Skip to main content

What do pope's remarks on gays mean?

By Kevin Clarke, Special to CNN
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Wed July 31, 2013
Pope Francis makes some <a href='http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/29/pope-francis-on-gays-who-am-i-to-judge/'>unexpected comments on issues facing the Roman Catholic Church</a> on Monday, July 29. He spoke on the record to journalists on a flight back back to Italy from Brazil after finishing his first international trip as pontiff. Among the topics he addressed were homosexuality, the church's alleged "gay lobby," the role of women, abortion, divorce and the Vatican Bank. Pope Francis makes some unexpected comments on issues facing the Roman Catholic Church on Monday, July 29. He spoke on the record to journalists on a flight back back to Italy from Brazil after finishing his first international trip as pontiff. Among the topics he addressed were homosexuality, the church's alleged "gay lobby," the role of women, abortion, divorce and the Vatican Bank.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kevin Clarke: Pope Francis' remarks about gays aren't a new position on homosexuality
  • Clarke: His talking frankly was startling, but calling for compassion for gays is not new
  • Clarke: The church may change its tone and approach to gay and lesbian Catholics, however
  • But pope's call in Rio for action on social injustice and poverty was equally important, he says

Editor's note: Kevin Clarke is senior editor/chief correspondent at America magazine, a national news and culture weekly published by the Jesuits.

(CNN) -- Pope Francis ignited a firestorm on the Internet with a few words about gay and lesbian people that seemed to suggest a new church position on homosexuality. I say "seemed to" because it would only appear new to someone who was unfamiliar with the old position.

Speaking to a gang of reporters bringing up the rear of his plane on the way home from his quotific visit to Rio de Janeiro, the pope was asked about his recent reference to a "gay lobby" among the curial staff in Rome. That phrase is already the source of some confusion.

The pope responded that although a "gay lobby," as in an inter-curial pressure group -- for or against more acceptance of gay Catholics, who can say? -- might be an issue, he did not have a problem with men and women who are homosexual. "If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem ... they're our brothers."

What we learned about Pope Francis in Brazil

Kevin Clarke
Kevin Clarke

Speaking about homosexuality so frankly was remarkable in and of itself, but nothing the pope said deviated from current Catholic catechism. Although it regards homosexual acts as "intrinsically disordered," church teaching demands that gay and lesbian people be accepted with "respect, compassion, and sensitivity."

"Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided," reads the catechism. "These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."

The catechism is a little more nuanced, and less unsightly, than the standard "hate the sin, love the sinner" platitude, but it doesn't say much more and it's far less than most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics would like to hear from their church. Pope Francis was merely reiterating this teaching in his wonderfully straightforward, cut-through-the-gobbledygook manner.

That's not to say that his remarks don't suggest a different emphasis in the church's tone and pastoral approach to gay and lesbian Catholics that will surely be welcome. Francis places the emphasis first on solidarity ("they're our brothers") and refers to the redemption and mercy all of us require and are capable of achieving. And as a practical ecclesiastical matter, his comments also argue that the "duty" to discourage the vocations of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" may be en route to the "don't ask, don't tell" historical rag and bone shop.

Pope: 'Who am I to judge' gay clergy
Pope welcomes gay community to church
What we learned about Pope Francis
Quinn: Pope's comments 'positive'

Other groups of disaffected Catholics can also take heart from the pope's unfiltered comments on the plane. He suggested that his cardinal action squad of curial reformers will also be looking at the way the church has treated Catholics who, for whatever reason, could not annul their marriages. Divorced and remarried Catholics have long been cut off from the sacramental and communal life of the church. Francis clearly wants to find a way to bring them home.

Opinion: What the pope left out about women

Women can also be hopeful that Francis hears their lamentations regarding how they have been cut off from leadership roles in the church. Although he suggested that he had little inclination to return to the issue of women's ordination, he said the church still has far to go in developing a real theology that explains the importance of women in the church. What that means practically speaking remains to be seen.

Let's hope that what does not become lost as his comments on homosexuality are parsed, turned over and otherwise manhandled by the media in the coming days, is the pope's keen attention during his World Youth Day visit to issues of economic injustice and the importance of political and social dialogue. Asked why he did not spend so much time on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage while in Rio, he said the church's teaching on such matters are already clear.

This pope may be interested in moving at least rhetorically away from cultural stalemates and on to other issues that have also long been a preoccupation of the church: fighting poverty and human deprivation, creating political and economic opportunity, the just and sustainable stewardship of creation.

In Rio he spoke frequently on social justice and alleviating poverty, asking all to give of their talents to respond to the world's aching needs in a country where those needs and inequities are obvious. In Rio, Francis expressed his hope for a "culture of encounter," as he described it. That's an encounter across gay and straight lines, political and class lines, self-drawn lines between secularists and the faithful, borders between the haves and have-nots. As important as his off-the-cuff comments on the plane were -- and might turn out to be in the future -- his message of solidarity and his call to action on social injustice and economic inequality had a just claim to its share of the bandwidth on Twitter this week.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kevin Clarke.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT