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“Judge not, that ye be not judged,” Christ said two millenia ago. Pope Francis’ recent restatement of this—-“A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—-well, who am I to judge him?”—-will surprise only those who have accepted the ugliest stereotypes of Christian moral teaching. Is the Pope’s statement newsworthy? No, except in the sense of being the good news everywhere and always in need of proclaiming.

Francis’ comments were aimed not at revising the Church’s moral teaching but rather at distinguishing between the Church’s pastoral response to homosexuality and its resistance to groups—-among them the so-called “gay lobby”—-that work to manipulate the Church and undermine its teaching:

A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—-well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation—-we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.

Far from suggesting any revision in Church teaching, Francis explicitly rejects “lobbying . . . for this orientation.” Francis welcomes gay persons while resisting any pressure to silence Christian moral witness.

Nor do Pope Francis’ comments revise the Church’s position on the ordination of gay priests. A 1961 directive signed by Pope John XXIII outlined church policy. “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.”

In a 2005 document, Benedict XVI reiterated this determination:

The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no circumstance can they be approved . . . . In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture.”

Benedict XVI stated in an interview, “The greatest attention is needed here in order to prevent the intrusion of this kind of ambiguity and to head off a situation where the celibacy of priests would practically end up being identified with the tendency to homosexuality.”

None of these statements offer the existence of a “gay lobby” as a reason for barring gays from the priesthood. Which is why Francis’ distinction is so welcome: He reminds us that the Church’s reasons for barring gays from the priesthood would hold even if there were not a so-called gay lobby seeking to influence the Vatican for its own ends. It’s typical of this pope that even while making such this distinction he stresses the fundamental fact of Christ’s love and forgiveness of all.

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