Much was made last week of Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality. During an impromptu press conference on July 29 aboard a plane bound for Rio de Janeiro, the pope told reporters he isn’t disturbed by the inclination to homosexuality itself, adding, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency is not the problem…they’re our brothers.”
The “Who am I to judge?” comment was celebrated by some as a step forward in the Catholic Church’s thinking; others believed his words were not enough. But they did grab headlines.
I thought it was even more important that Pope Francis held this press conference in the first place. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “On the way to Rio de Janeiro on July 22, he told reporters, ‘I don’t give interviews.’ But at the end of his seven-day tour de force in Brazil, not only did the pope give an interview, he gave a whopper of one.” In fact, the pope stood in the plane’s aisle for 82 minutes and answered reporters’ questions on the record with no limits on what could be asked. It’s been years since a papal interview like this took place, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Catholic Church’s ongoing struggle with child abuse scandals has had a debilitating effect on recruitment of new priests and nuns, and church attendance in the United States has dropped dramatically in the past couple of decades, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Pew Research says the percentage of American Catholics with a “strong Catholic identity” is at an all-time low (27%).
The Pope’s openness toward the press–and his public statement on gays–can start to repair at least some of the damage caused by the Church scandals. He needs to do more of this by addressing the concerns of his constituency in a very public way. It’s good for the future of the faith and it’s good PR. Your thoughts?