by my past actions that I can not be the arbiter of what is morally right. I do not have the wisdom. I have made egregious mistakes that resulted in great harm to other people by assuming that I knew more about right and wrong than 2,000 years of Christian teaching.
It was not an easy step for me, but I realized that the only way to follow Jesus is to “trust and obey.” What that means for me, as well as for any other Catholic, is that I follow the teachings of the Church. What has happened since I made the decision to bow my head and stop trying to be my own pope is that I have found that the Church proves itself right in the long run. I may have difficulty with a particular teaching at first. I may be so deeply embedded in the world’s reasoning that what the Church says seems upside down to me at first. But I have learned that this is the nature of following Christ.
Jesus’ teachings have always seemed upside down to the world. I believe that is a natural outgrowth of seeing things through eternal eyes versus seeing them with our temporal, fallen vision. It you follow Jesus, you will often be at odds with the world. If you follow Jesus, you will often find yourself practicing one kind of self-denial or another. It may be that you find yourself denying your own selfish impulses to take the easy way out to instead follow Jesus through the narrow way. It may be that you have to go against the popular reasoning and place yourself at odds with the people around you.
The priest in Deacon Greg’s post missed an incredible opportunity to stand for Christ. He side-stepped a chance to express his vows to the Church in living action in front of the people of his parish. I am sure there would have been painful consequences if he had done this. But I am equally certain that he would have been a much better priest and a much better witness for Christ if he had.
We are not called to duck and cover when the going gets tough for Christians. We are called to persist in following Him, come what may, until the end.
A priest who sidesteps this responsibility and in essence gives people support in their sins is not functioning as their shepherd. Instead of protecting them from the wolves of a culture that tells them their sins are not sins and they can do whatever they want and God Himself is wrong if He disagrees with them, this priest joined that culture and supported it in its contentions.
Gay people are human beings. There is nothing wrong with being a homosexual person. Nothing. Homosexuals are just people who are slightly different from heterosexuals, and that difference is not something that interferes with their functioning as productive people. However, some of the things that homosexual people do are wrong. I’m not going to be specific here, because I am not their priest and it is not my job.
But if it was my job, I would hope that I did not fail them by encouraging them to think that their sins don’t matter. That is not tolerance. It is, in fact the ultimate cruelty. It leads people away from God in the name of God. It is clerical malpractice.
For a Catholic priest to take down the portrait of the pope because parishioners don’t like things the pope has said concerning their sins, is weak in the extreme. Poor, sad priest. Poor, sad parishioners who have such a shepherd.