Lawler vs. Pope Francis #2: Homosexuality & “Judging”

Lawler vs. Pope Francis #2: Homosexuality & “Judging” January 2, 2018


This is one of a series of my reviews of the book by prominent Catholic journalist, editor, and author Philip Lawler, entitled Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock (due to be released on 26 February 2018). Phil was kind enough to send me a review copy, and he and others have encouraged me to read the book and review it. Their wish is granted!

For background, see my paper, On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes, and three posts concerning a few statements from the book that I found very troubling and questionable, including dialogues with both Karl Keating (who positively reviewed it) and briefly with author Phil himself (one two / three).

Previous installments:

#1: Critique of Introduction


Chapter Two: “The Francis Effect” includes the section, “Who Am I to Judge?” Here is what Lawler has to say about that:

[I]f orthodox Catholics had concluded that Francis would stand firm against homosexual influence within the Church, their confidence was shattered by his remarks to reporters on a trip to Brazil in July 2013. Asked about homosexual priests, he replied, “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” . . .

[T]he key words in his reply to the question—the “sound bite” that would be carried around the world and repeated for years—were “Who am I to judge?” As reported by journalists generally favorable to the homosexual cause, the pope’s statement seemed to suggest that the Church should move away from its clear and constant teaching that homosexual acts are gravely immoral. . . .

[T]he pope had made the fateful statement—“Who am I to judge?”—and the Catholic world would be forced to live with its legacy. Why did Francis allow himself to address such a controversial topic without preparing his answer carefully? Why were the most famous words of his pontificate uttered in an informal question-and-answer session on an airplane ride?

To answer the last question first: obviously it was because the media / reporters from the session wanted the words taken out of context to be spread far and wide. I don’t see how the pope is to blame for that. Everyone knows that words are often taken out of context in order to suit some particular agenda of the one citing them. And everyone knows that the secular media very often does that. I need not waste any time arguing this. It’s perfectly self-evident.

The relevant question is, then (as in our previous installment): what is the pope’s true view, and what did he express in this interview, in context? And if the radically secularist homosexual activists thought he was “on their side” and literally in favor of Church-sanctioned sodomy, have they changed their mind since this incident? First, here is the context of the remark:

[I]f a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins. That is a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope. We have to think a great deal about that. But, returning to your question more concretely. In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything. This is the first question. Then, you spoke about the gay lobby. So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. [see the source]

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin interpreted the above (quite sensibly) as follows:

In ordinary parlance, “being gay” can mean anything from having same-sex attraction to leading an active “gay lifestyle” to endorsing and advocating a pro-homosexual ideology. The last of these would be functioning as a member of a lobby, and he indicates that this is not what he is talking about. He then describes those he is talking about as people who “accept the Lord and have goodwill.”

He then seems to further clarify who he is talking about by saying that “The tendency [i.e., same-sex attraction] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

Taking his statements together, what emerges is a portrait of individuals who have same-sex attraction but who nevertheless accept the Lord and have goodwill, as opposed to working to advance a pro-homosexual ideology. This would definitely include people with same-sex attraction who strive to live chastely (even if they sometimes fail). . . . (“7 things you need to know about what Pope Francis said about gays”: National Catholic Register, 29 July 2013)

Akin made another great point in the same article:

The statement that they should not be marginalized is similarly in keeping with the Holy See’s approach to the subject, as 1986 Vatican document On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. . . .

Benedict himself (as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) was the signer of [that document] . . ., as well as the follow-up document on non-discrimination regarding homosexual persons.  So, as usual, the press is painting a false picture by contrasting the “good” Francis and the “bad” Benedict.

See also the related sections in the Catechism: #2357-2359, 2396.

If this press conference was so incredibly momentous and signaled a change in Church policy, the pope seems to have forgotten his own alleged radical resolve. After all, he opposed so-called “gay marriage” in a Slovakian referendum in February 2015. According to one gay activist (from the same article), the pope had undergone an astonishing transformation in less than two years:

“‘It’s pretty clear that since the synod on the family last fall … the Catholic right has really gotten to the Vatican and to Pope Francis,’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, in an Advocate interview. ‘It’s really crushing to a lot of people who were hoping to see policy change.’

Was that an isolated, anomalous incident? No. The Holy Father did the same thing in December 2015 as regards Slovenia (whose citizens then voted — 63.5% — to reject same-sex “marriage”). How about a third? In January 2015, the pope visited the Philippines and stated: “‘The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”

In an address on 1 October 2016, Pope Francis made his views very clear yet again:

You, Irina, mentioned a great enemy to marriage today: the theory of gender. Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonisations which destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas. Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonisations. [to be fair, Lawler does cite a portion of this on p. 35; though he critically added: “the very next day, in an illustration of what Sandro Magister had called the ‘two-step,’ the pope undercut his own statement.”]

Terrible, dangerous, anti-traditional stuff there, huh? A New York Times article from 28 July 2015 stated about the last statement above: “His remarks were reported in the Catholic news media, but did not make headlines in the American secular media.” Really?! What a tremendous surprise! You mean, they didn’t even report it? This article actually gets it right, for a change:

When he has spoken about homosexuality, he has tended to take a pastoral approach, calling on the church to love and care for all. Yet there is also plenty of evidence that Pope Francis stands firmly on church teachings on the traditional family and opposing same-sex marriage.

Thus, we have the spectacle of a Jewish writer for the New York Times (Laurie Goodstein) understanding what Pope Francis believes about homosexuality better than a longtime Catholic journalist named Phil Lawler. Good for her, and a big “boo” and thumbs down for Lawler. Daily Beast got it, too (article of 9-30-15):

The pope’s vision of social equality simply does not extend to LGBT people despite his famous “Who am I to judge” moment during his first apostolic trip, when he was asked what he thought about a devout gay priest. In America last week, the cheering crowds who praised his inspirational words about supporting the poor and persecuted were also cheering a pope who, by action at least, supports anti-gay discrimination. . . .

Lest we forget, despite the fact that this pope does preach acceptance for all, that acceptance clearly does have its limits. He does not actually support same-sex marriage, siding instead with the Church’s long-standing view that a family consists of a married man and woman who don’t use birth control and who spend every Sunday at Mass.

On 9 December 2016, the Express shouted out in its headline: “Pope BANS homosexuals and those promoting gay culture from being priests.” This article observed:

In a 100 page training manual signed by the pontiff, the Pope appears to have reiterated the church’s view on non heterosexuals.

It appears to outright ban anyone who identifies as being gay – even if they are celibate – to take up holy orders. . . . 

It states: “‘The Church, while deeply respecting the people concerned, cannot admit to a seminary or into holy orders those who practise homosexuality, show deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support what is called gay culture.”

Published by the Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official journal the new decree appears to identify homosexuality as a “problem.”


Photo credit: Judge Hugh Denis Macrossan (1881-1940)  in his legal dress, Brisbane, 1 February 1934 [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license]


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