Pope Francis has given gay Catholics hope “that the church still has a place for them in its heart,” said Mark Brown in the Chicago Sun-Times. During an impromptu press conference onboard the papal plane this week, Francis indicated that he had no problem with gay men serving in the priesthood. “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” he declared. For gay Catholics who have grown used “to being beaten down by the public statements of their church leaders, the pope’s words were borderline remarkable.” How can I describe the euphoria I felt when I heard what Francis said? said Andrew Sullivan in Dish.AndrewSullivan.com. Finally, we have a pope who is explicitly acknowledging that gay people are (in his words)“our brothers,” and deserve the mercy, acceptance, and love that is the true heart of Christianity. What a contrast to the demonization of gays by Pope Benedict XVI, who insisted that homosexuality was an “intrinsic moral evil” and barred gay men from joining the clergy.
Francis’s comments certainly represent “a significant shift in tone,” said John Allen Jr. in CNN.com, “though not in substance.” He didn’t change church teaching on homosexual acts, simply reiterating that priests or Catholics who had engaged in such “sins” in the past were worthy of forgiveness and mercy. And there is no indication that he plans to upend the church’s long-standing opposition to gay marriage. What Francis clearly means to do is to change the church’s focus, said Ross Douthat in NYTimes.com. “He wants to be seen primarily as a pope of social justice and spiritual renewal, and he doesn’t have much patience for issues that might get in the way.” So he’s trying to move beyond the angry culture war over gays and abortion that’s alienated so many people in America and the West, attract new Catholics to the fold, and emphasize Christ’s teachings about helping the poor.
In so doing, Francis is leading the church in a new direction, said David Perry in TheAtlantic.com. If sexual orientation doesn’t deserve pre-emptive condemnation by the pope—“who am I to judge?”—then it becomes difficult for other church leaders to rail against gays, or for Catholic organizations to fire employees for simply being gay. These are “small, mild steps toward equality”—an incremental revolution, but a revolution nonetheless.