The Great Commandment
Pope Francis reassured some people and confused others when he reportedly told a young homosexual man that “God made you like that and he loves you like that and I do not care”.
These words were quoted by Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim of sexual abuse, who had a private meeting with the Holy Father.
Those who found Pope Francis’ words encouraging will have recognised in them the caring response one might expect of a loving parent.
These words reflect God’s love for any of us, which is unconditional. They also serve to include those who feel excluded from the Church, and thereby separated from God. But these words have also confused and alarmed some people, who fear that the pope’s response might lead to a dilution of Catholic doctrine.
The pope is teaching the faithful that our mission is to communicate God’s love for all, not to issue censures.
But these words have also confused and alarmed some people, who fear that the pope’s response might lead to a dilution of Catholic doctrine.
But there is no such dilution.
Firstly, these words are the reported speech of Pope Francis. Of course we know that Pope Francis’ famous words, “Who am I to judge?”, represented a change in papal tone. It is perfectly plausible that Pope Francis actually said what Mr Cruz quoted. But they have no official standing. Theologians struggle to reach a consensus on whether God “made” homosexuality, or why he permits any disordered desires, addictions, illnesses and so on.
Secondly, Pope Francis at that moment spoke to Mr Cruz as a pastor and father in faith, not as the head of the magisterium. His words, uttered in private conversation, do not change the doctrines of the Church.
Thirdly, “God made you like that” is too vague a phrase to have invested in it much theological weight. Theologians struggle to reach a consensus on whether God “made” homosexuality, or why he permits any disordered desires, addictions, illnesses and so on.
Finally, a clear line must be drawn between the situation of being homosexual and the choice of engaging in sexual activity. Pope Francis, in his words to Mr Cruz, referred to the former condition. The Catechism teaches that being homosexual is, in itself, not a sin.
The Church teaches that homosexuals, like all people who are not in a marriage between a man and a woman, are called to chastity, and married partners to absolute fidelity.
The Church knows, and God knows, that some people will succeed in this calling, and many will fail. This is true for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals, and even for some priests. It is the human condition. We all have desires and inclinations that tempt us to sin, sexually and otherwise. That is a lifelong battle which we must aim to win through God’s grace.
We all have desires and inclinations that tempt us to sin, sexually and otherwise. That is a lifelong battle which we must aim to win through God’s grace.
And it’s a struggle in which we are not at liberty to cast sideways glances at the sins of others by way of judgment — though we are, of course, obliged to encourage one another in a spirit of charity to avoid sin.
The Holy Father, the “Pope of the Gospel”, counsels us not to judge. Judgment is God’s prerogative, not ours.
We need not be confused, never mind alarmed or scandalised, by Pope Francis’ approach to pastoral mercy. We find it in the Gospel, practised by Jesus, who let a woman of loose virtues become his first non-Jewish apostle and who saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned in judgment. And every time she’d fall, he would be there to raise her up as he is there for us. That woman is all of us.
Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more, but he knew that she was going to sin again in some way or another, and perhaps against her best judgment. And every time she’d fall, he would be there to raise her up as he is there for us. That woman is all of us.
Christ commands us to love, not judge. We are called to love, which precedes love of the law.
St Paul explained the primacy of love in the first verses of 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” and so on.
Pope Francis in his words to Mr Cruz gave us a demonstration of how to act with love and how to communicate God’s love for us. This should neither confuse us nor scandalise us — it must inspire us to always pursue the Great Commandment.