Some big news happened earlier this month. The Vatican released a preliminary document calling for the church to welcome and accept homosexuals. It was the culmination of an expected change during Francis’ tenure. Since becoming pope, Pope Francis has made verbal overtures towards gay Catholics, famously saying, “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge him?”
That statement alone was revolutionary, given the nearly unmoving conservative disposition on sexual matters for which the Catholic Church is known. However, the official pronouncement went well beyond the pope’s casual remarks. As Sojourners notes:
“Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities?” said the communique from the nearly 200 bishops and lay delegates. “Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home.
“Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
At the same time, however, the church has reaffirmed an opposition to same sex marriage, meaning that while churches are now being encouraged to allow openly gay individuals to be part of their communities, you won’t see a same sex wedding occurring at your average Catholic Church any time soon.
For conservatives, the real fear is that Francis may really be serious about making social inequality a priority of the church. Francis is from Argentina and is remembered for having a role in fighting back the persecution of progressive priests in that country. By effectively turning off the nonsense around homosexuality, Francis could turn the Vatican’s significant resources to programs of wealth redistribution, something that would certainly upset some people.
This change in the treatment of gays is a substantial one for those impacted. Only years ago, it seemed like a pipe dream that we would even have “same sex unions” within the United States. Now bishops in the Catholic Church are saying that gays have “unique gifts” to bring to the church. Likewise there have also been overtures toward lessening the condemnation of sex and cohabitation before marriage. The same two-week meeting that produced openness to homosexuals also produced the proclamation that there are “positive” aspects to cohabitation before marriage. I have met more than a few people who are turned off by religion not necessarily for any lack of belief in God, but because of the perceived intolerance of the Christian world.
The acceptance of gays, divorcees, and unmarried couples who live together, while long, long overdue, are good steps toward a more realistic Catholicism. Times are changing and the major religions must change with it in order to survive. Change is always scary but it’s also good. Let’s hope that the changes the Catholic Church is adopting help the church not only to survive but also to be good.