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Pope Francis doesn’t do interviews. Or at least that’s what we thought. He said that about himself just one week ago on the way to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day.
Then World Youth Day happened. And it happened in a big way.
According to official reports from City Hall, 3.2 million young people gathered on Copacabana Beach to see him, pray with him, and hear his proposal about the meaning of life.
His closing message to them was simple: Go back to your homes, and serve others without fear.
Hours later, perhaps taking to heart his own closing message about fearless service, Pope Francis offered an 80 minute, unscripted question-and-answer session with the international press corps.
In its entirely, the press conference on the pope’s plane traveling from Brazil back to the Vatican was fascinating. (For more, please look at my Twitter reports.)
But, unfortunately, if you were reading the headlines from some media outlets, you would have learned just one thing. As the Huffington Post put it: “Breakthrough: Pope OK with Gays.”
This is the worst coverage of a religious story I have seen to date.
Let’s begin with the fact that the pope has always been “OK” with homosexuals. In fact, by the demands of his own religion he is required to be much more than just “OK.” The Christian faith teaches that every person is endowed by God with an inviolable dignity and therefore deserves our unconditional respect and love.
A section of an Associated Press report also got the story very wrong. Summarizing the pope’s comments on homosexuals in the priesthood, the AP reported: “Francis was much more conciliatory [than Pope Benedict], saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.”
Pope Francis didn’t say that, and the report is wrong on so many levels.
First of all, it suggests that being gay itself, is a sin. What Pope Francis really said, in response to a reporter’s question about homosexual priests who are living a celibate life was this: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Pope Francis simply and compassionately reiterated Biblical teaching. The Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a “sin” to be homosexual. They teach it is a sin to have homosexual sex because it goes against the laws of God’s nature, specifically his plan for human sexuality.
When Pope Francis says “who am I to judge” he is saying—and I think we need to hear more of this from religious leaders—that active homosexuals deserve the same kindness, love, and mercy that all of us sinners would hope to receive from God and from others.
We don’t make judgments about anyone’s personal worth—God has already done that when he created us out of love.
I would hope next time Pope Francis offers to meet with the press, they would take to heart his message about fearless service and report to their readers what he actually said, rather than what they wish they had heard.