Pope Francis' comments to Juan Carlos Cruz are a step towards ending the persecution of LGBT people around the world, writes Alan Austin.
Unsurprisingly, this has made headlines in Russia, France, Germany, China, Indonesia, Czechia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Slovakia and the USA. And most other countries.
Responses worldwide have been mixed, with the loudest voices within Roman Catholicism claiming the pope was just offering pastoral comfort to a troubled soul and not signalling any change in doctrine.
But these are not the only voices. There has been quiet, internal pressure for many years towards rewriting Catholic teaching on sexual orientation and same-sex unions. This is happening in almost all other Christian denominations and in other world faiths as well. Where this has happened, things have almost invariably turned out well.
Formal Catholic teaching still affirms that same-sex inclination 'is objectively disordered', that sexual activities are 'acts of grave depravity' and that homosexuals 'are called to chastity'.
But many prominent Catholics now believe these precepts are contrary to science, inconsistent with scriptural teaching, at odds with Church history and obstructions to pastoral care.
Reformists include: Jesuit priest James Martin; French priest, academic and author, Laurent Laot; head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia; director of New Ways Ministry, Francis DeBernardo; Brazilian Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos; Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark; Jesuit chaplain to the U.S. Congress, Patrick Conroy; Bishop John Stowe of Kentucky; and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego.
It seems unlikely these remarks from Pope Francis – Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinean Jesuit academic before becoming pontiff – were careless comments off the cuff. Back in 2013, he said that "if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"
In 2016, he affirmed gay people
"... should not be discriminated against. They should be respected, accompanied pastorally ... the Church not only should apologise to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologise to the poor."
If Catholics do revise their doctrines, this will be a major turning point in the struggle worldwide to end discrimination and, in many places, active persecution.
The impact will be minimal in Europe, Australia and North America, where papal pronouncements are marginal to politics. But it will be significant in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia, where his authority remains substantial.
Particularly, this will be big in those 74 countries where laws still punish homosexual activity. These include Angola, Burundi, Uganda and Papua New Guinea, where between one-third and two-thirds of the population are Catholic.
Support for gay unions worldwide
Churches which now accept same-sex marriage include the United and Anglican Churches of Canada, the Church of England, the United Reformed Church in the UK, the Uniting Church in Australia, the Church of Denmark, The Protestant Church of France, most Lutheran, United and Reformed churches in Germany, the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Scottish Episcopal Church.
The liberal strands of Judaism celebrate same-sex unions in some places, as do many Buddhist and Hindu communities. Acceptance by Islam seems a distant prospect, but dialogue is underway.
Similar passionate debates have raged throughout Church history over the structure of the solar system, the age of the earth, the shape of the earth, schizophrenia versus demonic possession, illnesses caused by viruses or evil spirits, and the inherent inferiority of women and coloured races.
In each of these, revelations from science have forced a re-interpretation of the Scriptures.
Today, human physiology and psychology confirm that non-hetero orientations are normal, healthy, unchosen and unchangeable. Zoology is revealing that this is the reality also in most gregarious animal and bird societies. Anthropology and archaeology are proving there have been same-sex relationships in virtually all communities throughout human history. Church history is showing that Christian communities have celebrated gay marriages at various times in the past. And biblical scholarship is finding there are, indeed, approved same-sex unions in the Hebrew Tanach and the Christian Bible.
So a profound reformation is well underway worldwide. What the pope says next will either set it back or bring it on.
If he does bring it on, will this be intriguing to watch? Is the Pope a Catholic?
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