Pope Francis has suggested that being gay has become “fashionable” in some modern-day societies ― a remark that has prompted concern among queer Catholics.
In an interview with a Spanish priest about religious vocations, Francis reportedly said that there is “no place for this kind of affection” in the lives of Roman Catholic priests, religious brothers and religious sisters.
“In our societies, it even seems homosexuality is fashionable. And this mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church,” Francis was quoted as saying in the interview, according to the Associated Press.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the queer Catholic advocacy group DignityUSA, said she thinks Francis is treating the “genuine but limited progress” some countries have achieved in recognizing queer people’s basic human rights as a “frivolous fad or trend.”
But queer identities aren’t a “matter of fashion,” Duddy-Burke said in a statement on Monday.
“Any gains that have been made in achieving LGBTQI rights in recent decades have come at the cost of incalculable pain and sacrifice by LGBTQI people,” she said. “Rather than belittle such progress, the Pope should examine how the Catholic Church has contributed to the unjust oppression of LGBTQI people for centuries, and how its unsung LGBTQI clergy and vowed religious men and women have contributed immeasurably to the good it has done.”
Francis’ remarks were part of a four-hour-long interview he had in August with the missionary priest Fernando Prado. The Strength of Vocation, a book containing a transcript of the interview, will be published in 10 languages next week. Excerpts from the book appeared on the Italian news website Corriere della Sera on Saturday.
In the excerpts, Francis said that homosexuality in the Catholic Church is something that “worries” him. He said seminaries and convents should take great care to screen out gay and lesbian applicants who may not keep their vows to celibacy.
“The Church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into (priestly) ministry or consecrated life,” he said in the interview, according to Reuters.
He urged queer priests and nuns who have already taken their vows (which include a vow of celibacy) to in fact remain celibate. If they can’t, Francis said, “it is better that they leave the priesthood or the consecrated life rather than live a double life.”
Duddy-Burke said Francis’ comments suggest that gay and lesbian Catholics are somehow less able than their straight peers to commit themselves to religious life. The comments also portray LGBTQ Catholics as a threat to the church, she said. .
“His comments reinforce negative and long discredited stereotypes that have led to discrimination and violence against our community,” Duddy-Burke said. “Furthermore, they are demeaning to all the lesbian sisters and gay priests and brothers who have faithfully served the church for decades, and to all who are currently preparing for such ministries.”
Catholic doctrine teaches that there’s a difference between experiencing same-sex attraction and acting on these feelings. While the church preaches that gay and lesbian Catholics should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” it still claims that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
In 2005, under Pope Benedict XVI’s watch, the Vatican declared that priesthood candidates who have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or support “gay culture” should not be ordained.
For his part, Francis has taken a “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach towards LGBTQ Catholics. He’s made several welcoming gestures ― including reportedly telling a gay sex-abuse survivor in May that “God made you this way.” But ultimately, the pontiff remains loyal to church teaching.
Days after his conversation with the abuse survivor, Francis reportedly advised Italian bishops to “keep your eyes open” for priesthood applicants who may be gay.
“If in doubt, better not let them enter,” he said at the meeting, according to Reuters.
Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit author who for years has urged greater dialogue between the church and LGBTQ Catholics, suggested on Twitter that Francis wasn’t arguing against the ordination of gay priests as a whole, but specifically against gay priests who don’t lead celibate lives.
Still, Martin said, Francis’ words about homosexuality being “fashionable” were “wrong and hurtful.”
“It goes against every reputable psychiatrist and, more important, the experience of LGBT people,” Martin wrote on Twitter Monday.
Robert Shine, associate director of the queer Catholic advocacy group New Ways Ministry, said in a blog post that Francis has “much to learn” about sexuality and gender issues.
“The closet in which so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy and religious are forced is destructive,” Shine wrote. “The culture of shame such exclusionary policies enforce harms the entire People of God.”