A few days ago, Pope Francis met privately with parents of LGBT children. He listened to their experiences dealing with the church and what their children were going through. One parent felt this way: “Church rules made me think that [my gay son] was excluded from the love of God. Nobody helped me.”
The pope, as far as we know, said nothing more than to encourage the parents present, telling them their children were loved by God as they are. The church loves them, he said, because they are “children of God.”
The progressive left in the Catholic Church eat this stuff up while it discourages many on the right. Pope Francis has no problem meeting with members of the LGBT community, as well as priests who are sympathetic to a progressive way of understanding sexuality.
This, along with so much other signaling from the pope, has made enemies on the right – at least here in the United States. “Traditionalists” have been making a vocal comeback in the church.
I wrote about the danger of legalism in this movement, but I sympathize with them. I’m right-leaning myself and have a hard time understanding how a person can call themselves “Catholic” while denying teachings of the church – in this case, on homosexuality and traditional marriage.
That being said, is this reason to call Pope Francis a heretic? Has he crossed the theological line? Is he a wolf in shepherd’s clothing? It’s a bold accusation, and for all I know it’s true. But if we take a more charitable view of the vicar of Christ, what might his approach teach us about how to interact with those who want to mold the church into modern society’s image?
Imagine you are the pope, again, sitting with those parents in the room. They open their hearts to you about the pain they have felt in the church, trying to love their children and love the church as well. They express their hurt over seeing their children excluded in so many ways by religious people. Maybe they even express how they wish the church would change it’s teaching on homosexuality. It could say that it made a mistake, that the church was wrong when it said homosexuality is “internally disordered.”
What do you say to these hurting parents who have just opened their hearts to you? Do you bludgeon them with Article Z, Paragraph X stating that they are wrong? Do you lecture them on the authority of the Magisterium to pronounce infallible teaching on issues of sexuality?
Or do you do what Pope Francis did? You feel the room and feel the moment. You say a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for the words these parents need to hear. And out of your mouth comes this: “God loves your children just as they are.”
Keep in mind, a decade ago, when Pope Francis was an Archbishop in Argentina, he vigorously opposed legislation that would make gay marriage legal in the country. He has come out against gender theory as well.
But behind the abstract discussions of policy and politics are real people. So many of us on the right would rather deal with the former and ignore the latter – including myself. And when we actually talk to people who are gay, trans, progressive, or whatever else, the primary truth they need to hear is the same one we need to hear every day: God loves you as you are.
This doesn’t mean we play the game of picking and choosing what we want to believe as Catholics. I take personal offense at that. I had to give up my wonderful protestant community to become Catholic. I have painful memories of arguments with friends and family, and I had to stand in front of a congregation of Catholics and say, “I believe everything the Catholic Church teaches.” Hearing fellow Catholics treat these teachings as optional makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.
But if all LGBT people hear from us is that they are wrong about sexuality, we haven’t told them the whole truth, or even the most important truth. If our attitude communicates that we simply want to prove them wrong, we’ve missed something. You have to wonder why so many “sinners” were drawn to Jesus. Love is the only thing that draws people in like that.
Imagine now the pain of a boy growing up in a conservative Catholic home who realizes, to his horror, that he is attracted to other boys. He hears from the pulpit that his emotions are wrong. The guys at his Catholic school crack callous jokes about homosexuals. He tries to find a path of change through the Sacraments, which he is told have incredible spiritual power. Maybe he is prayed over during a Charismatic service. Still, despite everything, he is gay.
I promise you, the first thing that boy needs to hear is that God loves him as he is. The fifth, sixth, or maybe tenth thing he needs to hear is that the church teaches that homosexual acts – not homosexual tendencies – are sinful. Then you give him space to sort through this. You pray for him. You entrust his soul to God. And you never stop being his friend. Even if you can’t agree with him, you never allow him a single doubt in his mind that you love him.
Can I be this way? Can we? Looking at my own legalistic heart and seeing how vicious we on the right can be, I’m not sure. Can we hold in tension church teaching on one hand and a merciful heart on the other?
We have to. We’re Catholic.
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