Pope Francis – Photo via Korea.net / Wikimedia
Surprising no one who has followed the Vatican’s pronouncements on homosexuality over the past few years, Pope Francis issued a papal exhortation reiterating the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex unions while also calling for Catholics to show “respect” for LGBT individuals.
The 256-page exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, or “the Joy of Love,” addressed to clergy and Catholics throughout the world, outlines Pope Francis’ views on a variety of “family life” issues, including marriage, sexuality, parenting and divorce. It comes after bishops and others within the church hierarchy held two synods during which conservative and more moderate elements clashed over various social issues, including homosexuality, divorce and contraception.
According to previous reporting by Reuters last year, bishops involved in the synod released a “working document” outlining positions on these contentious issues, but language that was viewed as more conciliatory towards reconciling homosexuality with Church teachings was eliminated after socially conservative bishops exercised their muscle. The working document was eventually finalized and sent to Pope Francis, who then used the recommendations to issue his exhortation outlining the Catholic Church’s official stance on these issues — though, it should be noted, artificial birth control was not addressed at all in the pope’s final exhortation.
In terms of homosexuality, official Catholic teaching, particularly with respect to same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, has not changed.
“In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, ‘as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,'” Pope Francis said. “It is unacceptable ‘that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.'”
But even as he rejected the concept of condoning same-sex unions, the Pope also called for Catholics to recognize the innate human dignity of LGBT individuals, and for the Church officials to offer “respectful pastoral guidance” to LGBT individuals and their families.
“The Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception,” Pope Francis said. “…We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”
In contrast, the Pope did attempt to extend an olive branch of sorts to divorcees and remarried couples — who, under current church law, are living in adultery and are supposed to be prohibited from receiving Communion, reports The Washington Post. The Pope did not suggest an outright change in church law as it relates to divorcees, but did suggest that priests could work closely with such individuals or remarried couples on a “path to redemption,” noting that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” Other groups that the pontiff called deserving of respect and compassion include single mothers and those who engage in extramarital sexual relations.
In response to Pope Francis’ exhortation, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement expressing disappointment about the church’s continued opposition to same-sex unions, particularly those that are civil in nature.
“We had hoped that Pope Francis’ more open and loving message about LGBT people would translate into fuller inclusion during the Church’s Year of Mercy, and we are disappointed today,” Mary Beth Maxwell, HRC’s senior vice president for program, research and training, said in a statement. “The good news is, we know that a strong majority of U.S. Catholics believe in equality for LGBT people and that in a growing number of Catholic families and parishes all across this country we are welcomed for who we are, not judged or excluded because of doctrine.
“We will continue working, along with so many committed people of faith, toward full inclusion and participation in our beloved Church, and we look to the day when Pope Francis’ call for a loving and welcoming Church includes the LGBT faithful and our families,” Maxwell added.