DURHAM, N.C. — A Duke University professor is warning today that Pope Francis’ weekend comments on gay priests are not indicative of changes in the Roman Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality.
On his return to Vatican City from his first foreign trip, Francis spoke briefly on the existence of gay priests.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said.
“You can’t marginalize these people,” Francis said, adding that gay priests’ sins should be forgiven and forgotten.
Paul Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School, said the pope’s comments shouldn’t be taken as a change in church policy.
“What the pope said perhaps signals a return to an earlier church position, in which the question isn’t so much about orientation as about action,” Griffiths said in a release from Duke University. “On this view, it’s what you do that counts, and so a chaste gay priest is no different from a chaste straight priest.”
Griffiths added, “I don’t think that what was said signals any change in the view that homosexual acts are sinful/disordered. It does signal, though, a very different rhetoric and style on the question than Benedict’s or John Paul’s. I should think that Francis has other priorities in his papacy than the gay question.”
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had signed a papal letter in 2005 saying that men with “deep-rooted homosexual tendencies” should not be priests. Pope John Paul II had issued similar directives. In 1986, John Paul wrote a letter, issued by his successor Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, that said homosexuality was a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil” and “must be seen as an objective disorder.”
John Paul’s and Ratzinger’s letter continued, “Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed to those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”