From the editor's desk
23 May 2018
Francis locks in his reforms
Francis has now created 47 per cent of the voting cardinals – those under 80 – which should more or less guarantee that the next pope will continue on the course this one has set. Some of his opponents have given up expecting him to change direction, but until now have hoped that a new pope would reverse some of his positions. In particular, they oppose Francis’ moves to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion under certain conditions, which the two previous popes had ruled out.
This week, he again vexed his enemies, in the not unrelated area of same-sex relationships. Traditional Catholic teaching says that while homosexually orientated men or women must be treated with respect, if they engage in sexual activity with someone of their own sex they are guilty of grave sin. This distinction between sexual orientation and its expression dismays many Catholics. One gay Catholic likened it to praising a talented figure-skater while prohibiting them from going near an ice rink.
Behind the teaching is a presumption that the physical expression of love between people of the same sex is unnatural, contrary to God’s intention. Pope Francis does not seem to think so. When he met Juan Carlos Cruz, the principal Chilean sex abuse survivor, he reportedly told him in private: “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like that and he loves you like that and I do not care.” The words: “God made you like that”, assuming he said them, undermine the traditional position that homosexuality is unnatural. And if the condition is not unnatural, then how can homosexual acts still be regarded as unnatural? It seems the main theological objection to homosexual activity would fall away. Skaters would be free to skate.
A reassuring remark made in a pastoral context falls short of a definitive treatise on the mystery of human sexuality. But the Pope will not be unaware that opinion among the Catholic laity, and many priests, is somewhat ahead of him. Catholic attitudes to homosexuality at the grass roots have changed fundamentally in the last two decades. The distinction between the homosexual condition and homosexual activity is increasingly regarded as irrelevant, not least because most Catholics no longer accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae that every sexual act must be “open to the transmission of life”.
If this is the direction of travel of Pope Francis’ own thinking about sexuality, his opponents are right to worry. But the majority of lay Catholics worldwide long for the day when Catholic teaching on sex corresponds to their own experience of it, because then the Church will have listened to them at last.