When Belgium’s Catholic bishops meet him for their required visit on Nov. 21-26, Pope Francis will have the chance to either reaffirm or negate Catholic doctrine concerning one of civilization’s most contentious issues: same-sex marriage.
But such liturgies could lead to sacramental recognition of same-sex marriage. That would mark a pivotal, perhaps irrevocable, theological and moral shift, especially when secular authorities increasingly support exposing children to LGBT sexuality.
For centuries, the Catholic Church taught that same-sex marriage was sacramentally invalid. The catechism defines homosexual sex as “acts of grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered” and urges homosexuals to practice chastity.
The catechism reflects biblical teaching. Leviticus included homosexuality alongside other sexual behaviors considered “detestable.” In the New Testament, Jesus defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. St. Paul, a former Pharisee, described homosexual acts as “shameful” and practicing homosexuals as unable to “inherit the Kingdom of God.”
In March 2021, responding to a similar challenge from Germany’s bishops, the Vatican’s leading theological body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared that the church had no authority to bless same-sex unions. The congregation’s written response pointedly mentioned that Francis himself approved the decision and its publication.
Years before that decision, Francis reiterated Catholic teaching on marriage. He even described gender theory as “ideological colonization.” But the Belgian bishops cited Francis as their inspiration.
Quoting from Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia,” which addresses family love, the bishops expressed their goal to use the “discernment, guidance and integration” he advocates to “give a concrete response and fulfillment to the desire to give explicit attention to the situation of homosexual persons, their parents, and families in their policy making.” The bishops concluded with a proposed “prayer for love and loyalty.”
Though Francis defends traditional marriage in words, his actions reveal an apathetic tolerance for LGBT advocacy and behavior. That apathy extends to his appointments.
One is Cardinal Vincenzo Paglia, who, as I noted in these pages in September, has a concerning tolerance for abortion. Francis named him in 2016 to be president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which Pope John Paul II founded to combat abortion. But before moving to the Vatican, Paglia showed a penchant for homosexuality.
While archbishop of a small diocese north of Rome, Paglia commissioned for his cathedral a painting dominated by homoerotic images. It includes a scene showing the semi-nude archbishop, wearing his skullcap, embracing a semi-nude male.
Paglia and another priest supervised every aspect of the work.
“There was no detail that was done freely, at random,” said the artist, Ricardo Cinalli. “Everything was analyzed. Everything was discussed. They never allowed me to work on my own.”
From 2012-2016, Paglia was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. In that role, he released a sex-education course for teens that Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons called “the most dangerous threat to Catholic youth that I have seen over the past 40 years.”
“As a professional who has treated both priest perpetrators and the victims of the abuse crisis in the Church,” he said, “what I found particularly troubling was that the pornographic images in this program are similar to those used by adult sexual predators of adolescents.”
Another such appointment is the Rev. James Martin. The editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine “America” became one of Francis’s communications advisers in 2017. Using his various platforms, especially Twitter, Martin positions himself as an LGBT ally, even to the point of contradicting established teaching.
Martin not only posted tweets implying support for the Belgian bishops. In 2019, he admitted on Twitter that the Bible “clearly condemns” homosexual sex. “The issue,” the Jesuit continued, “is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct.” That statement repudiates the fundamental Catholic doctrine that Scripture is divinely inspired.
In 2017, Martin expressed his opinion emphatically. That August at Villanova University, he told a gay man who refrains from kissing his partner during the Sign of Peace at Mass, “I hope in ten years you will be able to kiss your partner or, you know, soon to be your husband. Why not? What’s the terrible thing?”
Martin has substantial influence in Rome. On Nov. 11, Martin met Francis for two private audiences “during which we spoke about the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties, of LGBTQ Catholics,” he tweeted. The time was “indeed punctuated with smiles and laughter, and after which I indeed felt elated,” he added. “It was a warm, inspiring and encouraging meeting that I’ll never forget.”
Another indication of Francis’s apathy is the art designed for an upcoming international synod on church governance. One section, “Exclusion to Inclusion,” disparages “Scripture” and “Catholic identity” as exclusionary but ranks “LGBTQ+ identity” with inclusive terms. Another features a figure wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Pride” in rainbow colors that reads: “We are the young people of the future, and the future is now.”
Damian Thompson, who covers religion for Britain’s Observer, believes Francis uses inaction to indicate approval. Thompson cites such examples as the case of German Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who refused to resign despite tolerating clerical sex abuse.
“If Bishop Bode is allowed to remain in office despite admitting very serious failures relating to sex abuse, then that’s because Pope Francis is happy for him to do so,” Thompson said on his Sept. 27 podcast. “Why are the bishops of Germany and Belgium proposing fundamental changes to Catholic teaching? Because Francis has invited them to do so. “
Given the contrast between Francis’s rhetoric and behavior, the Catholic Church risks jettisoning centuries of teaching for post-modernist fashion.