By SIMON COPLAND
When Pope Francis was installed earlier this year many were hoping for a shift in the church’s tone towards homosexuality. It seems like we may have got our wish. In a wide-ranging interview over the weekend, Francis, it was reported, reached out to homosexuals. He said:
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
The Pope has quickly received praise for his comments.
Reverand James Martin commented that ”Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy.”
Here at home, Australian Marriage Equality said: “While the Pope still opposes marriage equality and thinks homosexual sex is sinful, he has opened up a space for discussion about these issues that did not exist under his predecessors.”
“This is glasnost for gay Catholics.”
I can see why people are happy. His statement is more progressive than anything that ever seemed to come out of Pope Benedict XVI’s mouth. It definitely is a shift from the past years. But unfortunately I’m going to have to hold back from my cheering.
I think the reason Francis’ statement seems so great is because of the difference between him and his predecessor. Benedict, a rampant homophobe, did not hold back during his leadership. At one point he said that homosexuality was as much of a threat to the survival of the human race as climate change. Being better than that is certainly not a high bar to jump over.
And when you look at it, it’s not really a bar that Francis is working hard to jump over. In fact his language over the weekend doesn’t actually represent any real shift in direction. As John Allen states:
It’s always been on the books in the Catholic Church that homosexual persons are to be treated with love. The Catechism, the official collection of Catholic doctrine, states that gays should always receive “’respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
In other words, the Pope has simple reiterated Catholic doctrine – the very same doctrine that Pope Benedict lived by.
And it is in seeing this context that we realise that this is in no way a progressive shift at all. For example, whilst he has been kind enough to say that he will not judge gay people, Francis has still emphasised that homosexual acts are a sin. He may not want to judge us, but but he will still considers our acts as sinful. We may deserve forgiveness, but we are still sinners. And if we do not seek redemption, we will still go to hell for those sins.