Papal Clarity?

News: Commentary
by Kyle Kopy  •  •  February 15, 2023   

Pope's explanation just muddies the waters

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By now, many are quite familiar with the news that Pope Francis, coming off his lengthy interview with the Associated Press, sent a handwritten letter to the infamous Fr. James Martin in order to clarify his statements about homosexuality from the recent AP interview. Given that the pope has made confusing informal comments about homosexuality in the past, many Catholics, including me, were excited at the prospect of papal clarification. But does Francis' response actually provide this clarification, or does it further the confusion? 

Pope Francis' letter to Fr. Martin

First, here's a little background. 

Francis penned the letter in response to questions sent to him by Outreach, an "LGBT Catholic resource" affiliated with America magazine, which, in terms of helping those afflicted with same-sex attraction to lead chaste lives, does very little authentic outreach. 

Upon receiving a response from the Holy Father on Jan. 27, Martin quickly took to Twitter to boast his "breaking" news. His tweet also included an Outreach article that further explained the situation.

The headline for both the Tweet and article, which was mirrored by many mainstream media outlets, claimed that the pope's response letter to Martin clarifies his comments about homosexuality during the AP interview. But in reality, the pope's letter seems to just add to the confusion. 

These are the three questions that Outreach asked the pope:

  1. Holy Father, thank you for your strong call to decriminalize homosexuality. Why did you decide to say this at this time?
  2. There seems to have been some confusion about your comment, "Being gay is a sin," which, of course, is not part of church teaching. My feeling was that you were simply repeating what others might say hypothetically. So, do you think that simply being gay is a sin?
  3. What would you say to Catholic bishops who still support the criminalization of homosexuality?

Leaving aside the issue of the criminalization of homosexual behavior, which my colleague Dr. Paul Murano has already sufficiently dealt with here, the most puzzling bit of Francis' response has to do with his introducing the "sex outside of marriage" issue into the discussion. 

But what led up to this qualifier being introduced? 

Outreach asked the pope to clarify what he meant when he said that "[b]eing homosexual is not a crime. It is not a crime. Yes, but it's a sin." Outreach actually asked an important question. The pope used the imprecise phrase "being homosexual," but he ought to have clarified if he was referring to homosexual actions or merely same-sex attraction, a distinction that makes a world of difference when speaking of both crimes and sins. 

The Vortex: Letting Things Go On 

If Francis was referring to one simply having a same-sex attraction, then he would be absolutely right in saying that the State should never criminalize something like that; the government doesn't penalize our temptations. And neither does God. In the realm of sin, one is not guilty for simply undergoing a temptation; he's only culpable if he chooses to give in to that temptation. It should be noted, however, that the Church still considers the inclination of same-sex attraction as disordered — a fact that the Outreach article completely ignored when it simply concluded that "church teaching does not state that the homosexual orientation itself is a sin."

He ought to realize that statements like this are confusing to the faithful. 

But if the pope was referring to actively participating in a homosexual lifestyle (specifically, committing sodomitical acts) when he used the phrase "being homosexual," then there's room for debate among well-meaning Catholics as to whether or not such prohibitions should be codified and enforced in civil law (again, see Dr. Murano's article). But in the realm of sin, such acts are explicitly condemned by the Church. 

In asking the questions, however, the Outreach article is guilty of using similar ambiguous language. It substitutes the pope's phrase "being homosexual" with "being gay." Again, one needs to ask if Outreach is referring to homosexual actions or merely the attraction. 

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It's also interesting to note that the Outreach article seems to insinuate that the pope himself wasn't actually saying that homosexuality is sinful. It claims that the pope was simply imagining "a hypothetical conversation in which a person might object by saying, 'Being homosexual is a sin'" and that "some media outlets, however, ascribed these sentiments directly to the pope." But there's nothing in the text of the AP interview to suggest that the pope is speaking as some hypothetical third person, and the pope's response tells us that these were indeed his words.

I'm not saying that the Holy Father is outright advocating for same-sex so-called marriage.

In his response to Outreach's questions, the pope seems to clarify that he was referring to homosexual acts, but he then throws in another oddity. He explains, "When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin." Why is he bringing up sex outside of marriage when talking about the sin of sodomy? What do the two have to do with each other? Isn't sodomy, whether it's within or without a pseudo-marriage, always immoral? Is the Holy Father saying that homosexual acts are only sinful if they happen outside of some type of "marriage"?

America Media's Outreach initiative

The Outreach article pointed out that the pope ended his commentary on homosexuality in the AP interview by saying that "being gay is not a crime. It is a human condition." There's no doubt many will try to justify homosexual behavior as "normal" based on that statement. Their argument will claim that something like "God makes people that way."

This type of thinking assumes that all human conditions are good. But we must, however, distinguish between the different types of human condition. Indeed, many humans find themselves in the condition of being same-sex attracted, but this is no excuse to act upon it. The condition of being same-sex attracted is merely one manifestation of a larger problem with the human condition as a whole: our fallen human nature. Trying to justify one's actions with the "it's just human nature" argument is foolish. 

One would think that the opportunity to actually sit down and write something out would result in an explanation that's clearer than the extemporaneous verbal responses given during an interview. The pope seems to acknowledge this as well when he admits to Martin that "[i]n a televised interview, where we spoke with natural and conversational language, it is understandable that there would not be such precise definitions." So the precise definitions ought to have come in the response letter, right? 

These are honest questions that will never be asked by the fanboys over at America magazine and, I suspect, will never be answered by the Holy Father. I'm not saying that the Holy Father is outright advocating for same-sex so-called marriage, but he ought to realize that statements like this are confusing to the faithful and will be (as we can see from the Outreach article) used by the dissidents within the Church to push their agenda.

Kyle Kopy has over 15 years of experience in Catholic lay ministry, serving in various parish roles, including catechist and coordinator of youth and young adult ministry. Mr. Kopy holds seminary degrees in philosophy and dogmatic theology. He is a diocesan-certified catechist and high school religion teacher and is also a certificated classical educator. He recently held the theology department chair at a large all-boys high school in southeast Michigan, where he taught theology and philosophy for many years. He's an associate copy editor at Church Militant and an instructor at the St. Clement Catechetical Institute
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