Pope Francis faces ‘civil war’ at heart of church

— From his reforms to his foreign relations, criticism of Pope Francis has intensified since the death of his predecessor Benedict XVI, revealing a climate of “civil war” at a time when the Catholic Church is engaged in a global conversation about its future.

Pope Francis told reporters on his plane back from South Sudan last Sunday that his critics have “exploited” Benedict’s death to further their cause

Benedict, a conservative German theologian who was pope for eight years before resigning in 2013, died on December 31 at the age of 95.

Within days of his death, his closest aide, Georg Gaenswein, revealed Benedict’s concerns at some of the changes made by his successor Pope Francis, notably his decision to restrict the use of the Latin mass.

The criticism was not new. Many in the conservative wing of the Roman Curia, which governs the Church, have long complained the Argentine pontiff is authoritarian and too focused on pastoral matters at the expense of theological rigour.

But it was followed by the death of Australian cardinal George Pell, and the subsequent revelation that he had authored an anonymous note published last year that directly attacked Francis.

The note had described the current papacy as a “catastrophe”, and among others criticised “heavy failures” of Vatican diplomacy under his watch.

Pell, a former close adviser to Francis, was jailed for child sexual abuse before being acquitted in 2020.

Then, at the end of the month, German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller published a book adding fuel to the fire.

The former head of the Vatican’s powerful congregation for the doctrine of the faith denounced Francis’ “doctrinal confusion” and criticised the influence of a “magic circle” around him.

– Civil war –

Mueller’s book caused consternation among some inside the Vatican.

“When you accept a cardinal’s cap, you agree to support and help the pope. Criticisms are made in private, not in public,” said one senior official in the Secretariat of State.

Pope Francis himself told reporters on his plane back from South Sudan last Sunday that his critics have “exploited” Benedict’s death to further their cause.

“And those who exploit such a good person, such a man of God… well I would say they are unethical people, they are people belonging to a party, not to the Church,” he said.

Italian Vatican expert Marco Politi said Mueller’s book “is a new stage in the unstoppable escalation by the pope’s adversaries”.

“There is a civil war in the heart of the church which will continue until the last day of the papacy,” he told AFP.

– Global consultations –

The tensions come as the Catholic Church conducts a vast global consultation on its future, the “Synod on Synodality” launched by Pope Francis in 2021.

Designed to decentralise the governance of the church, it has revealed key differences, with the German Catholic Church, for example, showing distinctly more appetite for reform than Rome.

Discussions include everything from the place of women in the church to how to handle the scandal of child sex abuse, from whether priests should marry to how the Church welcomes LGBTQ believers.

With the synod, which is due to conclude in 2024, “we will see the weight of the different currents within the Church”, Politi said.

He said critics of Pope Francis are already converging into a “current of thought capable of influencing the next conclave”, and by extension the next papacy.

A conclave, a global gathering of cardinals, would be called if Francis died or resigned.

The pope has said he would be willing to follow Benedict’s example and resign if his health stopped him doing his job.

But despite knee problems that have seen him use a wheelchair in recent months, he remains active and in charge — and extremely popular all over the world, as the crowds during his recent trip to Africa showed.

“This knee is annoying, but I go on, slowly, and we’ll see,” the 86-year-old said on Sunday, quipping: “You know that the bad weed never dies!”

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The Catholic Church’s upcoming discussion of homosexuality

— The relaxation of doctrine for pastoral purposes is itself a Christian doctrine. Is Pope Francis headed that way?

Pope Francis speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Vatican, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to homosexuality in terms of “sin.” But he attributed attitudes to culture backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

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Pope Francis stirred the pot last week by calling for an end to criminal penalties for homosexuality. “Being gay is not a crime, it’s a human condition,” he told the AP in a wide-ranging interview in Spanish.

Harking back to his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark, Francis imagined an exchange with an objector:

We are all children of God and God loves us as we are and with the strength that each one of us fights for our dignity. Being homosexual is not a crime. It is not a crime.

Yes, but it’s a sin.
Well, first let’s distinguish sin from crime. But the lack of charity with the neighbor is also a sin, and how are you doing?

In other words, who are you to judge?

It’s possible Francis was sending a message to the bishops of Africa, where he is visiting this week and where 35 of the 54 countries have anti-gay criminal laws. Bishops who support such laws, he said in the interview, “have to have a process of conversion” and should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

As has almost always been the case, Francis gave no indication that he intends to change church doctrine in order to advance his inclusive vision of the church. The sole exception has been his allowing (on a case-by-case basis) people who are divorced and remarried to have access to the Eucharist. The question is whether a similar opening might be made for those in same-sex unions.



According to the Catholic Catechism, while homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” they are “called to chastity” — i.e. no licit sex for them. As for same-sex unions, the church will not bless them because, the Vatican declared two years ago, God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

Those teachings are likely to be up for discussion in the church-wide Synod on Synodality that will bring bishops to Rome for October sessions this year and next. Per the pope’s instructions, the preparations for it have entailed extensive consultations with ordinary Catholics.

Last September, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a report on the consultations that highlighted criticism of the church for not doing a better job of including those suffering from “the wound of marginalization.”

Among these are members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons who have been divorced or those who have remarried without a declaration of nullity, as well as individuals who have civilly married but who never married in the Church. Concerns about how to respond to the needs of these diverse groups surfaced in every synthesis.

In October, the Vatican issued a synthesis of reports from around the world that noted, “Issues such as the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, ordination of women, married clergy, celibacy, divorce and Holy Communion, homosexuality, LGBTQIA+ were raised up across the Dioceses both rural and urban.”

Last week, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, whom the pope made a cardinal last year, wrote an article in the Jesuit magazine “America” that openly questioned the exclusion of sexually active people who are not in what the church considers a legitimate marriage.



Calling such exclusion “pre-eminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one,” McElroy took direct aim at the church’s refusal to concede to gay people a right to same-sex sexual expression.

The distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus for such a pastoral embrace because it inevitably suggests dividing the L.G.B.T. community into those who refrain from sexual activity and those who do not. Rather, the dignity of every person as a child of God struggling in this world, and the loving outreach of God, must be the heart, soul, face and substance of the church’s stance and pastoral action.

“We must,” wrote McElroy, “examine the contradictions in a church of inclusion and shared belonging that have been identified by the voices of the people of God in our nation and discern in synodality a pathway for moving beyond them.”

It’s important to recognize that the relaxation of doctrine for pastoral purposes is itself a Christian doctrine — known in Eastern Orthodoxy as the principle of oikonomia. Based on the idea that in a fallen world there are circumstances that require doctrinal relaxation, the principle is employed within Orthodoxy, for example, to permit divorced people to be married in church a second and even a third time.

Under Francis, the synodal path appears to be leading in that direction. Whether it gets there is another question.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Pope Francis stood up for LGBTQ lives

Pope Francis at the Vatican on Jan. 24.

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Pope Francis is full of surprises. He stays away from formal changes in Catholic Church doctrine but is not shy about altering the Church’s priorities. He regularly moves the conversation from judgment to mercy, and from condemnation to encounter.

That’s what he was up to last week when he became the first pope in history to call for the repeal of all laws, everywhere, against homosexuality. “Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

He specifically called on Catholic bishops who support statutes that punish or discriminate against the LGBTQ community to change their ways. “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit writer who has championed a shift in the Church’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, called the pope’s statement “a huge step forward” on “what is essentially a life-and-death issue,” since homosexuality is a capital offense in some nations.

The pope was widely cited as describing homosexual acts as sinful, in keeping with Church teaching, but Martin said that the Spanish transcript of his remarks suggested he was ascribing this view to others by way of responding to their arguments. “Yes, but it’s a sin,” the pope said, mimicking what those opposed to his view might assert. “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.” Francis added: “It is also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

Francis knows about the lack of charity. A great many conservative bishops, especially in the United States, have been highly critical of his pontificate and his insistence that addressing poverty, social justice and global inequalities should take priority over abortion and issues related to sexuality. Close students of the hierarchy see at least a third of American bishops as hostile to Francis’s anti-culture-war approach and a majority as being, well, less than enthusiastic.

But the pope’s latest salvo is likely to be popular in the pews. Despite the views of conservatives in the hierarchy, U.S. Catholics are somewhat more supportive of LGBTQ rights than Americans overall. A Gallup study of polls taken from 2016 to 2020, for example, found that on average 69 percent of Catholics, including 56 percent of weekly church attendees, favored legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

The pope appeared to go a step further toward liberalizing the Church’s position in response to questions from Martin after the AP interview aimed at clarifying whether he regarded homosexual behavior as a sin. Francis reiterated that Catholic teaching held that “every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” but added that “one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault.” This was classic Francis: He reiterated old doctrine but then distanced its meaning from earlier formulations far more hostile to homosexuality.

“It’s a move away from seeing all sexual sins as separating us from God’s grace,” Cathleen Kaveny, a theologian and law professor at Boston College, told me, “and instead seeing them more like other sins, which can be serious or not, depending on circumstances.”

The pope’s intervention comes amid ferment created by his call in October 2021 for a process of dialogue and consultation at all levels of the Church under the rubric of the much-debated word “synodality.” It’s not democracy but does imply listening and sharing insights.

It is also an occasion for pro-Francis bishops to speak out. In a timely essay last week in America magazine, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy, the bishop of San Diego, criticized “cultures of exclusion that alienate all too many from the church or make their journey in the Catholic faith tremendously burdensome.”

He challenged those who center “the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity,” and argued that “the distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus” of Church thinking about homosexuality.

“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communities,” McElroy wrote. “We must enlarge our tent. And we must do so now.”

His essay invited instant backlash from conservative Catholics. The Rev. Raymond J. de Souza charged in the National Catholic Register that McElroy’s approach to sexuality amounted to “the abolition of chastity.” The headline called it “a pastoral disaster.”

McElroy, a strong Francis ally, is accustomed to being a lightning rod for censure that is really aimed at the pope. But the response underscores how trying to diminish the power of culture-war issues is itself a spark for more cultural warfare.

Francis seems calm about the brickbats that come his way. “Criticism helps you to grow and improve things,” he told the AP, providing protection against “a dictatorship of distance … where the emperor is there and no one can tell him anything.”

Those of us who sympathize with Francis wish his internal detractors felt the same way.

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Pope clarifies homosexuality and sin comments in note

The AP Interview Pope Francis Papacy

By Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis has clarified his recent comments about homosexuality and sin, saying he was merely referring to official Catholic moral teaching which labels any sexual act outside of marriage a sin. And in a note Friday, Francis recalled even that black-and-white teaching is subject to circumstances which might eliminate the sin altogether.

Francis first made the comments in an interview on January 24th with The Associated Press, in which he declared that laws criminalising homosexuality were “unjust” and that “being homosexual is not a crime”.

As he often does, Francis then imagined a conversation with someone who raised the matter of the church’s official teaching, which states that homosexual acts are sinful, or “intrinsically disordered”.

“Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” Francis said in the pretend conversation.

“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

His comments calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality were hailed by LGBTQ advocates as a milestone that would help end harassment and violence against LGBTQ persons.

But his reference to “sin” raised questions about whether he believed that merely being gay was itself a sin.

The Rev James Martin, an American Jesuit who runs the US-based Outreach ministry for LGBTQ Catholics, asked Francis for clarification and printed the pope’s handwritten response on the Outreach website late on Friday.

In his note, Francis reaffirmed that homosexuality “is not a crime”, and said he spoke out “in order to stress that criminalisation is neither good nor just”.

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” Francis wrote in Spanish, underlining the final phrase.

But in a nod to his case-by-case approach to pastoral ministry, Francis noted even that teaching is subject to consideration of the circumstances, “which may decrease or eliminate fault”.

He acknowledged he could have been clearer in his comments to the AP. But he said he was using “natural and conversational language” in the interview that did not call for precise definitions.

“As you can see, I was repeating something in general. I should have said: ‘It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.’ This is to speak of ‘the matter’ of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin,” he said.

Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws.

Experts say even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatisation and violence against LGBTQ people.

Catholic teaching forbids gay marriage, holding that the sacrament of marriage is a lifelong bond between a man and a woman. It reserves intercourse for married couples while forbidding artificial contraception.

In his decade-long pontificate, Francis has upheld that teaching but has made outreach to LGBTQ people a priority. He has stressed a more merciful approach to applying church doctrine, to accompany people rather than judge them.

Complete Article HERE!

It shouldn’t seem so surprising when the pope says being gay ‘isn’t a crime’

— A Catholic theologian explains

Pope Francis leads the second vespers service at St. Paul’s Basilica on Jan. 25, 2023, in Rome.

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Once again, Pope Francis has called on Catholics to welcome and accept LGBTQ people.

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” the pope said in an interview with The Associated Press on Jan. 24, 2023, adding, “let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.” He also called for the relaxation of laws around the world that target LGBTQ people.

Francis’ long history of making similar comments in support of LGBTQ people’s dignity, despite the church’s rejection of homosexuality, has provoked plenty of criticism from some Catholics. But I am a public theologian, and part of what interests me about this debate is that Francis’ inclusiveness is not actually radical. His remarks generally correspond to what the church teaches and calls on Catholics to do.

‘Who am I to judge?’

During the first year of Francis’ papacy, when asked about LGBTQ people, he famously replied, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” – setting the tone for what has become a pattern of inclusiveness.

He has given public support more than once to James Martin, a Jesuit priest whose efforts to build bridges between LGBTQ people and the Catholic Church have been a lightning rod for criticism. In remarks captured for a 2020 documentary, Francis expressed support for the legal protections that civil unions can provide for LGBTQ people.

And now come the newest remarks. In his recent interview, the pope said the church should oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality. “We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” he said, though he differentiated between “crimes” and actions that go against church teachings.

Compassion, not doctrinal change

The pope’s support for LGBTQ people’s civil rights does not change Catholic doctrine about marriage or sexuality. The church still teaches – and will certainly go on teaching – that any sexual relationship outside a marriage is wrong, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. It would be a mistake to conclude that Francis is suggesting any change in doctrine.

A crowd of people in jackets look up at a tall cross in front of them.
A rosary march in Warsaw in 2019 ended with a prayer apologizing to God for pride parades in Poland.

Rather, the pattern of his comments has been a way to express what the Catholic Church says about human dignity in response to rapidly changing attitudes toward the LGBTQ community across the past two decades. Francis is calling on Catholics to take note that they should be concerned about justice for all people.

The Catholic Church has condemned discrimination against LGBTQ people for many years, even while it describes homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” in its catechism. Nevertheless, some bishops around the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality – which Francis acknowledged, saying they “have to have a process of conversion.”

The “law of love embraces the entire human family and knows no limits,” the Vatican office concerned with social issues said in a 2005 compilation of the church’s social thought.

In 2006, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recognized that LGBTQ people “have been, and often continue to be, objects of scorn, hatred, and even violence.” And expressing care for other human persons – “especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted” by the indifference or oppression of others – represents obligations for all Catholics to embrace.

As the Francis papacy now nears the end of its 10th year, it is becoming more and more common to hear Catholic leaders attempting to make LGBTQ people feel included in the church. Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich has called on pastors to “redouble our efforts to be creative and resilient in finding ways to welcome and encourage all LGBTQ people.” New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has welcomed LGBTQ groups in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, against the wishes of many New York Catholics.

In this most recent interview, Francis emphasized that being LGBTQ is “a human condition,” calling Catholics to see other people less through the eyes of doctrine and more through the eyes of mercy.

A new ‘political reality’

The rapid change that has happened in prevailing social attitudes about the LGBTQ community in recent decades has been difficult to process for a church that has never reacted quickly. This is especially because the questions those developments raise touch on a gray area where moral teaching intersects with social realities outside the church.

For decades, church leaders have been working to reconcile the church with the modern world, and Francis is stepping in places where other Catholic bishops have already trodden.

In 2018, for example, German bishops reacting to the legalization of gay marriage acknowledged that acceptance of LGBTQ relationships is a new “political reality.”

Two same-sex couples stand in a church.
An LGBTQ couple embraces after a pastoral worker blesses them at a Catholic church in Germany, in defiance of practices approved by Rome.

There are signs that parts of the church are moving even more quickly. Catholics in Germany, in particular, have called for changes to church teaching, including permission for priests to bless same-sex couples and the ordination of married men.

The next chapter

But those actions are outliers. Francis has criticized the German calls for reform as “elitist” and ideological. When it comes to the civil rights of LGBTQ people, the pope is not changing church teaching, but describing it.

I believe the challenge the Vatican faces is to imagine the space that the church can occupy in this new reality, as it has had to do in the face of numerous social and political changes across centuries. But the imperative, as Francis suggests, is to serve justice and to seek justice for all people with mercy above all.

Catholics – including bishops, and even the pope – can think, and are thinking, imaginatively about that challenge.

Complete Article HERE!