Media Criticized for Misrepresenting What Pope Francis Said About Gays

After Pope Francis reiterated what the Catholic Church teaches about how gays should be treated, some in the media reported that his words suggested a more liberal direction for the Church.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis told reporters in a informal interview.

While that was the most quoted line from the interview, what he said immediately afterward was cited less often: "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn't this [homosexual] orientation – we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby."

Francis was answering a question about the so-called "gay lobby" within the Catholic Church that seeks to change the Church's position on homosexuality.

The relevant portion of the Catechism that Francis was referring to states: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."

So, as Francis noted immediately after the "who am I to judge" quote, his remarks were consistent with existing Catholic doctrine. Many media reports suggested, though, that Francis' remarks signaled a policy shift. Some even suggested that the Catholic Church might begin to allow the ordination of openly gay priests.

Mollie Hemingway has a good overview of some of the coverage at the Get Religion blog.

"The pope's predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, authored a document that said men with homosexual orientations should not be priests. Francis appears to be softening that position," Eric Lyman wrote for USA Today.

Nicole Winfield made a similar mistake for Associated Press: "[Pope Francis'] predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten."

While some theological conservatives may complain that the media is using Francis' words to promote their own agenda, or the view that most are moving toward the belief that homosexuality is not a sin, conservative Catholic blogger Elizabeth Scalia takes a different view. Francis has wisely used the media to get them to write about Catholic doctrine, she argues.

"Unlike Pope Benedict XVI, who was already despised by the press as Cardinal Ratzinger, Francis is the surprising, not-quite-known entity with whom the press is still unfamiliar and thus only marginally prepared to counter. He keeps people on their toes. He declines interviews, then unexpectedly pops in for one, and then proclaims the reality of Church teachings through a subject the press cannot resist covering," Scalia wrote for First Things.

A satirical Catholic news website, Eye of the Tiber, poked fun at the media's misreporting with this headline: "Pope Francis Declares Homosexuality Obligatory for all Catholics, New York Times Reports."

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