ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT (AP) - Pope Francis is reaching out to gays, saying he won't judge priests for their sexual orientation. In a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference the pope says, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis has been much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
Francis' remarks came today during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.
Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone issued the following statement on Tuesday morning:
It is important to understand that when we hear the Pope saying he cannot "judge" gays, he is talking about the persons, not behavior.
He is talking about priests who may be homosexual, but is assuming that they are chaste. And if they have sinned, they are repentant and now chaste. Priests make a lifelong commitment to live a chaste celibate life, and candidates for the priesthood need to be able to live a life of chaste celibacy, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.
If someone is not capable with God's help of living a lifelong commitment to celibate chastity, he should not be a priest.
The Roman Catholic Church does not define or label people in terms of their sexual orientation. The Church is open to all people and recognizes their innate dignity as children of God.
The Church also believes that all sexual activity, properly and exclusively, belongs within the marriage of a man and a woman. Outside of that context, sexual relations are viewed as being objectively immoral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358 says that homosexual persons "must be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided." Homosexuals are welcome in the Church and encouraged like all to live a chaste life.
A spokesman for Dignity USA, a national gay and lesbian Catholic organization, thinks gay Catholics can feel good about Pope Francis.
Jeff Stone told WGRZ-TV he believes it is the first time he has actually heard of a pope using the term "gay".
"That in itself is a real step forward," said Stone. "For gay people to hear a pope speak of us as people of faith and good will....instead of threats to civilization which is what we heard from the last pope is a really welcome shift," Stone said.
"Certainly his (Francis') tone is much different than his predecessor," said Ann Marie Szpakowska, President of Dignity Buffalo.
"It's certainly a plus not to be considered 'disordered'," she said.
Still, Szpakowska said she would be hesitant, were she a young gay male, to consider entering the priesthood.
"I still think it would be difficult to come out, because despite what the pope said, we don't know what that will actually mean in real life," she said. "And I'm not so sure that right now the Vatican isn't working to try and modify what he said, and say that he meant something else."
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