Pope Francis has reiterated his relatively tolerant stance towards LGBT people, offering new details about a 2013 incident where he responded to a question about gay priests by saying “who am I to judge?”
In a new book set to be published on Tuesday, Pope Francis is quoted talking to an Italian journalist about the famous quip, which triggered a firestorm of media coverage and speculation over whether the pontiff would alter the Catholic Church’s firm opposition to same-sex relationships. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the book cites Francis as he clarifies his theological justification for taking a more tolerant stance towards LGBT people.
“On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” the pope says in the new book, The Name of God is Mercy. “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”
“I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity,” Francis says. “And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”
“I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together,” Francis also says, in a possible reference to the Church’s historical stance that same-sex relationships are sinful. “You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”
The new quotes effectively repeat what is often described as Francis’ shift in “tone” regarding LGBT issues. The pontiff has never contradicted the Catholic Church’s official opposition to LGBT relationships, which describes same-sex “inclinations” as “objectively disordered.”
But Francis has dramatically shifted the way the church approaches the issue, articulating a far more inclusive vision while meeting privately with a Spanish transgender man, dining with LGBT prisoners, and openly embracing a gay couple in Washington, D.C. Francis’ attitude contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who was vocally opposed to LGBT relationships and called same-sex marriage a threat to the “future of humanity itself.”
Left-leaning Catholics have welcomed the tonal tweak, but it hasn’t overhauled the Church’s treatment of LGBT faithful. A growing number of Catholic teachers, church staff, and food pantry workers have been fired in the United States over the past few years simply for being openly gay, and several diocese are in heated disputes with Church leaders over their treatment of LGBT staff. Francis even met with controversial American marriage equality opponent Kim Davis, although the Vatican later insisted the encounter “should not be considered a form of support of her position.”
Nevertheless, Francis is indeed asking the church to “talk” more about LGBT issues; he has convened two high-level meetings, or synods, regarding “family issues” that included discussions of same-sex relationships. Neither gathering produced radically different stances on sexuality, but documents produced by attendees at both meetings included language about LGBT people that was arguably more welcoming — relatively speaking — than the statements from years past.