There’s been a great deal of jubilation and consternation regarding Pope Francis’s conciliatory remarks about homosexuality on the plane from Brazil to Rome. “Who am I to judge?” “Gays should be fully integrated into society.”
The conservatives were quick to argue that there is no change in church doctrine reflected in these remarks, and they have a valid point, although there is an implicit re-opening of the door for celibate gay clergy that Benedict XVI closed during his papacy.
And among liberals there were those who argued that the pope’s remarks didn’t go far enough.
As someone who has argued that the moral imperative for the church to recognize equal rights for gays and lesbians, a reader might be well-justified in assuming that I might fall into that latter category. The truth is I do not. I think that the Pope did as much as could be done with his remarks.
But surely the Pope can set any doctrine he cares to, the reader might object. Why not just make the declaration and be done with it.
And my answer is the Holy Spirit. As a Catholic, I believe that the Holy Spirit acts through the Catholic Church, not just among the saints in the streets and the parishioners in the pews but even in the clergy, even, shocking as it might seem, through the Pope (including, to the surprise of some people to whom I’ve spoken to, through Benedict XVI). The shortage of clergy, I believe, is the Holy Spirit trying, in her own wonderfully indirect way, to get the laity more involved in the running of the church (something that popped up a bit explicitly in Francis’s comments about the role of women in the church). And while recognizing gay rights, up to and including marriage, is a moral imperative, the experience of the Anglican communion shows the problem with simply making a declaration. Were Francis to declare that gays should be allowed to marry in the Catholic Church, there would be an immediate schism, and those who criticize the attitudes towards gays in the Catholic Church would then turn their attention towards the even more virulently anti-gay neoCatholic (paleoCatholic?) movement.
No, what needs to happen first is a transformation of the hearts of the members of the body of Christ. And it is this transformation that I see being sparked into becoming realized through Francis’s comments and giving hope that the Church, while it may bend towards justice slowly, will bend towards justice inevitably.