Outreach is a website run by Father James Martin. The website is designed as a resource for queer Catholics.
Martin invited Pope Francis to contribute to the website, and received a handwritten response to the questions he'd submitted.
Martin asked: “What would you say is the most important thing for LGBT+ people to know about God?”
Pope Francis responded: “God is Father and he does not disown any of his children. And ‘the style’ of God is ‘closeness, mercy and tenderness’. Along this path you will find God.”
Asked what he would like LGBTQ+ people to know about the church, the Pope added: “I would like for them to read the book of the Acts of the Apostles. There they will find the image of the living church.”
The final question asked by Martin was: “What do you say to an LGBT Catholic who has experienced rejection from the church?”
“I would have them recognise it not as ‘the rejection of the church’, but instead of ‘people in the church’,” wrote Pope Francis.
He said that the Catholic Church should welcome all kinds of people, adding: “The church is a mother and calls together all her children.
Many LGBTQ+ Catholics celebrated the Pope’s words, but others were less convinced – the Catechism of the Catholic Church still states that same-sex relationships are “acts of great depravity”, and adds: “Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
Where does the Catholic Church stand on LGBTQ people?
Whatever your religious beliefs or otherwise, the Catholic Church continues to play a powerful role in world politics and in the day-to-day lives of millions of people around the world.
An institution built on thousands of years of history, the Catholic Church continues to try and evolve to reflect the changing landscape of social attitudes and political realities while navigating its scandals.
In what's being seen as a big move, a new documentary focused on Pope Francis has revealed perhaps the most progressive statements yet that the Catholic Church has made in relation to LGBTQ people.
The history of the Church
The Catholic Church traces its origins to the disciples of Jesus Christ, but it was in the year 380 AD that the Church as we know it today began to emerge. It was at that time that Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
While there have been various ups and downs throughout the subsequent centuries, during the 15th and 16th centuries the Catholic Church dramatically expanded its reach by supporting the colonial ambitions of the European powers. As new territories were conquered, missionaries spread Catholicism throughout Asia, Africa, the islands of the Pacific, and the Americas.
Today, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, with a congregation of around 1.3 billion people.
Early views on LGBTQ people
At the time that the Catholic Church emerged, it was effectively defining itself in relation to the culture and traditions of the Roman Empire. From its early days, the Church issued laws against sodomy but these were initially aimed at ensuring discipline within the ranks of its priests and monks. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the Church made it clear that the ban on sodomy applied to everyone who followed the Catholic doctrine. In the highly influential Summa Theologica - written in the 13th century - Thomas Aquinas, who was a highly influential leader within the Catholic Church, stated that sodomy or “the unnatural vice” is the greatest of the sins of lust.
Notable statements by the Catholic Church in recent decades, include:
1976: Pope Paul VI published a statement that outlawed extra-marital sex, including same-sex intercourse.
1993: Pope John Paul II published a statement that made a distinction between homosexual intercourse and homosexual orientation. The Pope stated that homosexual intercourse is performed by choice of the will, whereas homosexual orientation is usually not a matter of free choice. This enabled the Church to continue to take a hard line against same-sex intercourse while having a softer line against people who identified as LGBTQ.
2013: Pope Francis reaffirmed the Church’s position that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not.
2018: The Vatican used the acronym LGBT for the first time in an official document. The document looked at how the Catholic Church could better support LGBT youth.
2018: Pope Francis made a statement that acknowledged that homosexual people have existed in the whole history of humankind. He also said that homosexuality is not an illness, and that Catholic parents should talk with their homosexual children and that they shouldn’t be excluded from the family.
2020: Pope Francis, discussing the topic in an interview said: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
Is the Catholic Church an ally of the LGBTQ community?
While progress has been made, the Catholic Church is a long way from embracing LGBTQ people as equals. Changes in the teachings of the Church appear to have been made in order to respond to socially progressive advocates within their congregation, as opposed to any fundamental beliefs in human rights.
Does it matter what the Catholic Church thinks about LGBTQ people?
Whatever the latest pronouncements by the Catholic Church on anything - but particularly about sexuality and LGBTQ equality - it's important to remember that it's an institution that's always making chess moves in its ongoing campaign to solidify its socially conservative base and use homophobic hysteria to maintain its political influence around the world.
Much of the grunt work in relation guiding the church's position on LGBTQ people is done by an internal body called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sounds fairly innocuous, but its 27 members form one of the most powerful forces within the machinations of the Vatican and the upper echelons of the Catholic church.
It was founded in 1542, and (until 1985) was known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. This body was the consolidation and codification of the Holy Inquisition that emerged in the 12th century and was used to terrorise and subjugate the people of Europe, and everyone unfortunate enough to be colonised by them.
Today, the role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is ostensibly to promulgate and defend Catholic doctrine. It’s a propaganda weapon.
Sin as a subjective concept
Theology is a form of philosophy, and there’s some fascinating and thought-provoking discussions to be had about how we define morality and how codes of conduct are agreed, accepted, and how they evolve.
But it’s laughable to think that the Catholic church is attempting to maintain its self-appointed position as the arbiter of the world’s morality.
If you want to get biblical, the Catholic church is casting the first stone.
This is an institution that – by any objective definition of the concept – is not without sin.
The head of the commission examining sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France recently put the possible number of child victims at more than 10,000. In Germany, a 2018 report found that more than 3,600 people were sexually abused by Catholic clergy between 1946 and 2014. In November 2020, a report from the Vatican confirmed that between 1978 and 2005, the highest levels of the Catholic church – including the Pope – consciously overlooked and actively covered up sexual misconduct claims.
You’re an institution that has a documented history of enabling and protecting pedophiles, and you want to set yourself up as the arbiter of what’s morally acceptable? Sure, good luck with that.
When the Catholic church makes pronouncements about how ‘sinful’ LGBTQ people are, it’s difficult not to take it personally. It is personal.
But it seems clear that the Catholic church doesn't just attack LGBTQ people for the fun of it. Let’s remember the context in which we’re operating.
The Catholic church is losing adherents. It is seeing some growth in conversions in countries in central Africa, but in other parts of the world it’s losing people to agnosticism or the ultra-conservative evangelical protestants.
The LGBTQ community is a useful whipping post. Homophobic rhetoric appeals to a socially conservative base, shoring up support, and helping to maintain revenues and influence.
It’s a strategy that’s not unique to the Catholic church – opportunistic homophobia is an alarmingly successful tactic in populism politics.
When they go low
Philosophical discussions about morality might be interesting, but in this instance that would be a distraction. If the Catholic church wants to use opportunistic homophobia to push its propaganda, we simply need to highlight the hypocrisy.
How can anyone trust anything that the Catholic church says? An institution that has a documented history of enabling and protecting pedophiles has no seat at the table when it comes to a discussion about morality and the codes of conduct that govern our world.
We give zero fucks about what the Catholic church thinks about anything.
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