Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Was the Pope imprudent to talk about homosexuality?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 30, 2013

Let me ask a serious question, to which I don’t think there is a clear and simple answer: Should the Pope (or any other Church leader) always avoid public statements that the media could distort?

We can all agree, I hope, that in his remarks to reporters on the flight from Rio to Rome, Pope Francis said nothing that would change Church teaching on homosexuality. Yet thousands of media outlets claimed that he had done exactly that. Were his comments imprudent, then? Should he have realized that his words would be taken out of context?

It’s a serious question because anyone who makes public statements should be mindful not only of what he is saying, but also of how his words will be interpreted. One could argue that, given the media’s obsession with the issue, it was predictable that the Pope’s message would be distorted.

On the other hand, a public figure cannot be held entirely responsible for bad reporting. If the Pope says “black,” and a journalist reports that he said “white,” whose fault is that? Al Kresta, the talk-show host for Ave Maria Radio and author of Dangers to the Faith, saw the reportage on the Pope’s interview as “yet another example of the mainstream media being utterly incompetent when reporting on matters of religion.”

Should the Pope anticipate that sort of incompetence, and avoid subjects that the media are likely to botch? If so, he is engaging in a sort of self-censorship. That’s not a viable solution. The Pope (and other Church leaders, again) must be free to speak on important moral topics. He cannot avoid the discussion of homosexuality simply because reporters might misunderstand him.

What does the Church say about homosexuality? That it is a disorder, and that homosexual acts are sinful? Yes, yes; definitely. We all know that. But there is another message for homosexuals: a message of mercy. The Church offers support for those who are battling homosexual tendencies, and forgiveness for those who have committed homosexual acts. That’s a core message of the Christian faith: the message of redemption.

If the Pope didn’t deliver that message, for fear that someone might misinterpret him, wouldn’t he be failing to preach the Gospel in its fullness?

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.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Aug. 01, 2013 9:26 PM ET USA

    Perhaps if the Pope was as clear as your last two paragraphs, we would not be going through this joust of what was really said and what does it mean. Yes he has the right to speak but a little more thinking before hand might help. On this subject he must realize the possibilities of great misinterpretation.

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Aug. 01, 2013 10:52 AM ET USA

    In light of all the confusion (warranted or not), I think it would be prudent of Pope Francis to issue a few follow-up remarks to clarify his intention.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jul. 31, 2013 10:45 PM ET USA

    He was right to say what he said. Even priests can have gay inclinations, it's a truth that should be understood, not swept under the rug. The thing that unites our priesthood is the vow to remain celibate. Even our laity needs to recognize that sex outside of marriage is the same mortal sin as homosexual sex. The only serious people drawing a distinction are those seeking to drive a wedge between the Church and the laity through political hot button issues.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Jul. 31, 2013 7:53 PM ET USA

    If the Pope doesn't want to judge homosexuals, perhaps he could let us know how Paul judged them in Romans 1:18-32. The more things change the more they stay the same.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 30, 2013 10:44 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis is a dear man, and I respect his style but today Cardinal Dolan bravely stepped in to do damage control and to say what the Holy Father should have said by quoting the CCC regarding homosexuality. I applaud him for helping Francis and for making it a teaching moment from which many surely benefited.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 30, 2013 9:13 PM ET USA

    It made me wince to hear him suggest that gay priests are OK. Since 80% of the sexual abuse seems to have been "gay" and since the priests are a fraternity of men - I think it reasonable to conclude that gay priests are not a good idea. I think it has been harmful to the church for these men to have entered the seminary. Is the pope really welcoming of gay priests or did I hear this incorrectly?

  • Posted by: Duns Scotus - Jul. 30, 2013 8:34 PM ET USA

    First, once you see the context, only someone dilberately obtuse can misunderstand what the Pope said. Second, remember what the Pope told the CLAR delegation in June: "You are going to make mistakes, you are going to put your foot in it. That happens! I prefer a church that makes mistakes because it is doing something to one that sickens because it stays shut in." Get use to a Pope willing to "put his foot in it." Learn from him; don't second guess him.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jul. 30, 2013 8:10 PM ET USA

    The Pope should not be silent. Evangelization is part of his job. But he could go far toward not being misinterpreted with a little more care. Any large American public relations firm could give him media training. Executives are regularly taught how to deal with the media. It's a skill like playing golf, and no harder to learn. I did some of it back when I was working and watched executives go from inept to adept at saying what they wanted to say in a matter of hours.

  • Posted by: filioque - Jul. 30, 2013 7:04 PM ET USA

    The pope should speak on sensitive issues and those that are likely to be distorted, but he must do so very carefully and clearly. In this case, I think it would have been better to avoid using the word "gay" because it is understood to mean actively homosexual. The journalistic flights of fancy are inexcusable, but anyone who bothers to read the pope's own words should be able to understand them.

  • Posted by: timothy.op - Jul. 30, 2013 12:01 PM ET USA

    Although the misinterpretation/distortion was predictable, it is likewise predictable that those who seize on such distortions are not that interested in learning the truth. Whereas, those who are sincerely desirous of learning what the Pope actually said and meant will be able to do so through sound Catholic reporting (like CWN). Hence, the Pope's message has the potential to reach (in its integrity) those who need to hear it, if they are seeking the truth. In that sense, Phil has a point.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jul. 30, 2013 10:43 AM ET USA

    Pius XII avoided inflammatory statements in WW II, ditto Benedict XV in WW I; both were mindful of the serious consequences of careless words. I think the same can be said of all our Cold War popes, even though we knew their distaste for the Soviet system. I can't help thinking it can't be different now that the Church's teachings are under frontal attack everywhere in the West. Shouldn't Francis take the secularist threat as seriously as Pius took the Nazis'?