Conversations with Pope Francis

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

In August, Pope Francis was in Portugal for World Youth Day. During his apostolic journey, he met with several groups and conducted different dialogues on varying topics. Two of his topics captured my attention. One was his answer on the topic of homosexuality and transgenderism. Another was his answer on the query regarding the dissent within the Catholic Church among bishops and priests.

One priest does pastoral work every day with young university students very committed to the church and who identify as homosexuals. According to the priest, these students feel they are an active part of the church but do not see in the doctrine their way of living effectively.  This young priest continued by saying: “… they do not see the call to chastity as a personal call to celibacy but rather as an imposition. Since they are virtuous in other areas of their lives and know their doctrine, can we say that they are all in error because they do not feel in conscience that their relationships are sinful?”

I feel I should clarify that even though the Pope has previously said that homosexuals are welcome in the Church, it is still part of Church teachings that homosexual acts are sinful.

Here is the Pope’s answer to that question: “I believe there is no discussion about the call being addressed to everyone. Jesus is very clear about this: The invited guests did not want to come to the banquet. So he sent out to the streets to call in everyone, everyone, everyone. So that it remains clear, Jesus says ‘healthy and sick,’ ‘righteous and sinners,’ everyone, everyone, everyone. In other words, the door is open to everyone, everyone has their own space in the Church. How will each person live it out? We help people live so that they can occupy that place with maturity, and this applies to all kinds of people.

In Rome I know a priest who works with young homosexuals. It is clear that today the issue of homosexuality is very strong, and the sensitivity in this regard changes according to historical circumstances. But what I don’t like at all, in general, is that we look at the so-called ‘sin of the flesh’ with a magnifying glass, just as we have done for so long for the sixth commandment. If you exploited workers, if you lied or cheated, it didn’t matter, and instead sins below the waist were relevant.

“So, everyone is invited. This is the point. And the most appropriate pastoral attitude for each person must be applied. We must not be superficial and naive, forcing people into things and behaviors for which they are not yet mature, or are not capable. It takes a lot of sensitivity and creativity to accompany people spiritually and pastorally. But everyone, everyone, everyone is called to live in the Church: never forget that.

“I take a cue from your question and want to add something else that concerns transgender people. The Wednesday general audiences are attended by a Charles de Foucauld sister, Sister Geneviève, who is in her eighties and is a chaplain at the Circus in Rome with two other sisters. They live in a mobile home next to the Circus. One day I went to visit them. They have a little chapel, a kitchen, sleeping area, everything well organized. And that nun also works a lot with people who are transgender. One day she said, ‘Can I bring them to the audience?’ ‘Sure!’ I answered her, ‘why not?’ And groups of trans come all the time. The first time they came, they were crying. I was asking them why. One of them told me, ‘I didn’t think the pope would receive me!’ Then, after the first surprise, they made a habit of coming. Some write to me, and I email them back. Everyone is invited! I realized that these people feel rejected, and it is really hard.”

Another person told the Pope that in the United States, even the bishops were criticizing his leadership of the Church. Here are excerpts from his answer:

“You have seen that in the United States the situation is not easy: there is a very strong reactionary attitude. It is organized and shapes the way people belong, even emotionally. I would like to remind those people that indietrismo (being backward-looking) is useless and we need to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals as long as we follow the three criteria that Vincent of Lérins already indicated in the fifth century: doctrine evolves ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate. In other words, doctrine also progresses, expands and consolidates with time and becomes firmer, but is always progressing. Change develops from the roots upward, growing in accord with these three criteria.

“Let us get to specifics. Today it is a sin to possess atomic bombs; the death penalty is a sin. You cannot employ it, but it was not so before. As for slavery, some pontiffs before me tolerated it, but things are different today. So you change, you change, but with the criteria just mentioned. I like to use the ‘upward’ image, that is, ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate. Always on this path, starting from the root with sap that flows up and up, and that is why change is necessary.”

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