So you thought Pope Francis began a storm of news 'n' views three years ago, when he said, "Who am I to judge" gays? Well, brace yourself for the summertime blizzard of news and commentary with his latest remark -- that the church should apologize to gays, women, children, the poor and, apparently, anyone who likes weapons.
It was on another of those in-flight press conferences, like the one in 2013 when he dropped his non-judgmental bomb. Mainstream media love to pounce on Francis' off-the-cuff remarks, but few of them recognize the conversations flowing just under the surface -- even when they occasionally break into the open.
Yesterday, Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service asked Francis if the church should apologize to gays in the wake of Omar Mateen's shooting spree, killing 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. She was asking because Cardinal Reinhard Marx had said the church had marginalized gays.
The pope answered with, well, an apology spree. Says the Associated Press:
Francis responded with a variation of his famous "Who am I to judge?" comment and a repetition of church teaching that gays must not be discriminated against but treated with respect.
He said some politicized behaviors of the homosexual community can be condemned for being "a bit offensive for others." But he said: "Someone who has this condition, who has good will and is searching for God, who are we to judge?"
"We must accompany them," Francis said.
"I think the church must not only apologize ... to a gay person it offended, but we must apologize to the poor, to women who have been exploited, to children forced into labor, apologize for having blessed so many weapons" and for having failed to accompany families who faced divorces or experienced other problems.
Does this signal the dawn of a "progressive" era in the church? Not according to a particular Dawn -- Catholic scholar and GR alumna Dawn Eden:
She's referring to remarks by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. But what he said was rather muddy. AP quotes him saying that Francis "wasn't referring to a medical 'condition' when he spoke of gays, but rather a lifestyle situation." Apparently, neither he nor Francis was asked further about it.
Reuters says obliquely that Lombardi "said that the pope, by saying 'has that condition,' did not imply a medical condition but 'a person in that situation.' In Italian, the word 'condition' can also mean 'situation.' "
Umm, OK. But if one looks at the unedited transcript, Francis didn’t simply baptize the LGBT condition. Although he repeated church teaching that gays "must be respected and accompanied pastorally," he added:
One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior...Certain manifestations are a bit too offensive for others, no? ... But these are things that have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge?
Many media have been, shall we say, casual about reporting that caveat. CNN has it, but CBS News does not. Neither did the BBC, although it acknowledged that the church has taught "that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not."
And I don't know how much time AP had before publication, but some background from the Catholic hierarchy in Florida would have helped. Bishops in that state -- which was, after all, the site of the shooting -- have been holding their own verbal crossfire on the matter.
In mid-June, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg wrote his beliefs in his blog, which was picked up by the Washington Post: "Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence."
That got a rebuke from Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who cited Lynch's blog post without naming him. In a sermon kicking off his annual Fortnight for Freedom, he railed against those who blame Christianity for Mateen's murders in Orlando. He criticized the New York Times, CNN's Anderson Cooper, and "one bishop who should know better."
"Where in our faith, where in our teachings — I ask you — do we target and breed contempt for any group of people?" Wenski continued. "Our religion gives no comfort, no sanction to a racist, or a misogynist, or a homophobe ... Christians who support traditional marriage did not kill 49 people. Omar Mateen did."
Even Florida newspapers like the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times have missed this altogether. It's been groups like Catholic Culture, the National Catholic Register -- and, of course, the gay Catholic New Ways Ministry -- that have spotted this.
The main outlet I've seen that offers a full-bodied look is the Daily Beast -- if you can overlook its typical prose, heavily laced with opinion. The Beast not only reports the theological objections to gays, but Francis' earlier statements against gay marriage. It even logs the disagreement between conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke and liberal leader Francis DeBernardo, New Ways executive director.
"The pope himself has had as difficult a time as anyone in terms of squaring how he feels with what he, as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, can actually do," says Beast writer Barbie Latza Nadeau. She also says the church's two major synods on the family produced a "somewhat watered down version of acceptance and a plea not to slam the door on gays, though never opening it to gay marriage, a sentiment which the pope accepted." (I warned you it was slanted.)
There is much more to say on all of this, of course. And since the papal plane press conference was just yesterday, you can expect the blizzard to blow only harder. Bundle up.