At the end of a wonderfully rejuvenating World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis held an aerial press conference in which he commented on homosexuality.
Here’s what Francis specifically said, translated:
If someone is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very beautifully. … It says that these persons should not be marginalized.
While it is absolutely true that Francis’s statements are noteworthy for using the word “gay,” he did nothing to reverse Church teaching or even undermine it, contrary to what media reports have suggested. In fact, Francis underscored Church teaching by citing the Catechism.
But of course, as has been the norm of the media in the last few months, these comments were contrasted to those of the previous pope, Benedict XVI. What the media ignore is that the language of the Catechism that speaks against marginalizing gay persons and, specifically, the Vatican letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” were written, overseen, and/or signed by none other than Benedict himself when he was still a cardinal.
In light of these facts, the media meme of Francis being the Anti-Benedict is purely and simply false. Francis has obviously maintained the unity between the papacies and the teachings of the Church.
That being said, while Francis has surely not undermined or changed anything on substance in this regard, he did signal a shift in tone and emphasis. The first reason is that he used the word “gay” instead of the more clinical term “homosexual” or cumbersome phrase “same-sex attracted.” Secondly, he acknowledged that gays can lead lives of good will and seek God without adding any condemnatory qualifications.
None of this is to suggest that gays are no longer called to live lives of celibacy. But Francis’s shift in tone and emphasis, while staying true to Church teaching, still strikes as novel for a leader of the Catholic Church.