There are crores of people in the world who consider themselves sexual minorities, like homosexuals, lesbians and transgenders. A religious leader of the moral calibre of Pope Francis for whom all people, especially Catholics, are brothers and sister, cannot overlook them. “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in a documentary film, elaborating on his pastoral care.
After those remarks of the Pope, controversy broke out among Catholics. Weighing in on the issue of civil unions for same-sex couples, he said: “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.” In A Future of Faith: The Path of Change in Politics and Society, a book-length series of conversations with the French sociologist Dominique Wolton published in 2017, he had said on gay marriage and civil unions in the context of a discussion about tradition, modernity and truth: “Marriage’ is a historical word. Forever, throughout humanity and not only in the Church, it’s been between a man and a woman. You can’t change it just like that. It’s the nature of things. That’s how they are. So, let’s call them ‘civil unions.’”
Cardinal Gracias, the President of the CBCI, made a statement in India which states: “Church doctrine drawing from Sacred Scripture and Tradition, is clear and has not in any way been diluted.” Pope Francis’s response to the two Synods on Marriage and the Family of 2014 and 2015, his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, demonstrates a softening of Catholic teaching toward homosexuals. To the question of same-sex civil unions he gives an unequivocal response: “De facto or same-sex unions […] may not simply be equated with marriage” and there are “absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (no. 251). The church has declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law and close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (Catechism, n. 2357). “Every sign of unjust discrimination in regard [to homosexual persons] should be avoided” (Catechism, no. 2358). Moreover it teaches “homosexual acts that are intrinsically evil.”
Are we to use these teachings “as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives”? Pope asking for legal measure to have civil unions is in some way diluting the teaching and embracing them as a pastor. There is surely a confusion brought about in the teaching. The moral teaching can be made clear only if we have a clear view on sexual identity as such. How do we understand homosexuality or lesbianism? Is such a sexual orientation abnormal or natural or acquired? The views are differing. Is there any reputable scientific evidence of any sort, psychological, biological, genetic, medical and neurological, to back up the claim of such sexual orientations? Science refuses to consider homosexuality as disease or perversion. But the Catholic social teaching is indisputably clear that discrimination is immoral. The Catechism teaches that The equality of men [and women] rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (no. 1935). A Dutch bishops’ statement on 20 February 1980 reads: “A direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation. This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.” Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, writes that “there is no way we can continue to claim that there can be no other forms of love than heterosexual marriage. We find the same kind of love between a man and woman who live together, in homo-pairs and lesbian couples.” As we are not yet clear about the nature of those sexual orientations, we perhaps have to wait for a right moral approach to such situations with a loving and human pastoral approach.