“Who am I to judge?”
These words, spoken by Pope Francis in reply to a question about gay priests, may represent a change of direction for the Catholic Church and signal a move away from the censure and moralizing that have come to characterize it. This is something for which many Catholics have long been waiting.
The condemnation of homosexuality within (and without) the Church was a case in point, because it seemed to rest on three predeterminations:
1. That homosexuality is a choice.
If there is no ‘choice,’ then the Church is condemning people for being as God made them. Homosexuality may be a choice for some, but most of us end up staring at the boy or girl in front of us at some point in our lives and that’s that. From that moment, the only choice to be made is one of sexual fulfillment or not.
2. That this choice is sinful.
While there may be some places in the Old Testament where homosexuality might appear to be condemned, Jesus never cared about the sexual inclinations or practices of any of the people he encountered. He merely welcomed those who wanted to be welcomed, accepted those who asked to be accepted, and forgave those who asked to be forgiven. It was simple really, very simple.
3. That there are those who are in a position to cast judgment.
The only people Jesus judged in his life and parables were those who stood in judgment of others. In John 7:53-8:11, when the adulterous woman is brought before Jesus by the “scribes and Pharisees” to be stoned, it’s these men that Jesus challenges, not the woman. And in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), it’s the good son’s resentment and judgment that become his punishment.
The sexual strictures of the Church – celibacy for priests, heterosexuality for members, opposition to the use of birth control, etc. – are trivial concerns at best. And the judgment that arises from trivial concerns is more bias than anything else.
This Pope seems to understand that.
The Catholic Church is global, sovereign, wealthy, and historic. It has set the standards by which we measure our years and much of Western art, music, literature and architecture. It has been simultaneously sacred and profane, both revered and despised. Yet it stands alone as an institution on this fragile planet and amongst restless and growing populations that may desire or, indeed, require its intercession.
So we can only hope that this singular Pope and this distinctive Church have at last begun to withdraw the pointing finger, offering instead an embrace that’s wide and warm and welcoming of all God’s children – the way Jesus did.