Category Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Gay men and the priesthood: change in content, or difference in style?

This morning a friend asked me about Pope Francis’ statement on the plane ride to Rome coming from Brazil about gay men and the priesthood: did the pope change the Church’s teaching? No, was my reply. The teaching is not changed as the Pope echoed what the Catechism teaches. What the Pope did, I told Harry, was to emphasize a pastoral approach of mercy and helping each person attain a mature Christian faith, and that the Church has always held this approach but frequently gets forgotten due the subject. The approach of Pope Francis is to speak about the merciful face of Jesus Christ; but I have to say, Benedict also said as much but he was often roundly dismissed because of some people’s ideology. Hence, there is a line of continuity in the teaching and style of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. I don’t see the hard differences between the two.

Aaron Taylor wrote the following piece, “Francis and Benedict on gay priests,” for On the Square published online at First Things (7 August 2013). Taylor’s piece is a short but good piece covering the basic matters at hand; gives perspective that can’t be dismissed. I recommend the article.

Given the ruckus over Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality, one could make the mistake of thinking he had announced a revolutionary change, not restated basic Christian doctrine:

If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? . . . These persons must never be marginalized, and “they must be integrated into society.” The problem is not that one has this tendency. No, we must be brothers.

While the substance is old as the Gospel, the form is not what we are used to. Secular journalists are likely to see an irreconcilable contradiction between the Pope who made these comments and the Cardinal who warned that same-sex marriage is a “total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts,” a “move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Yet Christians ought to see no contradiction between a robust commitment to defending the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians, and a robust commitment to opposing sexual sin. In both instances, Francis was simply doing what he does best: stating basic truths in blunt, common-sense words that everyone can understand.

Another alleged contradiction at which many reports are hinting lies in the fact that the Pope’s remarks do nothing to alter the current ban on ordaining homosexual men. Some may ask, if Francis is willing to admit that gays can seek God and be persons of good will, why not allow them to be priests?

Current Vatican policy on the ordination of homosexuals is a disciplinary matter, not a doctrinal one. In theory it could change (though I think it unlikely). But even if it did, there would be no reason to assume that more than a small minority of homosexuals have a genuine vocation. The idea often heard that the priesthood is an “ideal” state of life for homosexual men since they are already compelled to be celibate is woefully misguided.

Rather than focusing on the narrow question of gays and the priesthood, what we need most urgently at the present time are spiritual approaches that help gay Christians to integrate their sexual orientation with their faith in a manner that steers a safe course between the Scylla of indulging in sexual vice and the Charybdis of destroying their sanity through denial about their sexuality.

One such approach, suggested by Cardinal Ratzinger in his Pastoral Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons, is a spirituality of vicarious redemptive suffering for gay people:

What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption.

The fact that God gives homosexuals a heavy cross means that they have an opportunity to unite their sufferings to those of Christ and become instruments of salvation on behalf of others. It is classic Pauline spirituality: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Ratzinger’s approach will not be appealing to all gay people, nor need it be. The Church has always accommodated a range of spiritualities within the boundaries of orthodoxy, and gay Christians’ own experience of their sexuality is diverse. For some, it is a great struggle bound up with a history of abuse and compulsive sexual behavior. For others, it is a fact of life that does not cause particular suffering.

Elizabeth Scalia suggests that “homosexuals are in fact ‘special and exceptional others,’ . . . created and called to play a specific role in our shared humanity.” And Joshua Gonnerman tells us that, as a celibate gay Christian, there are nevertheless many things in his experience of being gay that he finds valuable. These new approaches complement rather than contradict the spiritual approach outlined by Ratzinger, and are also grounded in the Pauline witness. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle makes clear that every Christian is given gifts for the building up of the Church. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that gay Christians are an exception to what Paul says.

Aside from the litmus test of orthodoxy, the mark of a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality should lie in the fact that it empowers gay Christians with a sense of moral agency. Gays are not to be “marginalized,” as the Pope notes, but neither are they to be patronized by well-meaning Christian organizations that portray them as helpless sex addicts who are simply passive recipients of the Church’s pastoral care. With the recognition that one has received gifts from God for active participation in the life of the Church, there comes a grave responsibility to follow the moral law. Christ’s calling restores to people the grace necessary to live in right relationship with God, but this means that gay Christians cannot portray themselves as victims of external forces if they fail to live up to their Christian calling.

Above all, a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality ought to make clear that gay Christians have a legitimate place within the Body of Christ without having to pretend that they don’t exist by being pressured either into marriage or into becoming closeted priests. Though we should not overstate the innovation in Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope has made a significant contribution to the development of a healthy spirituality for gay Christians by speaking of the need to integrate them within society (the Church is a society, too, after all), and by his recognition that many gay Christians already exist within the Church who are of “good will” and wish to “seek the Lord.”

Aaron Taylor, a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College, holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

Francis has now contradicted Benedict XVI???

St Michael's Day 027To date, this is the first example of the current pope contradicting the immediate past pope. Of course, the previous pope is still living in the back year of the Vatican City State. According to Sandro Magister, a noted journalist on matters pertaining to the politics of the Church, the Congregation of Religious, said, with Pope Francis’ approval, has restricted the praying of the Missal of Blessed John XXIII (the 1962 Missal) for the Franciscans of the Immaculate (FI). In relation to the Franciscans, this pontifical act contravenes Benedict XVI for the purposes of clarifying internal matters.

The form of the Mass known as the Extraordinary Form was liberated from its shackles by Pope Benedict in 2007 with the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

From what Magister writes, there is internal division in the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Plus, the scatterbrained Prefect of the Congregation of Religious (not my term, Magister’s) seems all-too-willing to clamp down on this matter with regards to the Liturgy in a public manner. So, on the surface this is not good news in some people’s minds, and it seems to be another example of some in authority to be out of control by being carried along by ideology. It will seem that such a draconian manner of dealing with an internal matter seems to be a bit over the top. May be yes, may be no.  We don’t all the facts yet. Let me stress: the directive of the Congregation is being applied to the FIs and not the whole Church. With the liturgical restriction comes a special representative of the Holy See, a Capuchin, to deal with the internal matters. As you can tell, even in good communities like the FI liturgical differences do exist and can cause division among the brothers thus breaking unity.

The full story, “For the First Time, Francis Contradicts Benedict.”

Francis and Benedict bless statue of St Michael

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Popes Francis and Benedict at opening this morning at the blessing of a statue of Saint Michael the Archangel, near the Vatican Governorate. Pope Francis said,


“In the Vatican Gardens there are several works of art. But this, which has now been added, takes on particular importance, in its location as well as the meaning it expresses. In fact it is not just celebratory work but an invitation to reflection and prayer, that fits well into the Year of Faith. Michael – which means “Who is like God” – is the champion of the primacy of God, of His transcendence and power. Michael struggles to restore divine justice and defends the People of God from his enemies, above all by the enemy par excellence, the devil. And St. Michael wins because in him, there is He God who acts. This sculpture reminds us then that evil is overcome, the accuser is unmasked, his head crushed, because salvation was accomplished once and for all in the blood of Christ. Though the devil always tries to disfigure the face of the Archangel and that of humanity, God is stronger, it is His victory and His salvation that is offered to all men. We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life, we are accompanied and supported by the Angels of God, who offer, so to speak, their wings to help us overcome so many dangers, in order to fly high compared to those realities that can weigh down our lives or drag us down. In consecrating Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel, I ask him to defend us from the evil one and banish him.”


Popes Francis and Benedict.jpg

Windows into Heaven –Knights of Columbus Museum exhibits Russian icons

I am always looking for the way heaven touches earth. Perhaps you are, too. The image that comes to mind is the finger of God touching that of Adam in a painting done by Michelangelo. I also recall that the Incarnation is a manifestation of the beauty of heaven touching the ordinariness of earth and making our existence forever beautiful. These are some thoughts on an experience of “Windows into Heaven: Russian Icons and Treasures” at the Knights of Columbus Museum (New Haven, CT). Though the icons aren’t in their original liturgical context, they nonetheless open the heart and mind onto something and someone beautiful. The icons, for me, are more than nice pieces of Christian art; they truly are positions of grace that allow my desires to be opened anew by an experience with the Divine Majesty. There is an emphasis here on the personal relationship we have with the Trinity. To say otherwise is to neglect a piece of your humanity because the beauty of the icon does invite us to a different way of living the faith.

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I was just reading an address of Cardinal Ratzinger on beauty. An amazing act of the Spirit to allow me to see the icons and then reflect with Ratzinger on the experience. He had addressed the annual meeting organized by members of Communion and Liberation in August 2002. A paragraph sticks out:


To admire the icons and the great masterpieces of Christian art in general, leads us on an inner way, a way of overcoming ourselves; thus in this purification of vision that is a purification of the heart, it reveals the beautiful to us, or at least a ray of it. In this way we are brought into contact with the power of the truth. I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

“The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty”

Rimini Meeting 2002


Take the time this summer to visit the KofC Museum and be inspired! Allow yourself to be wounded by beauty, as Ratzinger said.

The Spirit of the Liturgy from Benedict to Francis

Abbot Michael C. Zielinski OSB, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, discusses what is being taught by the most recent pontiffs. Abbot Michael notes the continuity and distinctions in celebrating of the sacred Liturgy by Popes Benedict and Pope Francis. But there are some things that Abbot Michael notes that are not liturgical per se, “the spirit” can be a bit vague some ways. Moreover, there are things that are already expected as the result of the theology and upheld by the rubrics. More reflection on what the synthesis and art of celebrating means, teaches and how it sanctifies. Here is a beginning… The Catholic News Service provides the video feed.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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