Why US Media will focus on Pope’s ‘Gay’ Remarks but Ignore those on the Poor, Amazon Environment

Pope Francis comes across in the media as a person who cares for others, and his genial personality, it seems to me, allows him to restate conservative principles in ways that inspire hope in or do not alienate liberals. But liberals need to listen to him carefully to hear the unyielding steel in his voice. There won’t be any women priests, he says, and the Church isn’t doing a good enough job explaining the theological reasons for that. Feminist nuns, he is implying, are just theologically illiterate.

He made some off the cuff remarks on the plane back from Rio to Rome, among them that gays could be priests as long as they weren’t part of a “gay lobby” and that it wasn’t up to him to judge [celibate] gays in the priesthood:

Aljazeera English reports:

Pope Francis had earlier complained about a “gay lobby” among priests in the Vatican, and here he refers to the “lobby” again, saying all lobbies are bad.

So it seems to me that Pope Francis is just saying what many evangelicals say– hate the sin, love the sinner, celibate gays are welcome in the congregation, etc. And he’s putting a further precondition on acceptance, that gays not band together as a pressure group. So they have to be celibate and seen but not heard, sort of like children.

This sentiment is more charitable than that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who said that gays of any sort weren’t fit for the priesthood. But only by neglecting to attend to nuance and context could what the Pope said be seen as a win for gays (and lets face it, it is only gay men that are even being talked about because their presence in the priesthood is what is at stake).

Pope Francis is perhaps just being realistic. There is a severe shortage of priests in the world, since hetero young men are increasingly difficult to attract into that life. Some Catholics feel this lack of priests deeply. By being less judgmental toward gay men in the priesthood, Pope Francis is slightly expanding the recruitment pool. The tendency in the West to accept gays and to allow gay marriage now, though, may mean that priestly celibacy is increasingly no more appealing now to gays than to heteros.

There is a lot to like about Pope Francis. He wants to see the church serve the poor instead of primarily the elite (though again, he is no liberation theologian and isn’t interested in practical steps that would change class relationships– he is just interested in doing charity). It is also true that the evangelicals have poached the poor Catholics in Brazil. I visited a favela or slum in Rio once and asked about people’s religious practices there. My host was taken aback that I didn’t know, saying they were all evangelical Protestants as far as the eye could see. The church in Latin America has traditionally served the Establishment, and Pope Benedict wanted to keep it that way. But then Benedict said he wanted a smaller, more disciplined church. (He got a smaller one, not sure if it is more disciplined).

In my view Pope Francis’s really interesting comments in Brazil were on the issue of the poor and on Amazon conservation (which also has to do with how indigenous people are treated). If the churches would develop a green theology it would help us in the struggle against global climate change.

American culture displaces its severe class struggle away from economic issues onto identity politics. We avoid talking about how the working and middle classes are being screwed over by an increasingly wealthy and aristocratic 1% or about how the business classes are destroying the environment of the planet, by obsessing about race and gender instead. So Pope Francis’s tame remarks about silent, inoffensive, celibate gays being all right in the priesthood will generate a lot of comment.

His more challenging remarks, his focus on the needs of the poor and on preserving the environment– the messages well-off Americans need to hear– will be largely ignored in the corporate US media.

21 Responses

  1. “So it seems to me that Pope Francis is just saying what many evangelicals say– hate the sin, love the sinner, celibate gays are welcome in the congregation, etc. And he’s putting a further precondition on acceptance, that gays not band together as a pressure group. So they have to be celibate and seen but not heard, sort of like children.”

    Still, Pope Francis’s statement on gays is forward movement for the Church. Don’t forget that the Catholic Church is 2,000 years old, and things move forward slowly in its hierarchical, byzantine, and doctrinally-conservative bureaucratic environment.

    I’ll tell you what would really be a shocking break with hidebound discrimination and ignorance regarding Gays as the Other: If Al Azhar University in Cairo would publicly announce a theological fatwa stating that no Muslim should judge Gays, and that Gays should be an accepted part of Islamic society, attending mosques, and serving as imams (as long as they remain celibate, of course!). Then let’s see if the worldwide Islamic Ummah would accept that with the same degree of equanimity as Catholics accepted the Pope’s remarks.

  2. Sorry, Juan, but you are wrong when you allege that these statements by Pope Francis are ineffectual or meaningless. It makes a WORLD of difference in Catholic cultures for a pope to say that men cannot be so “intrinsically disordered” that they may not be priests. In fact, what Pope Francis said the other day opens the possibility that “rites of friendship” may some day be said in Catholic churches, wherein it will be tacitly assumed that the “partners” are living together chastely.

    On the other hand, I do agree strongly with your statement that, compared to the enormously greater issue of the destruction of environments and indigenous cultures by neo-liberal capitalism, this is a minor affair, affecting, as it does, only a small portion of the planet’s population.

    Still, Pope Francis is doing justice to a traditionally much and unfairly-maligned group. Also, not being Catholic, you should not be expected to understand the theological reasons why women cannot administer the sacraments of the Church–though they could be made much more powerful and responsible, within the Church hierarchy. (The Catholic Church believes that what, to us, might seem the accident of the Incarnation in the form of a male human, must be accepted by her faithful as a mysterious part of God’s plan, and must continue to be reverenced by repetition of the offerant at the sacrifice of the mass in the form of a male human–which is not a serious impediment to married priests or to women deacons, cardinals or heads of congregations, so long as they decline to be ordained as bishops. The Orthodox Churches have no problem with this, and, I predict, with popes like Francis at her helm, some day the Catholic Church won’t either.)

    • “the theological reasons why women cannot administer the sacraments”

      Could you add a little explanation of this, Mr. Lewis? I was raised Lutheran, and know very little about your Catholic rituals. Did Jesus administer the eucharist with his penis, or what?

      • Did Jesus administer the eucharist with his penis, or what?

        I’ve always believed that people who make remarks like that are saying more about the state of their own consciousness than about their interlocutors or the subject itself, so I will ignore it.

        The Church’s definition of a “sacrament,” is “a visible, outward sign of God’s grace”, which, in turn “gives grace”, and that, therefore, the sacrament, to be effectual in the temporal world, must be accompanied by a material presence. Since the “material presence” of Christ was masculine, the Church’s very simple sign of her loyalty to that Incarnation is thought to be the continuing presence of a man on the altar, re-enacting the sacrifice of Calvary. You may call this simplistic, risible or “primitive” if you like, but it is certain that the motivation is one of LOYALTY and VENERATION of what the Catholics consider to be the Incarnation of God, and it is not, in any way, meant to detract from the unique importance, in the Catholic world, of women–as manifested by the veneration of Mary and all the female saints.

        • Roman Catholic here, Mr. Lewis.

          If priests have to be male for that reason, does that mean they also have to be Jewish?

          In their 30s?

          Subversive political radicals?

  3. Focusing on Pope Francis’ gay comments doesn’t adversely affect any capitalists’ profits and may increase the capitalist, corporate media’s profits. Helping the poor and protecting the environment aren’t profitable pursuits.

  4. “American culture displaces its severe class struggle away from economic issues onto identity politics.” Yes, it’s regressive in current situation. Nice critique by someone so identified with the left.

  5. I agree that his most important comments are about the poor and the environment. I also think that the gay comment is significant in that at least he is willing to love the sinner. The comment of “Who am I to judge?” shows a modest, even if it is pretense, that I appreciate.

    I keep asking myself who the college of cardinals, who were almost all appointed by very conservative popes, thought they were getting when they picked Francis.

  6. “Celibate” means unmarried. “Abstinent” means eschewing sex. The Church in the middle ages required a vow of celibacy; fornication was already a mortal sin and therefore did not need another vow. It is my view that one of the primary reasons that the Church required vows of celibacy back in the middle ages was so that priests’ children could not inherit their property, not being legitimate.

  7. So it seems to me that Pope Francis is just saying what many evangelicals say– hate the sin, love the sinner, celibate gays are welcome in the congregation, etc.

    Oh, please. How many evangelicals have concluded with “Who am I to judge?” How many evangelicals have said that the “tendency,” that is, the innate sexual orientation, is not sinful?

    • Evangelicals say that lusting after people of the opposite sex is also sinful (outside of marriage), and the Bible says that mere act of looking at a women in a lustful way is adultery in the heart.

      “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:27-28

      So evangelicals should conclude “Who am I to judge?” And Jesus said in John 8:7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

      And to be quite honest, the Bible does condemn the act of homosexuality. It is easy to bash Christians for their beliefs but that is what their holy book teaches. Just as I don’t understand or agree with many of the passages of the Qur’an, that is their holy scripture and it is very dear to their heart.

      • “Homosexuality” as Foucault demonstrated is a modern phenomenon and did not exist as a social identity 2500 years ago.

  8. “Who am I to judge?” is the best of his comments, but it does not amount to rescinding the Instruction barring gays from the priesthood.

  9. Dr. Cole, you are absolutely correct about “homosexuality” not existing as a social phenomenon in the period when the Christian Church was first developing her sexual morality. However “same sex attraction” clearly did. I wonder why nobody has ever observed that what THAT might mean is that the Catholic Church, far in advance of Kinsey et. al., has ALWAYS considered sexual orientation to be FLUID–and has ALWAYS been convinced that ANYBODY could potentially succumb to a “sinful” attraction to the same sex. Do you know the story of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s younger brother, who raped a boy in the vestibule of St. Peter’s Basilica, and who was eventually pardoned by the pope as a result of the artist’s intervention? Nobody ever accused that man of being “homosexual.”

  10. The Media should focus on the pope’s remarks, including the statement he made prior to his election as pope Francis. On page 117 of his book, On Heaven and Earth, pope Francis makes a statement that confirms the reports that prior to being elected pope, he approved of same-sex relationships and thus same-sex sexual acts, as long as these relationships were private, did not involve children, and were not called marriage.

    Catholics worship The God of our Salvation, Who desires that we overcome our disordered inclinations, so that we are not led into temptation, but become transformed through God’s Grace and Mercy.
    In order to be Catholic, one must be in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    The election of pope Francis is not valid:
    link to dailycatholic.org

  11. “His more challenging remarks, his focus on the needs of the poor and on preserving the environment– the messages well-off Americans need to hear– will be largely ignored in the corporate US media.”

    There are many of us who are reading the earth-shattering signs of collapse and have been in the activist mode for a long time. But unless the numbers are multiplied mightily by the church and society at large with a concerted effort all of our lower priorities will soon vanish.

  12. Dr. Cole,

    You don’t get it.

    The “lobbies” he’s referring to are not “lobbies” in the American English sense of the word of groups organized to advance their legitimate interests through legitimate means, but in the continental one, that is of groups organized to advance interests at odds with the overall goals, ie illegitimate interests, through illegitimate means. This is why he mentions the freemason lobby, as priests and for that matter all Catholics, are forbidden to be freemasons.

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