Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has made hospitality one of the doors of evangelization in the Catholic Church. Starting from the principle that one does not attract non-believers or crowds in spiritual search with lessons in doctrine, and considering that family and sexual morality had monopolized too much the institutional voice over the past few years, he urged to a change in tone and attitude.
And this, first of all towards people traditionally considered to be in a situation irregular » with regard to doctrine – remarried divorcees, cohabiting couples, homosexual persons and couples. To make God’s mercy felt by welcoming more, speaking less of doctrine: it was on this principle that the first synod on the family was held.
During this event, which took place in the Vatican in the presence of bishops from all over the world, some voices had warned at the time that pastoral and doctrine must, despite everything, go hand in hand, failing which, at some point, a distortion between substance (doctrine) and form (pastoral) would result in disappointment on all sides.
An ambiguous attitude on homosexuality?
This pastoral of welcome and mercy breathed in by Francis caused a fresh wind to blow through the Catholic Church, arousing renewed sympathy in public opinion and the media, at the same time as it generated lively debates and internal polarizations. If the debate on the reception of divorced-remarried has fallen a little, it would seem that that on homosexuality is far from being closed.
And the passes of arms are all the more lively as the Pope’s thought on the subject is difficult to grasp. François is the man of the “Who am I to judge? » – in reality the quote is longer and more complex “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge that person? ». He wrote a letter to the American Jesuit priest James Martin, committed to LGBT people, to congratulate him on his “pastoral zeal”.
In a documentary film titled francescoand broadcast for the first time in October 2021, where he was asked about his frontal opposition to marriage for same-sex couples during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he has, without going back on his position of l era, advocated in favor of “civil unions”as a means of providing same-sex couples with a “legal coverage”.
On several occasions he encouraged parents with a gay child not to reject him, but to accompany him – including to a shrink, if the tendency appears early, as he suggested in a short sentence pronounced on the plane after returning from a trip, which caused a lot of reaction all over the world.
Do not change the doctrine
But it was also under his pontificate, in 2016, that the Roman instruction of 2005 which asked not to ordain candidates with deep homosexual tendencies as priests was confirmed (Ratio fundamentalis, Congregation for the Clergy, p 183, points 199 and 200). Moreover, on this subject as on others, the pope has never shown any desire to change the doctrine.
After Francis came out in favor of civil unions in the aforementioned documentary, the Secretariat of State sent an internal note to nuncios around the world – and one cannot imagine that this was done without the Pope’s agreement – in specifying that Francis did not touch on doctrine but only referred to certain state provisions.
Six months later, François also “agreed to” – and no ” approved “ the nuance is important – the publication of a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), a responsibilityrepeating the ban on blessing same-sex unions.
Join people in search of God “with gestures of love”
This publication has aroused many criticisms, including that of the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn – who is none other than the publisher of the catechism of the Catholic Church, this same catechism which evokes “intrinsically disordered acts” ! – or the one from Chicago, Blase Cupich, believing that she was hurting people unnecessarily. At the time, Vaticanists in circles closest to the pope said the tone of the CDF note would have displeased Francis himself.
In the angelus following the controversy, the pope had in fact called to join people in search of God not by “theoretical convictions”but “with gestures of love”. And the secretary of the CDF who had submitted the text to the pope, Giacomo Morandi, had been appointed bishop of a diocese in northern Italy less than a year later (January 2022), in a heavy context, this which had been interpreted by some as a “purge”, even if the link between this appointment and the responsibility has never been established.
What is clear is that with the reform of the Curia, whose new constitution was published in March 2022, the Dicastery for Evangelization has been placed at the top of the organizational chart, in the place previously occupied by the CDF, which became Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. A clear signal given by the pope that the priority is evangelization before doctrine, which sheds light on his delicate positioning in relation to the question of homosexuality.
A “tinkering with Catholic morality”
But we also see that this method of “pastoral first” in the service of the mission caused dissatisfaction on both sides, seeming to agree with the Cassandres of the synod on the family. On the one hand, doctrinal advocates interpret this pastoral openness as a form of relativism or as opening a gap for doctrinal change.
On the other hand, a good number of homosexual Catholics in a couple or aspiring to form a couple experience growing uneasiness when they are told and shown that they are more than ever welcome as ” people “but that “acts of homosexuality » remain considered as “intrinsically disordered”.
Some thus deplore a form of “tinkering with Catholic morality using ‘footnotes'” – an allusion to how the pope had opened the door on a case-by-case basis to communion for remarried divorcees in a footnote to the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitiaat the end of the synod on the family – update of the software.
Strong cultural divides
Moreover, since Catholicism is universal, the pope must also come to terms with the bishops of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, who perceive openness to homosexuality as a Western-centric fad, and are satisfied with the current state of the doctrine.
Here we find a cultural and theological divide which almost caused the Anglican Communion to burst, between the American and British Churches, liberal on LGBT issues, and the African Churches, reluctant to the point of approving legislation targeting homosexuals. in Uganda and Nigeria. An excess which Rome has always guarded against, advocating the decriminalization of homosexuality for several years.
Thus, the debate over how to interpret the “true false” blessing of same-sex couples – blessing or community prayer? -, proposed by the Flemish bishops reflects the uncertainties on the question.
And the difficulty of doing pastoral work without involving the doctrinal. Because at some point, the tension between the two must be resolved, either in one direction or another. In this context, the reaction – or non-reaction – Vatican will be particularly scrutinized as the thirst for clarity is great. And the visit ad limina in two months of the Belgian bishops is already awaited as one of the great appointments of the winter.