|"Judge not, that ye be not judged." ~ Matthew 7:1|
Pope Francis has once again shocked the world with a message of tolerance.
Pope Francis opened the door on Sunday to greater acceptance of gay priests inside the ranks of Roman Catholicism as he returned to the Vatican from his maiden trip overseas.
Fielding questions from reporters during the first news conference of his young papacy, the pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a "disorder," and Pope Francis' predecessor Pope Benedict XVI formally barred men with what the Vatican deemed "deep-seated" homosexuality from entering the priesthood.
"Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?" the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. "You can't marginalize these people."
Am I the only one who finds it a little alarming that when the leader of the Catholic Church says he won't judge people, it's front page news? Or aren't popes supposed to at least give a little lip service to that whole judge not thing.
It does imply a real departure, though, from Pope Benedict's crackdown on gay clergy and from the Church's history of diverting blame for their sex abuse crisis onto gay people.
Pope Francis's comments pertained to the "gay lobby" scandal that erupted into headlines in the waning days of Pope Benedict's reign. When pressed, he handled the issue with all the deftness and grace that so completely eluded his predecessor.
The pope addressed the issue of an alleged "gay lobby" within the church. Hints that the Holy See contained a network of gay clergy surfaced last year in reports about a series of embarrassing leaks to Italian journalists.
The "Vatileaks" scandal factored in Benedict's shocking decision to resign this year, according to some church experts, as it impressed upon the 86-year-old pontiff that the modern papacy requires a vigorous and watchful presence.
"There's a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I've never seen it on the Vatican ID card!" Francis said.
"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem ... they're our brothers."
It remains to be seen whether the Vatican will walk these comments back as it has with previous eruptions of compassion and dignity from the new pontiff.