ROME, March 13, 2014 ( – Citing the “new paradigm” of Pope Francis one year after his election to the throne of Peter, the archbishop of Lucca in Tuscany suggested to an interviewer this week on the Italian state television network, RAI, that the time has come for the Church to become more open to homosexuality and same-sex civil unions.

“All diversity is wealth,” Archbishop Benvenuto Castellani said in reply to a question from an interviewer about Church acceptance of homosexuality.

The archbishop’s frank remarks are part of a shift in public pronouncements on homosexuality from many Church leaders under Pope Francis in the wake of his famous remark, “Who am I to judge?” In that vein, earlier this week Cardinal Timothy Dolan publicly congratulated an American football star for “coming out” as an active homosexual.


“Good for him,” said Cardinal Dolan. “I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya.”

In the interview with RAI, Archbishop Castellani called Francis “the pope of dialogue, a dialogue demanding and non-trivial. But to bring order and peace there needs to be the cultural value of dialogue. And for this you need a Pope who dialogues institutionally.”

RAI’s Vaticanist, Raffaele Luise, suggested that the time had come for a “cultural revolution” in the Church “which would include the fact that homosexuality is not a deviation but a human attitude.” Castellani agreed, calling this part of the “new paradigm” in which “all diversity is wealth.”

“In my life as a pastor,” he added, “I have seen and experienced many situations … and I am convinced that it is time for Christians to open themselves to diversity.”

He also endorsed the proposal of Cardinal Walter Kasper to “readmit” divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion after a “period of penance,” saying he felt it likely the pope would support the plan. If this plan fails, he added, “what will also fail is not only a chance for the Church but also a chance to eliminate many vices in society and even within the Church, such as the idolatry of money.”

The pope, he continued, must make this “brave attempt to change the Church and its approach to the world.”

He praised Pope Benedict for his “courageous” resignation, following with the critique that, unlike Francis, the pope emeritus had “a conception of the world as a besieged citadel, a world that looks to the past but without frank openness to the modern world, and this has weighed in his choices.”

Castellani is highly placed in the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference as chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Clergy and Consecrated Life and the Joint Commission of Bishops and Religious-Secular Institutes. In an interview in January with a local Lucca newspaper, Castellani was asked why the Church had not opposed plans by the municipality to create a register of same-sex “civil unions.”

He replied, “I think that the civil institution has its autonomy,” and added that he still felt the family, “as a natural institution” is the site of the “basic education of the younger generation” and without it society is like “a plant without deep roots.”

Castellani’s recent comments follow closely those of the Catholic bishop of Trier in Germany, Stephan Ackermann, who told the newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung Mainz that the responses from German Catholics of a Vatican-issued questionnaire on sexual issues show that the time has come to change Catholic teaching.

Catholics in Germany, Ackermann said, view the Church’s teaching as “repressive,”  “remote from life” and based on a “prohibition mentality.” He highlighted especially the issue dearest to the German episcopate’s heart, that of the barring of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics from Communion. “We bishops will have to make suggestions here. We must strengthen people’s sense of responsibility and then respect their decisions of conscience,” he said.

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While the Church must “hold fast” to the teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, “we cannot simply say homosexuality is unnatural,” he said. The Church cannot “just ignore” registered same-sex unions in which the partners have promised to be “faithful” to each other.

“The Christian view of man goes by the polarity of the sexes, but we can not simply say that homosexuality is unnatural,” he said.

Ackermann added that it is no longer “appropriate to consider a new marriage after divorce as a permanent mortal sin and the remarried in no way ever to be allowed back to the sacraments.” 

“We are there to make suggestions,” Ackermann said, adding that it is not “tenable” to consider all kinds of pre-marital sex as seriously sinful.

“We can not completely change the Catholic doctrine, but [we must] develop criteria by which we say: In this and this particular case it is conscionable. It’s not that there is only the ideal on the one hand and the condemnation on the other side.”

Other major liberal Catholic players of the past have resurfaced during Francis’ pontificate, and come out strongly in favour of the pope’s new “style.” Celebrity Swiss theologian and long-time academic opponent of Pope Benedict XVI, Hans Kung, has recently stated that with the election of Francis he sees no need now to oppose the pope.

Kung said he is “overjoyed” about Pope Francis. “He has already achieved some things that can no longer be withdrawn,” Kung told Südwestpresse. “To think that he was not a reformer, would be to close our eyes to the facts.” 

Kung was a bitter opponent of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, clashing repeatedly over the full roster of liberal causes, including abortion, homosexuality, contraception and female ordination and papal infallibility, among others. In 1979 the Vatican removed his faculties to teach as a Catholic theologian. The censure launched Kung into the realm of professional anti-Catholic spokesmen and he became an instant celebrity, doing lecture and book tours outlining his objections to Catholic teaching. Despite his open and insistent denial of key Catholic teachings, Kung has been allowed to remain a priest in good standing throughout the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  

He told Südwestpresse that although Francis’ program remains unclear, the signals he has been sending from the first minute of his pontificate are ringing clearly. “I have made many proposals for reform in the course of my life. But that a Pope could leave the papal palace in such an elegant way. I could not imagine.”

Meanwhile, the homosexualist movement has unofficially adopted Francis’ comment last year as its most popular recent slogan. A social networking website launched T-shirts featuring the pope’s face and the caption, “Who am I to judge?” Pope Francis, the company says, has “stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of Popes and bishops.” 

“It’s no wonder world leaders are making haste to visit the Vatican and to wrap themselves in Francis’ glowing public perception.”

NBC News wrote in connection to the pope’s first anniversary, “Scolding is out in Rome; hand holding is in.” NBC quoted veteran American Vatican reporter John Thavis, who said that Francis’ approach to homosexuality is unique for the papacy.

“The fact is that previous popes in talking about homosexuality had always mentioned the word 'disordered' and when you use that term, it immediately alienates,” said Thavis. “Not only did Francis not use that word. He avoided the whole concept.”

In the face of the popular furor surrounding Pope Francis, there are some theologians who are sounding an alarm about his lack of “clarity” on some theological issues. Germain Grisez recently told Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan, that in his September 22nd interview he had created confusion.

“Insofar as I understand what Pope Francis had to say, I can agree with him,” Grisez wrote. “but he said some things that I do not understand,” a situation made worse by the misrepresentation from the media. Pope Francis had said that the teaching of the Church could not be proclaimed as the “transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

“Making this assertion suggests, unfortunately, a caricature of the teachings of recent pontificates,” Grisez said. Where Francis suggested that the “moral edifice of the Church” could “collapse like a house of cards,” Grisez complained, “Who knows what he means? The phrase is impressive. It reverberates in one’s depths. But if it was suggested by a spirit, it was not the Holy Spirit, for it is bound to confuse and mislead.”

At the same time the media is lionizing Francis, Pew Research has released a survey showing that despite the pope’s popularity among Catholics and non-Catholics, the new pontificate has had little concrete effect on their participation in the daily life of the Church. The poll found that most US Catholics expect Francis to make significant changes in Catholic doctrine.

Six out of ten said they expect that the prohibition against artificial contraception would be scrapped, and about half said the Church would allow priests to marry. More than two-thirds said it would recognize same-sex marriages by 2050. “More than eight-in-ten U.S. Catholics say they have a favorable view of the pontiff, including half who view him very favorably,” Pew Research said.

The widely talked-about “Francis effect” appears to have influenced attitudes and expectations more than the behaviour of Catholics, with about the same number attending weekly Masses and confessing regularly.

“There has been no measurable rise in the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic. Nor has there been a statistically significant change in how often Catholics say they go to Mass. And the survey finds no evidence that large numbers of Catholics are going to confession or volunteering in their churches or communities more often,” Pew says.