If you have read the news lately, you’d think that Pope Francis was out changing all the theology of the Catholic church and making it more progressive. According to this article, the Pope will “send shockwaves through the church” with his latest announcement that he doesn’t judge homosexuals. Most news outlets act like what he is saying is somehow new or something the Catholic church has never encountered.
Of course, what do you do with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states,
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. 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. (CCC#2358)
Some of the more honest news agencies, or those who are better informed, are saying that while they recognize the Pope isn’t saying anything new, he is “changing the atmosphere” for the Catholic church. Well, let’s look at what the Pope said, shall we?
“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”
“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”
Certainly that statement will send shockwaves. Of course, that statement, while said by the Pope, was not said by the current Pope. It was, instead, said by Pope Benedict XVI. It also wasn’t said while he was pope, but instead when he was just Cardinal Ratzinger, in 1986. It was also given the written approval of Pope John Paul II.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the media has gotten it wrong on what the Catholic church teaches. Consider how the Huffington Post stated that the Pope taught atheists could go to Heaven. Of course, by saying that atheists were capable of virtue and that by doing good works they could meet Catholics halfway, he was merely restating (though in different terms) the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states:
Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion but the imputability of the offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. (CCC#2125)
Now, I am not a Roman Catholic. I have no real interest in whether or not the Pope “goes off the reservation” within the Roman church. I think his office is given far too much authority and I disagree with quite a few other aspects in Roman theology (notably the idea of original guilt, immaculate conception, Filioque, and so on). Thus, I am no apologist for the Roman church, but if you’re going to report on something it’s probably best that you understand what you’re reporting.
Saying that the Pope’s message on homosexuality will send “shockwaves” is no different than saying his message on helping the poor will send shockwaves; the only people who will be shocked will be the ill-informed and uneducated. Instead, the news media – and America in general – is so fascinated by personal experience that we let it overpower our thinking. Many lapsed Catholics (some of whom don’t realize they’re lapsed because they don’t understand their own faith) have an image of what Roman teachings were and are, so when the Pope goes against their perception they think he’s actually going against Roman dogma. The reality is, though the Pope can speak ex cathedra, he is still limited by the councils and by dogma. Thus, he can’t just change the rules mid-game.
What many people fail to realize is that the Roman church is not Protestant and that the Protestant church is not Roman. That might be tautological to some people, but the media tends to act as though the Roman church is no different than the Protestant church. In the Southern Baptist convention, if the majority of delegates change their mind on homosexuality, on inerrancy, or any matter of doctrine, they can change the belief of the entire denomination. The authority in such Protestant denominations comes from the masses. The Roman church, however, is confessional. The authority in the Roman church comes from Tradition and Scripture. The Roman faith is both sacramental and confessional, meaning the authority and teachings were determined over a thousand years ago and not by modern feelings.
This confessional faith means that even if 99% of Catholics believed one thing or acted a certain way, that doesn’t change the teachings of the Roman church. To put it bluntly, the Roman church is not a democracy. What the majority believe is quite irrelevant to the teachings of the Roman church. Thus, when people say, “Well I used to be Catholic and this isn’t a Catholic teaching” or “The Church needs to change x,” what they’re really saying is, “I’m not that informed on what the Catholic church teaches.” It doesn’t matter what one thinks the Roman church teaches, what matters is what the Roman church actually teaches.
What the Pope said will send no shockwaves throughout the church. He was simply stating what is already taught within the Catholic teachings. Yet, the media will continue in their ignorance and laziness, rather than reporting accurately (or refusing to report a non-story), they will report sensationally, only aiding in further dumbing down an already gullible public.