Reflections on and reactions to Pope Francis's question yesterday, "Who am I to judge?":
The proof of whether this off the cuff press conference, following a well-staged week in Brazil, signals real change will unfold in the months ahead. Will there be stirrings of democracy, a Vatican spring complete with líos in every diocese capable of upending a kyriarchal church and letting a mature, diverse community emerge? Will women finally and definitively share power with men in a democratic church? Or, will there simply be a little tweaking of the rules to make sure that a few favored sons who happen to be gay can remain in power?
There’s a way to go yet to introduce sanity into the Catholic Church approach to human sexuality, for people of any orientation, but this is a great start.
Many commentators are saying that this statement shifts the hierarchy's message not just on gays and the priesthood but on gay issues in general. For one thing, it's apparently the first documented use by a pope of the word "gay" – the term that gay people themselves most often use yet which some within the church view as implying "ideological commitments" at odds with being Catholic.
The pope made it clear that there is no room for homophobia either in the church or society. But if I had said what he said 24 hours before Francis, I would have been reported to the archbishop.
And so in a few off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis returned the Church’s leadership to the spirit and love of the Gospels. This does not mean a change in the doctrine that all non-procreative non-marital sexual expression – from masturbation to foreplay to homosexual or contracepted sex – is immoral. But what it does is explicitly end the Vatican’s demonization and marginalization of gay people made in the image of God, people who have served the Church from its very beginnings, in ways large and small.
Pope Francis has consistently taken on the injustice in the world's financial systems and the indifference the world has towards the poor and the outcaste. Noticeably absent from the Pope's discourse has been the rights and dignity of gay people -- until Monday when the Pope shocked the world by saying "Who am I to judge gay people" and opened the door to gay priests and a basic softening of the church's hardline stance against LGBT peoples.