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Pope Francis and homosexuality: confusing signs

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Cardinal Daneels in rainbow vestments
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Cardinal Kasper and Timothy Radcliffe enjoying a moment together

July 13, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- If “actions speak louder than words,” as the saying goes, the message of Pope Francis on homosexuality is increasingly confusing. On the one hand, he has reiterated the Church’s teaching that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman, and has even repeatedly condemned gender ideology, the intellectual underpinning of the LGBT movement. However both in his deeds - most notably his choice of advisors and prelates to elevate to higher positions - and omissions he has left an impression in many minds that seems very different from the Church’s tradition.

It is not only Catholic conservatives who have observed these mixed signals. In the wake of the demotion of prominent conservative Vatican cardinals like Raymond Burke and Mauro Piacenza, Vatican watchers both on the left and the right have pointed out the seeming favoritism of Pope Francis for liberal prelates. Italy’s conservative Vaticanist Marco Tossati dramatically described it as “open season on conservatives.” John Allen, one of the top Vatican watchers, although he falls on the left side of the spectrum of Catholic thought, has himself highlighted Pope Francis’ decisions regarding the demotion of conservative bishops and promotion of those on the left.

Allen has said Francis is being seen as engaging in an “ideological purge” of conservatives. “Many on the Catholic right can’t help but suspect that the recent preponderance of conservatives who’ve found themselves under the gun isn’t an accident,” Allen added. “Some perceive a through-the-looking-glass situation, in which upholding Catholic tradition is now perceived as a greater offense than rejecting it.”

This article is presented with love and respect for the Holy Father, in answer to his call for open dialogue and in light of his expressed thankfulness to a conservative Catholic writer who had voiced public concerns; concerns which the Pope said were “important” for him to receive.

Silence and ambiguity

Pope Francis has chosen to remain silent at key intervals, most especially in the aftermath of some of the most significant shifts in the globe regarding homosexuality – the same-sex “marriage” decisions of both Ireland and the United States.

Although journalists asked for comment, an eerie silence from Rome met last month’s judicial imposition of homosexual “marriage” on the United States. Similarly, after traditionally Catholic Ireland voted to support same-sex “marriage” in their referendum, comment from the pope himself was absent. Only after a few days did a comment appear from the Vatican Secretary of State calling the decision a “defeat for humanity.”

These silences come two years after the pope made his “who am I to judge” comment, which, while misconstrued in most media presentations and widely abused by advocates of same-sex “marriage,” has never been revisited by the Holy Father to clarify his intent - a clarification that could certainly put a swift end to the ubiquitous misuse of his words. Beyond this, the silence that met the first Synod on the Family’s interim document -- which, although approved by the Pope for release, presented a view on homosexuality at odds with Church teaching -- remains to this day. This despite the public pleading of Cardinal Raymond Burke for a clarification on that and related matters that could come only from the pope.

Equally concerning as this silence, however, have been the appointments to high office and stature in the Church of men with a position on homosexuality at variance with the established teaching of the Church.

The Church teaches that homosexual sex acts are gravely depraved. Regarding both homosexual “marriage” and even civil unions, it clearly states that “under no circumstances can they be approved.” This is the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach. The Church forbids any type of hatred or aggression towards persons with same-sex attraction and has been the leader in tending to those suffering from AIDS and other effects of harmful same-sex sexual behavior. The Church teaches that the homosexual inclination itself is not a sin, but nonetheless is objectively disordered because it is oriented towards sinful behavior. The teaching stresses that all unjust discrimination against men and women with same-sex attraction should be avoided, but acknowledges there is just discrimination in that regard. For example, it forbids men with deep-seated homosexual inclination from becoming priests.

The elevations

Bishop Heiner Koch: Bishop Koch was appointed June 8, 2015 by Pope Francis as the new Archbishop of Berlin, and selected as one of the three delegates of the German Bishops' Conference to participate in the upcoming October 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family. Koch has said, “Any bond that strengthens and holds people is in my eyes good; that applies also to same-sex relationships.” In another public interview he said: “To present homosexuality as sin is wounding. … I know homosexual pairs that live values such as reliability and responsibility in an exemplary way.”

Cardinal Godfried Danneels: The retired former archbishop of Brussels was a special appointment by Pope Francis to the 2014 Synod of Bishops. In addition to wearing rainbow liturgical vestments and being caught on tape concealing sexual abuse, Danneels said in 2013 of the passage of gay “marriage”: “I think it’s a positive development that states are free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper: A few days into his pontificate Pope Francis praised one of Cardinal Kasper’s books, and then selected the cardinal to deliver the controversial keynote address to the consistory of cardinals advocating his proposal to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive communion in some circumstances. This proposal led to the high-profile debate at the first Synod of Bishops on the Family. Cardinal Kasper has again been selected as a personal appointee of the pope to the second Synod and regularly meets with Pope Francis. Kasper defended the vote of the Irish in favor of homosexual “marriages”, saying: “A democratic state has the duty to respect the will of the people; and it seems clear that, if the majority of the people wants such homosexual unions, the state has a duty to recognize such rights.”

Archbishop Bruno Forte: The archbishop of Chieti-Vasto was appointed Special Secretary to the 2014 Synod by Pope Francis. He is the Italian theologian who was credited with drafting the controversial homosexuality section of the infamous midterm report of the Synod which spoke of “accepting and valuing [homosexuals’] sexual orientation.” When questioned about the language, Forte said homosexual unions have "rights that should be protected," calling it an "issue of civilization and respect of those people."

Father Timothy Radcliffe: In May, Pope Francis appointed the former Master of the Dominican Order as a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace despite his well-known support for homosexuality. Writing on homosexuality in 2013, he said: “We must ask what it means, and how far it is Eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and non-violent. So in many ways, I would think that it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.” In a 2006 lecture he advocated “accompanying” homosexuals, which he defined as “watching 'Brokeback Mountain,' reading gay novels, living with our gay friends and listening with them as they listen to the Lord."

Bishop Johan Bonny: The bishop of Antwerp in Belgium has just been named as one of the delegates to the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family despite open dissent on homosexual unions. While being named as a delegate to the synod may not in itself constitute a major promotion, what is unique about Bonny is the extremity and clarity of his dissent. “Inside the Church, we must look for a formal recognition of the relational dimension that is also present in many homosexual, lesbian and bisexual couples,” he said in a December 2014 interview. “In the same way that in society there exists a diversity of legal frameworks for partners, there must be a diversity of forms of recognition in the Church.”

With few exceptions the prelates above were made bishops by previous popes but were given new prominence by Pope Francis despite their recent very public statements in opposition to Church teaching.  

Different treatment for liberal and conservative bishops

But beyond these elevations is the pope’s increasingly apparent disparity in how he treats orthodox and heterodox bishops when facing controversy or allegations of a failure of office.  

U.S. Bishop Robert Finn and Archbishop John Nienstedt, Paraguayan Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano and German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst are all bishops who were outspokenly supportive of the natural family and were all removed from office by Pope Francis.  The first three were removed from their posts for not reporting abusive priests within their dioceses, and the German was the so-called “Bishop of Bling” removed for perceived overspending.   

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One can entirely agree with the disciplinary actions taken against these bishops, while still taking note of the puzzling concurrent elevation of liberal prelates with records much more sullied than the conservative ones. For instance, Bishop Battista Ricca, a former Vatican diplomat, was well known for homosexual conduct during his term at the nunciature in Uruguay, but the pope nevertheless appointed him to head the Vatican Bank and defended his decision.  

Perhaps the most egregious case is that of Cardinal Danneels who, as noted above, is a proponent of Church recognition for homosexuality. The evidence that Cardinal Danneels engaged in a cover-up of sex abuse is overwhelming, clear and well known, yet he was brought out of relative obscurity by the personal intervention of Pope Francis during the Synod:

Immediately following his retirement in 2010, Danneels, who has publicly supported same-sex civil unions, was revealed to have actively worked to hide the activities of the now-notorious homosexual abuser, his friend and protégé Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges. Danneels was caught in a recording telling Vangheluwe’s victim, his nephew, “The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait.”

The cardinal is heard in the recording warning the victim against trying to blackmail the church and urged him not to drag Vangheluwe’s name “through the mud.” Danneels added that the victim should admit his own guilt and ask forgiveness.

Meanwhile while Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, the leading German bishop defending the traditional family, was ousted over charges of overspending, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Pope Francis’ Council of Nine advisors, spends more. But Cardinal Marx takes a weaker stance on homosexuality. Tebartz-van Elst headed the German bishops’ marriage and family commission and was excoriated in the German mainstream media after he disciplined one of his priests who had conducted a “blessing” of two homosexual men. In 2007, Tebartz-van Elst issued a statement saying that all Catholics “have a duty to protest the legal recognition of homosexual partnerships.”  

The perception

If conservative Catholics and prelates have had one common request for Pope Francis during his pontificate, it has been for “clarity” - a cry most publicly and famously issued by Cardinal Burke. To quote the cardinal: “I’m not the pope, and I’m not in the business of telling him what to do – but in my judgment this [the Church’s teaching on sexuality] needs to be clarified, and there’s only one person who can clarify it at this point.”

As John Allen wrote in the piece quoted above, should Pope Francis be aiming to “hobble the traditionalist constituency,” and “using every chance to accomplish it,” then he “doesn’t owe anyone an explanation, because his moves would be having precisely the intended effect.” However, he added, if “the pontiff’s motives aren’t ideological,” then “Francis might need to find an occasion to explain in his own voice why he’s going after the people and groups that find themselves in his sights.”

Allen concluded ominously, “Otherwise, the risk is that a good chunk of the Church may conclude that if the pope sees them as the enemy, there’s no good reason they shouldn’t see him the same way.”

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