In his short reign, Pope Francis has developed a reputation for frugality and humility in accordance with his commitment to a Catholic Church of and for the poor. He prefers a wooden chair above the ornate papal throne, plain vestments and an ordinary vehicle. What does his frugality have in common with his views on the place of sexual morality? Quite a lot, it seems.
In an extensive interview given to the Jesuit magazine America, Pope Francis makes the point that there is simply too much emphasis within the Church on questions of sexual ethics, including homosexuality, abortion and contraception. A more frugal, less obsessive approach would be in order, he suggests.
Pope Francis is not so much challenging Church orthodoxies on morality and sexual ethics as he is urging a shift in emphasis from sex to more pressing concerns such as poverty.
And this is good news for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In many parts of the world, Catholic bishops make statements seemingly at odds with Catholic doctrine. The Holy See has taken a public stance in opposing violence, discrimination, and unjust criminal penalties against people in sexual and gender minorities. And yet some Church officials publicly support criminal penalties for consensual same-sex relations or oppose legislation designed to protect LGBT people from discrimination. Others make statements that fuel a climate of homophobia in which discrimination and violence occur.
Pope Francis is sending a clear message: LGBT people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and violence and discrimination have no place.
Pope Francis is seeking a shift in emphasis to issues such as poverty and injustice. And we can expect more surprises. According to Francis, in the same interview in America: “The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking.”
Open-ended thinking is a refreshing change. We look forward to Pope Francis ensuring that Church officials practice what the Church preaches.