LGBT Catholic leaders say they are troubled over news that surfaced earlier this month that Pope Francis stated in a recently published book that gay men serving as priests “worries me” and that homosexuality has become “fashionable” in some societies.
Reports of Francis’ latest comments on homosexuality and gay priests first surfaced in the Italian press on Dec. 1 when a Rome newspaper quoted from an advance copy of a book consisting of a four-hour interview the Pope had with Spanish priest and author Fernando Prado.
The book, “The Strength of Vocation,” which discusses the challenges faced by priests and nuns, has since been published in several languages.
The Pope’s candid remarks in the book on homosexuality and gay priests has created a stir among some LGBT Catholic activists who had been hopeful that Pope Francis’ earlier comments and positions about gays indicated he might move to change the Catholic Church’s longstanding hostile teachings on the subject.
When asked by Prado about people with “homosexual tendencies” who are in the priesthood and religious life, Francis stated, “It’s something that worries me because perhaps at some point it has not been dealt with well.”
Added Francis, “That of homosexuality is a very serious matter that must be discerned adequately from the beginning with the candidates, if this is the case.” He was referring to men who are candidates for the priesthood.
“We must be demanding,” he continued. “In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and this mentality, in some way, also affects the life of the Church.”
In a comment that Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic organization Dignity USA, found most troubling, Francis told his interviewer about a clergy member who confided in him that he discovered there were many young men studying to become priests who were gay.
The pope said the clergymen told him this was “not so serious,” and that it was “only an expression of affection,” a view that Francis called “a mistake.”
“It is not just an expression of affection,” Francis continued. “In the consecrated life and in the priestly life there is not a place for this kind of affection. For this reason, the Church recommends that people with this rooted tendency are not accepted in the ministry or in the consecrated life,” Francis said.
“Priests, religious men and women should be urged to live in celibacy in full and, above all, to be perfectly responsible, trying not to create scandal in their communities or in the holy faithful people of God by living a double life.”
In a statement posted on Dignity USA’s website, Duddy-Burke said the Pope’s comments suggest that he is in need of education about the LGBT community.
“It is very damaging and unsupported by the facts for the Pope to suggest that gay people are less able than others to commit themselves to religious and ministerial life or they are somehow a threat to the church and its members,” she said.
“His comments reinforce negative and long discredited stereotypes that have led to discrimination and violence against our community,” Duddy-Burke said. “Furthermore, they are demeaning to all the lesbian sisters and gay priests and brothers who have faithfully served the church for decades, and to all who are currently preparing for such ministries.”
Concerning Francis’ comment that homosexuality is seen by some as fashionable, she said the Pope “seems to be mistaking genuine but limited progress in achieving basic civil and human rights for LGBTQI people in some countries as a frivolous fad or trend.”
Added Duddy-Burke: “Nothing could be further from the truth. LGBTQI identities are not a matter of fashion but of fundamental human qualities that are intrinsic to the sense of self.”
“Rather than belittle such progress, the Pope should examine how the Catholic Church has contributed to the unjust oppression of LGBTQI people for centuries, and how its unsung LGBTQI clergy and vowed religious men and women have contributed immeasurably to the good it has done,” she said.
The Mount Rainier, Md., based LGBT Catholic group New Ways Ministry took a more measured position in two articles posted on its website, which were written by its associate editor Robert Shine. Shine quoted from a number of Catholic commentators, including LGBT supportive priest James Martin SJ.
Martin said some media reports were concluding incorrectly that Francis’ comments in the newly published book suggest that he is against allowing gays to become priests. According to Martin, Francis isn’t opposed to gay men in the priesthood but only to priests who are not celibate.
“Yet the language about homosexuality being merely ‘fashionable’ (unless he means more acceptable in the public sphere) is both wrong and hurtful,” the New Ways Ministry article quotes Martin as saying.
“If he means that one is gay simply because it’s ‘fashionable,’ this goes against every reputable psychologist, and, more important, the lived experience of LGBT people,” the article quotes Martin as saying. Yet Martin added that Pope Francis recently told a gay friend in a widely reported remark, “God made you that way,” which Martin said appears to be closer to what Francis believes.
Martin, who Francis appointed in 2017 as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, told America Magazine Francis should work to avoid making statements without thinking them through to clarify what he really means.
“We all speak off the cuff, but I suppose when you’re the Pope those off-the-cuff remarks are more likely to cause damage,” American Magazine quoted him as saying.