Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

If the Church apologizes to homosexuals, what comes next?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 01, 2016

Pope Francis says that the Church should apologize to homosexuals. But how should we go about it?

The Holy Father made it clear, in that remarkable statement, that he thought individual Christians, not the universal Church, had mistreated homosexuals. Certainly I should apologize to anyone that I have offended. But I can’t apologize on behalf of others, especially if I am not aware of how they have given offense. What it is, exactly, for which apologies are due?

Are we taking it for granted that on balance, Christians have done more harm than good for people with homosexual inclinations? Are we assuming that in any conflicts, the homosexual was the innocent victim? Can we ignore all the cases in which troubled young people went to a priest for help in dealing with their sexual impulses, and received wise and prudent advice that helped them both spiritually and emotionally?

And if we apologize, will that apology be accepted? Or will it be taken as the basis for further demands by the gay-rights movement? The “early returns” on the Pope’s statement strongly suggest the latter.

Gay Catholic Groups Want Pope Francis to Do More Than Apologize, reported the New York Timers. One activist remarked, reasonably enough, that “a statement of remorse is only as good as the change in behavior that follows.” But another spelled out what that “change in behavior” would require: to “reform teachings and practices that refer to gay people as “objectively disordered and “intrinsically evil.”

Now notice, first, the intellectual dishonesty behind this statement. The Church refers to homosexual inclinations-- not individual people—as “disordered.” And no one is “intrinsically evil;” only actions merit that condemnation. But beyond that, the suggestion implies—no, it demands—a change in the teachings of the Church. The gay lobby will not be satisfied by a condemnation of any past abuses against homosexuals; their goal is to force a renunciation of Catholic doctrine. For more evidence of that intention, see here and here.

Secular activists are not acting alone in their drive to change Catholic teaching. Father James Martin, the popular Jesuit columnist, has launched a virtual crusade to treat the Pope’s statement as a new baseline, and work forward to greater Catholic acceptance of homosexuality. Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has suggested changing the “very destructive” language of the Catechism. Writing for Crux, Father Edward Beck chimes in with a plea for “updating of the Catholic Catechism” and a commitment to support for legal recognition of civil unions.

Among the most strident calls for change in Church teaching was a column by Robert Mickens for the National Catholic Reporter, in which he lashed out at priests who may have latent homosexual tendencies:

There is another category of "gay priests." They are men who are homosexually oriented but refuse to admit this even to themselves. In this way, they unwittingly inflict their own unacknowledged suffering and pathology on others by mercilessly preaching a rigid morality and insisting on a strict adherence to the letter of every ecclesiastical law.

Here again we encounter some intellectual dishonesty. The injunction against sexual activity outside marriage is not merely an “ecclesiastical” law, invented by some repressed prelates; it is the law of God. But leave that aside, and leave aside the emotion-laden qualifiers like “mercilessly” and “rigid.” What message would Mickens ask Cathoilc priests to convey, in their preaching and their counseling? Certainly not the message of the Catechism; not the message of the Catholic tradition.

“God help us!” tweeted the South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, reflecting on the implications of an apology for Church teaching. “Next we’ll have to apologize for teaching that adultery is a sin!” Was he exaggerating? If we are to apologize for the Church’s teachings on the immorality of homosexual acts, what standing do we have to uphold the Catholic stance against heterosexual immorality—or any other sort of immorality, for that matter?

And what advice should a good priest give, if a young man or woman comes to him for help, recognizing homosexual impulses? Joseph Sciambra, who writes passionately about his own escape from the homosexual lifestyle, recalls that as he plummeted toward despair, he consulted a Catholic priest, who told him that he should stop worrying and accept himself as an active homosexual! That advice, Sciambra remarks, led him further down a dark road toward physical and spiritual death. And for that, he suggests, the Catholic Church really should apologize.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: mwean7331 - Jul. 06, 2016 2:00 PM ET USA

    We sound more and more like the Protestant churches, amending the dogma whenever it 'fits' with the thinking of the rest of the world. Since Vatican II we have evolved into a lukewarm church, the church of "nice" Have we lost our way? I pay God, "no" . Where are the "warriors" in the church hierarchy?

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Jul. 05, 2016 6:28 PM ET USA

    Homosexual actions are a grave violation of the natural law. Civil government therefore has the right and in some cases the obligation to punish it. As the punishment should fit the crime, a crime of pursuing physical pleasure should be punished with physical pain. I suggest scourging. No, I will not apologize for holding this point of view, no matter how offensive anyone finds it. The lack of negative consequences for bad choices is a root cause of the modern anomie and consequent hedonism.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 05, 2016 11:20 AM ET USA

    Perhaps the way to understand this is that many Bishops of the Church should be apologizing for having admitted homosexuals to the priesthood and thus creating fertile grounds for the predominantly homosexual nature of pedophilia scandals followed by moral and financial destruction?

  • Posted by: Langton7139 - Jul. 04, 2016 1:09 AM ET USA

    Chapter heading from John F Harvey O.S.F.S. The Truth about Homosexuality (Ignatius Press 1996): “Don’t reject me and don’t agree with me. If you agree with me I will never get out of this.”

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Jul. 01, 2016 6:52 PM ET USA

    This statement is going to haunt the Church like none other. "The Pope is not suggesting an outright change in Catholic doctrine, the Civilta Cattolica article contends, but is taking "small steps forward" by encouraging individuals to act in accordance with their own consciences." If so, fits just fine with the implications contained in this article. As to the poor Cardinal, if he's frustrated and confused, the rest of us at least have powerful company.