Pope Francis recently had a private meeting in the Vatican with a same-sex “couple” – “Diego” Neria Lejárraga, a woman from Plasencia, Spain, who had a “gender change” surgery, and her “wife”. The story was initially published in the Spanish periodical Hoy, and reported by various other publications like Rorate Caeli, as well as various Italian publications such as Corriere della Sera, Repubblica, Il Giornale, etc.
Regarding the encounter with the pope, Diego said: “I would have never dared before [to do gender change surgery], but with Pope Francis, yes; after hearing him in so many interventions, I felt that he would listen to me.”
Gradual “Softening” of the Church’s Stand?
This new development muddles up an already confusing situation as to where the pope really stands in regard to same sex marriages. Pope Francis has generally toned down the Church’s stand with regard to same sex marriages. In his press conference on the way back to Rome after his trip to Brazil, he told reporters: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” In another widely-publicized interview published in September 2013, Pope Francis told Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible…it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
And yet, in various other instances, the pope has taken the traditional Church line on the impossibility of homosexual marriages. In November 2014, Pope Francis told an interreligious conference on traditional marriage that preserving the family as an institution based on marriage between a man and a woman is not a political cause but a matter of “human ecology,” since “children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
In “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”), the first encyclical of Pope Francis jointly written with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the two popes say marriage should be a “stable union of man and woman.” It continues, “This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation.”
What the Catechism and Previous Popes Say About Same Sex Marriage
Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are ‘intrinsically disordered,’ though it stresses that gays should be treated with compassion and dignity. As Pope and as head of the Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog before that, Pope Benedict has been a strong enforcer of that teaching: One of the first major documents released during his pontificate said men with ‘deep-seated’ homosexual tendencies shouldn’t be ordained priests.
In his 2012 Christmas message to the Vatican Bureaucracy, Pope Benedict said that gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined “the future of humanity itself.” He emphasised that children needed proper “settings”, and that “pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman.”
“This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” he said.
The Catechism (2359-2360) is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. Homosexuals are called to a self-sacrificing chastity, and cannot enter into a “marriage”:
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.Conjugal Love. Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.
The Catechism (2358) likewise emphasises that although homosexual persons must be treated with respect, homosexuality itself is “objectively disordered”:
This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Actions Speak Louder than Words?
If it is indeed true that Pope Francis recently met with a same sex couple in a private audience in the Vatican, then it is a very strong signal of acceptance of same sex marriage – a direct contradiction, though, with the Church’s clear, unequivocal stand on this matter. While we do take comfort in some words of support for the Church’s stand in this matter, we cannot avoid suffering some confusion with some of the pope’s contradicting messages (“if a person is a gay…who am I to judge?”) and actions.
They say that actions speak louder than words. In the case of the pope and same sex marriage, for the sake of the family, let us hope and pray that this cliche does not apply.